Under normal circumstances, I think we can all agree that few people would pay $18 for a chocolate bar. A small number of chocolate geeks, maybe; a smattering of gastrocrats. But would there be a general clamor for the thing if it wasn’t the result of a collaboration between Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert? It seems unlikely. The latter chef’s representative gave me one this weekend and it is, as advertised, the best chocolate I ever ate. But the taste of their Good & Evil bar is almost beside the point. The reason I was interested in trying it is because I trust the integrity of the Tony and Eric Show. Their bromance has become almost a brand in and of itself.
Yes, their chocolate bar, which went on sale last week, is fabulous, but there are a lot of fabulous chocolate bars. This one has a long story that goes with it, the sort of thing that generally gets limited to statements in tiny print about using only certified free-trade cocoa beans from small-farm plantations in countries you’ve never been to. But because the Good & Evil Bar has two major food-world deities attached to it, more people are more likely to care about the principle elements of what makes this bar special.
(MORE: The Perils of Coffee Snobbery)
The wrapper, which goes on at some length about the bar’s origin, informs readers that the cacao beans were grown in the Peruvian jungle at “a handful of small, secluded farms,” and then roasted, flattened in a 135-year-old machine in Switzerland, aged and melted and mixed with nibs (roasted bean grindings) by Philadelphia chocolatier Christopher Curtin. The bar is made from a type of cacao that until recently was thought to be extinct for almost a hundred years. You can learn, should your curiosity remain unslaked, that all the beans are produced by family farms, none of whom use child slaves, which has been too often the case with some African chocolate plantations.
As with “coffee diplomacy,” Curtin is trying to cross cultural, economic and geographical barriers, loading a lifetime of hopes onto the back of a chocolate bar. And he’s using his famous friends, Ripert and Bourdain, to help him market it to the larger world. The “good” part of the bar is from the Buddhist Ripert, who favors the smooth texture and complex, half-earthy, half-fruity, uniquely sweet flavor of the dark chocolate. The “evil” part is from the worldly, cynical Bourdain, who advocated for the inclusion of tiny black studs of crushed cocoa nibs. It’s doubtful that Curtin needed anyone else to create this masterpiece. But the idea is an attractive one, and you need all the flash you can get for a chocolate bar that costs as much as half a tank of gas.
As for Ripert and Bourdain, the chocolate bar was a natural collaboration for the two, given Bourdain’s far-flung travels and Ripert’s philanthropic efforts in developing countries, including clean-water projects and support for Tibetan freedom. “We’re both curious about the world,” says Bourdain, who has called Ripert “my best friend in the world.” “Getting involved with a wildly rare and delicious crop of cacao beans that have been believed extinct for a century actually makes perfect sense.”
Whatever the reason, whatever the project, why can’t there be more collaborations like this, I wonder? I’d love to see a working partnership between Rachael Ray and Sean Brock, or Jamie Oliver and Michele Bras. The enormous gap in our culture between the beloved food personalities and elite chefs should be closed. Maybe more great products like the Good & Evil bar would result; maybe they wouldn’t. Either way, the food world, and the culture it feeds, would be better for it.