By Phil LaMancusa
Theobroma By The Bayou
Looking over the family library last night, my eye was caught by a
book on chocolate. Then another book on chocolate. Then another and another
AND another, and surprisingly, others. This gave me cause to pause. So pause I did; then, I counted twenty, yes twenty, different books that I had collected on this one subject. Books whose titles read like exotic perfumes at the “Smells R’US” counters at J.C.Macy’s Fifth Avenue.
Titles like Chocolate Obsession, Chocolate Decadence and even Chocolate Sex! Or books that promise The Joy of chocolate, Chocolate Ecstasy, The Chocolate Fantasy, or Chocolate: the Consuming Passion. One that threatened: DEATH By Chocolate, and one to be used when all else failed; Chocolate Suicide.
Then it happened. (what?) I began to sweat. I was trembling……I was dazed and confused. (huh?)
I thought I had kicked it (what?). I thought it was over. (WHAT?), (I'll tell ya).
There I was, at eleven at night, in my BunnyJammys having a full-blown CDA! (a what?) Chocolate Deprivation Attack! ( whaddya do?)
I opened the Chocolate Bible, where for years I have saved my favorite
wrappers with little notes to myself:(“Valentine’s Day '97; she’s gone, but at least I’ve got the Godiva". Or,” Xmas ‘98: Champagne Truffles RULE!") and
hyperventilated the remains of past acquisitions like an asthmatic in the throes.
My heartbeat returned to normal. I calmed down. Almost.
After a strong glass of Nestles Quik, which I keep for such emergencies,
and with my Chocolate Bible under my pillow, I spent a restless night; resolving
to find out what our fair city has to offer a Chocolate Addict such as myself.
Directory Assistance has no listing for Chocoholics Anonymous and The Yellow Pages has only two listings under Chocolates and Cocoa: Cuccia Chocolates at
622 Royal and Wilbur Chocolate Company, on Clearview Parkway in Metarie, the
latter being a distributor and not a retail outlet. In the morning, I headed to Royal Street.
Even when we hit bottom, the truly lost soul of a chocolate addict will never take chocolate at face value, buy blindly, or stoop low and sample a perspective supplier’s wares in their presence. We do have some standards; and with those standards I made my way to Cuccia’s with an innocent look on my face and my stomach creeping up my throat (to be closer to the goods when they entered my bod).
. I met Jace Cuccia without knowing it when a booming “Howya Doin?” greeted
my arrival. We exchanged pleasantries about chocolates, sizing each other
up. Hmmm, I thought; "clean store, kinda geared for tourists, he’s big for his size
and young for his age". What he thought of a bald, slightly overweight, middle
aged man taking eyeglasses out of a Curious George holder I couldn’t say.
Then we got down to it. “You local?” he says. More of an observation than
Question. “Yep”, Says I (two can play this game I thought).
“whatcha lookin for?” He asks, eyeing me intently.
Our gazes lock. The moment of truth. “Solid Hit” I say firmly, quietly.
We look into eachother’s souls. We understand. He guides. I ask questions. We
drop names. We talk formulas and percentages of cocoa to fat. We shake hands
three times before I leave with my purchases.
Theobroma (food of the Gods), is another contribution to world cuisine from the Americas; others, such as, vanilla, chilis, tomatoes, and corn will have to wait for their own stories to be told, we're talking chocolate here.
The Aztecs, Toltecs, and Mayas knew about choquatl (bitter water) long before Columbus decided to find a shortcut to India; and on his fourth voyage (1502), Chris brought some back home to no one's amazement.
1519 saw Montezuma and Cortez at a party turning each other on to things they both would regret, except possibly the exhilaration of the drink that they share; and in due time, Cortez queries his host (about the drink).
Well, Cortez (from Montezuma), learns about a tree native to the area that grows forty to sixty feet high and bears gourdlike fruits, that are harvested year round, each containing twenty five or so 'seeds'. These seeds are laid out to ferment, then roasted, and ground up, mixed with spices and water. The brew gets him off like a shot (in more ways than one). Cortez brings some back home too, but this time with instructions.
. The king of Spain thinks the brew is too bitter and dumps a bunch of sugar in it and we get another reason to celebrate the caprice of a Monarch. History is made over a cup of cocoa!
Anyway, to make a long story longer, it takes a half a dozen complex steps to turn a slimy seed into a religious experience and you should read up on the subject; right now, you've caught me with the goods; red, I mean brown, handed.
In the doorway of a closed shop I open my bag, salivating and sweating, I remove and consume the first candidate. It's called a Mintini: (.75) a dark, minty, chocolate square, rich, nice. But I’m not looking for nice.
Next, Dark Chocolate Truffle ($1.00) smooth, almost smoky in flavor, yummy, but not quite an epiphany. Nobody knows the truffles I’ve seen.
Now, lastly I remove the final contender, saved for last because of its potential
and my intuition. The Dark Chocolate Bar ($2.00).
In the New Orleans heat it’s already starting to get a little sticky. I break off
a piece and place it carefully on my tongue. It melts slowly. Yes. Smoothly.
Yesyes. The taste spreads of its own accord enveloping my soul and senses.
The night air purrs. Close by, an acapello group sings “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”
The sunset receives The M.C. Echer award and I drift home in a haze of glory.
I’m there. I’m really there.
My wife takes a look at my faraway eyes. “Where have you been?” she asks.
Where else? (thinking of a great name for a book); “Chocolate Heaven”.