A week ago I got the opportunity to attend a most intriguing presentation and I'm eager to share the experience with you! The event was a Soy and Chocolate pairing, part of Michael Recchiuti's Taste Project where he combines his renowned chocolate with another unexpected ingredient, such as cheese, beer, or salt. As Michael explained to us, he loves learning about other food artisans and he enjoys the challenge of turning his master chocolatier's skills to a new and unknown product.
His latest discovery was Hodo Soy Beanery, an Oakland-based company dedicated to making fresh tofu. This tofu is completely different from the chalky white slabs you see in stores – its shelf life is only days long, and it tastes astonishingly rich and fresh. I've grown up eating tofu, but even I was surprised at how much of a difference there was in the flavor of fresh tofu, and how little I actually knew about the making of tofu! The founder of Hodo Soy, Minh Tsai, was also on hand at the the tasting to talk about his product.
We arrived at the Recchiuti kitchens in San Francisco to a candlelit table scattered with soybeans – elegant but whimsical, the tone of the whole event. As the guests chatted, a steady drumming we initially took to be background music grew louder and louder until we realized it was live drumming – by Michael! Michael Recchiuti is a drummer! With a guitarist husband and drummer brother-in-law, I could totally appreciate this!
I think everyone at the tasting was curious to see what Michael and Minh would do with soy and chocolate. Tofu is not an easy product to pair with chocolate, because of its high water content. Tofu will shed water as you work with it, and of course water is the natural enemy of chocolate. Michael admitted he did a lot of experimenting to discover how best to use all of Hodo Soy's soy products – tofu, soy milk, and even the rarer side products like okara and yuba (which I'll discuss below). The following is the tasting menu we experienced that day:
Soy beans given the Michael Recchiuti treatment: lightly caramelized, then dusted with wasabi and matcha. Devilishly poppable.
This was my favorite of the tasting: a custard made with soy milk, topped with a financier and fresh cherries. The financier was actually created with a "flour" of the dried pulp from pureed soybeans, called okara. It had a nutty flavor and lovely pillowy texture – all in all a really tasty combination. The custard was so silky too – reminded me a little of Japanese chawanmushi.
This appears to be a shot glass of chocolate milk, but in fact is a more complicated concoction – a mixture of hot soy milk and chilled chocolate milk swirled with caramel. The soy milk was poured over the chocolate milk right before it was served to us, resulting in an interesting ever-evolving layering of flavors. Very fun.
We then got to visit the room where Michael's chocolates are created. The majority of the space is occupied by the enrobing machine: you can see Michael and the rest of us gathered around it and a portion of the conveyor belt. A veritable yellow brick road, upon which chocolates travel, to be covered in chocolate and blow-dried to a perfect shiny finish.
Squares of tofu topped with a marzipan made from okara (who knew it was so versatile?) and ground almonds, ready to be enrobed. I think this is so emblematic of Michael's approach: he doesn't just dip tofu in chocolate, he thought of a multi-component concept that used several soy products. The soft, mild tofu against the richer, denser marizpan. Reminiscent of the chocolates with pate de fruit on top of ganache – a nice play of textures and flavors.
The tofu squares, now covered in dark chocolate and topped with a nougatine disk. Gilding the lily indeed.
This is Minh Tsai, founder of Hodo Soy Beanery, talking about the process of making tofu. He then proceeded to demonstrate how to make tofu, an eye opening process that took just minutes.
He combined a coagulant (calcium sulfate) with water and then carefully poured hot soymilk over the mix. Tsai likened the process to pouring tea – you need to pour the milk from the proper height so the force of the milk hitting the water will properly disperse the coagulant.
The mixture is stirred for a while until it begins to clump up.
The mixture is poured into a box lined with cheesecloth and covered. Then Minh pressed down on top to push out the excess water and get the tofu to consolidate. Here's the excess water coming out of the box.
In a few more minutes, a b lock of still-warm, very fresh tofu is unwrapped from the cheesecloth. Minh cut it up and we all got to have a piece – an experience very similar to eating freshly made mozzarella. I had never seen tofu made before so this was a really fascinating demonstration.
Back in the dining room, Michael enlisted the help of pastry chef William Werner to make his next dish, a take on crepes Suzette with sheets of yuba standing in for the crepes. Yuba, or tofu skin, is a soft, pliable skin that forms on top of steaming soymilk – I know it may sound strange to the Western palate but it's a delicacy – soft and richly creamy. It can be eaten fresh, as is, or cooked – often it's used as a meat substitute just like regular tofu.
Here is the yuba "crepe" wrapped around late summer peaches with a scoop of soy milk ice cream – yum! MIchael admitted this was one of his favorite dishes of the day.
I guess this tasting truly had a "Dessert First" philosophy since the savory course was served last! I really loved it though – a slice of fresh Purple Cherokee tomato topped with some silken tofu and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with cacao nibs. Very fresh and summery.
We were also sent home with some of Michael Recchiuti's burnt caramel hazelnuts and Hodo Soy's tofu as treats; so generous!
It was a thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable afternoon. I just really loved being able to hear two food enthusiasts talk about the passions that move them – the depth of their dedication and mastery of their craft was evident in every bite we took of their creations. My next post will be about my visit to the Hodo Soy Beanery, so I want to mention how amazing I think Michael Recchiuti is for creating these Taste Projects; they are truly wonderful experiences. If you get a chance to attend one, I highly recommend it – Michael is a great guy with so much knowledge to share. Another reason to go is that all of these dishes are one-offs for the tasting and you can't get them at his retail store – although I'm hoping for a reappearance of those wasabi-and-matcha soybeans in the future!
If you're looking to try some of Michael's Recchiuti's chocolates, I highly recommend anything with burnt caramel – one of his signature flavors, or one his takes on classic favorites, like his whoopie pies or peanut butter pucks. San Francisco is a great place for the chocolate lover!