Matt Caputo has made Utah the chocolate center of the country.
In addition to supporting local chocolatiers, he’s assembled a stupendous collection of craft chocolate from around the world and invited us all to experience it at Caputo‘s stores and at the annual Chocolate Festival—the eighth of these events is tonight and as usual it’s sold out.
I’m not using “experience” instead of “taste” as some snobby food-writer’s preference for jargon. To appreciate this type of chocolate requires time and thought; if you just put it in your mouth and chew, you’ll miss the point. Your mouth and tongue and taste buds have to take their time to truly taste chocolate—to understand the finer points of this, take one of the chocolate-tasting classes Caputo’s offers.
The best chocolate beans can only be grown in certain parts of the world, but the best chocolate is crafted all over the world. Last year’s Chocolate Festival featured Vietnamese chocolate. This year, Caputo’s is showcasing chocolate from Iceland, Omnom.
And in a first-time event, Caputo’s held a dinner last night prepared by Omnom’s owners and chocolate maker that put the chocolate in the context of its culture.
Even though Iceland, especially Reykjavik, has become a popular tourist destination in the past few years (thank you Bjork?) most of us have never tasted Icelandic cuisine. Be honest: For most of us, Icelandic cuisine has never crossed our mind.
So last night’s dinner, where I was lucky enough to be a guest, was a mind-and palate-blower.
Each dish was explained by Chef Kjartan Gíslason, chocolate maker at Omnom, and paired with a wine presented by Caputo’s Director of Education Adri Pachelli, beginning with a passed appetizer of pickled seaweed, dulse with burned butter on toast, sprinkled with dried cod flakes. It wasn’t long before everyone’s chest was powdered with dried fish. A cocktail, promisingly called Black Death & Blueberries, and made from Brennivin and Waterpocket Fold‘s Snow Angel Kummel, balanced out the butter. From then on, the food was a mystery even to well-traveled palates, including Matt Caputo’s.
Smoked salmon and dill are a familiar combination, but served on Icelandic “smurdbraud,” a rye bread baked, steamed really, in geothermal ovens so it had a cake-like texture similar to Boston Brown Bread, made the flavor news. The aroma of a barley “risotto” with mushrooms came from “sea truffles” a kind of dried seaweed that reeked of umami. Please, someone, import this stuff. The main course, said Chef Kjartan, was a typical Icelandic Christmas dinner: mushy peas (still not a fan), hangitjok (smoked lamb), tiny potatoes
in milk, slivers of spicy pickled beets and leaf bread, which look like a stack of fried tortillas but aren’t. The idea is to create your own bites—stack a slice of lamb (smoked over dried sheep dung) with some mushy peas (or not, in my case), a sliver of beets, balance a potato on top if you can and let the flavors befriend your taste buds. Or eat each thing separately. Or whatever.
It was all delicious. And so, thank god, different. Dessert was a crepe and a scoop of chocolate (of course) gelato made from Omnom’s 70 percent Tanzania and the final bites were chocolate-cheese tastings, pairings invented by Caputo.
And I haven’t even talked about Omnom’s chocolate. But I will, tomorrow after the Chocolate Fest itself.
Meanwhile, in a food scene increasingly unadventurous, trying Icelandic food was a total delight.