Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hot Chef in Paris

Meet Michael D. Poole - Paris-trained Artisan Chocolatier &
Owner of Hot Chocolate, Artisan Firehouse Chocolates.

Cooking and culinary classes are all the rage in Paris these days. But for serious chefs, Paris has been the ultimate kitchen for centuries. 
Did you know that Sally Hemings' brother, James, trained and became chef de cuisine in Paris? He was part of Thomas Jefferson's entourage and his fine culinary skills guaranteed that when diplomat Jefferson returned to Monticello, the family would continue eating in the style they had become accustomed to à la française.
I'd like to introduce you another African-American chef who is putting his Cordon Bleu training to delicious use. 

Credit: Tom Reeves

I met Michael D. Poole in 2008 in Paris. He was sharing out a box of chocolates. Not just your run-of-the-mill gourmet delectables. These were imprinted with colorful, fantastic designs as I'd never seen. Based in Seattle, today Michael continues to make his annual trip to the City of Lights to perfect his creative repertoire. This year's goal was to work on the French macaron.

What sparked your interest in becoming a chef?
Becoming a cook at the firehouse was the beginning of my passion for cooking. I was 21 years old and it was early in my fire department career. I started off as the firehouse cook. I was assigned to a busy downtown fire station in Seattle. I was cooking for twelve hungry firefighters who liked good food and lots of it. During that time I became very passionate about my food and cooking.

Was there a turning point or key event that propelled you to undertake this professionally?

I started a food concession business, selling Jamaican cuisine at street fairs and festivals in Seattle and California. I catered lunches for fashion photo shoots which deepened my desire to one day attend a culinary school. On the photo shoots, the crew — the models, photographers, and art directors — would eat out at fine restaurants all the time. 

They were always talking about food, where they were going for dinner, restaurants they had already visited, and how the food compared at the various places they had dined. Therefore, I wanted my food not only to be delicious, but also to be as memorable as some of the dishes that they had at the fine restaurants where they dined.

What role does Paris play in your career?
Paris has been a big part of my life and who I am as a chef! Every year I go to Paris, I learn something new, and improve on my culinary skills.

How many times have you been to Paris or France on 'chef business'?
I have been going to Paris for the last thirteen years   
What did you gain from each trip?
Between 2000-2003, I attended Le Cordon Bleu, taking one class every year.  I originally went  for Cuisine, cooking for my catering. While there, I discovered I had an interest in pastry. Once I went back the second year I learned how to make chocolates. (When I added) those to my catering, people were amazed and persistently told me I needed to box them and sell them.

 I graduated in 2003 with le grand diplome for cuisine and pastry. I was also class valedictorian.
I would bring back one or two really good recipes to add to my catering repertoire. Over the years, I have accumulated a nice French recipe book.

Credit: Sally Blake

Any downsides?

Let me think about this. Coming to Paris every year and do something I love…. NO! 
What's the most surprising thing you've learned?

I found my passion. My passion for making Chocolates.
What was the goal of this trip? Any a-ha moments?

The goal of this trip was to work on my French Macaron. My goal is to make Seattle’s best macarons!! The a-ha moment was when I learned that I needed to change my techniques for macaroons!

Can your fans expect any changes or new in what you'll be offering?

I will be working on a few new chocolate flavors. This will be my Paris 2013 inspired chocolates, as well as developing new flavors for my macaroons.

Where and how can people sample your creations?

I have an online store. Six retail outlets in Seattle carry my chocolates. 

I just participated in the Northwest Chocolate Festival at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle.

I will be at the L.A. Chocolate Salon October 6th, 2013, at the Pasadena Center. http://www.LAChocolateSalon.com

Future events include chocolate-making classes, corporate and Christmas gifts, and attending the New York Salon du Chocolat.