From sweet to savory

Operators experiment with chocolate beyond the dessert menu.

Published in FSD Update

Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor


Chocolate has long been the domain of desserts, candy and sweet beverages, but cocoa can do more than satisfy your sweet tooth. Operators also are using chocolate to bring an earthiness to a variety of savory dishes.

“[Chocolate] adds a smoothness to the dish,” says Vern Bauer, executive chef for Thomas Cuisine Management at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, in Boise, Idaho. “It adds a surprise. People taste [a dish that uses chocolate] and they recognize the flavor but are still pleasantly surprised when they find out it’s chocolate.”

Even though Bauer has found success with using chocolate in savory dishes, he says his customers don’t necessarily want to know it’s included. “There’s a bit of a stigma with calling out its use in savory dishes,” he says. “We used some chocolate in our chili and more people bought it when we didn’t call it out than when we did. But it adds a depth of flavor that people like.”

Coffee meets chocolate

Pairing coffee or espresso with chocolate was a natural at Starbucks headquarters’ SODO Kitchen. Rick Stromire, general manager for Bon Appétit at the account, says the chocolate is a key component in the rub that goes on the cafe’s rotisserie chicken and beef.

“We do a cocoa/espresso rub, which also features cayenne, garlic, salt and pepper,” Stromire says. “We use that on our rotisserie chickens, which we then serve quartered with a choice of sides. We’ve also used that rub on sirloins and pork. [I find] that chocolate works really well on slow-roasted proteins. It brings out the rich coffee flavor as well.”

Another popular dish is the cafe’s chocolate-braised brisket, which features espresso, the cocoa rub, bitter dark chocolate, onion, garlic, diced carrot, celery, fennel and red wine. The brisket is braised in the mixture for about three hours, sliced and served over potatoes or polenta.

SODO also uses chocolate in its mole at its taqueria station. “We usually use a dark, bitter chocolate,” Stromire says. “Our mole features tomato, tomatillo, pumpkin seeds, chilies, garlic and ginger. We serve it over chicken or top it with plantains. [With dishes like mole] you can introduce people to chocolate without it being really sweet. That shows customers how it can be utilized in other types of cooking.”

Mole is also a way to break out of the traditional ground beef taco grind at Rex UNC Healthcare, in Raleigh, N.C., according to Executive Chef Ryan Conklin.

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