Theo Chocolate's new mirepoix caramel collection, developed in conjunction with FareStart students (all of whom become closely acquainted with the fundamental vegetable mixture during their first culinary lessons), features four confections variously flavored with onions, carrots, celery and fennel seed. But if those ingredients strike traditionalists as screwy, Theo's chocolatiers point out that roasting, caramelizing and candying can help herbal and vegetal flavors harmonize with cocoa and cream.
"Roasted fennel or carrots, for example, can be amazing and fairly sweet," Theo's sales and marketing manager Audrey Lawrence says. "Like glazed carrots for Thanksgiving!"
Lawrence stresses that the 15 FareStart students didn't deem every sugary experiment fit for production. Tomatoes, for instance, were a non-starter: "While good in their concentrated form, especially for the sweetness, it really depended on the acidity of the tomatoes playing well with the caramel and the chocolate," she says.
And while onion merited a caramel of its own (white chocolate, salt and pepper figure into the mix), its fellow subterranean vegetables disappointed in the Theo kitchen. "The competing flavors and different kinds of earthiness didn't combine into a formulation we loved," Lawrence says. "Root vegetables are so distinct that we decided in the future we'd try them separately."
The chocolatiers have already had good luck with turnip, she reports.
But the most polarizing ingredient was sauteed mushrooms, which didn't jive with the emerging mirepoix theme. Still, its supporters were so vocal in their affection for the flavor that a porcini caramel is slated for release next week.
"The trial and error is the fun part," Lawrence says. "That's why we like doing these chef sessions. We all have our own toolbox of tricks and ingredients, and it's fun to share those."
The savory caramel collection is now available at Theo's factory store and through its website. One dollar from every $12 box sold will benefit FareStart.
"When you find a winning combination, it's usually because it produces an immediate "wow" reaction among the group, no bones about it," Lawrence says.