Monday, January 25, 2016

Raaka Chocolate Tour - Updated

Did you know you can take a tour of Raaka Chocolate in Red Hook?

I first tried Raaka at the Bryant Park Winter Village and I was instantly infatuated. Unfortunately, the bars I purchased immediately afterward all had a bit of a burnt aftertaste to them, so I went on a bit of a Raaka hiatus. But when the opportunity to tour came about last spring, I decided that since my pal and I had already toured another chocolate factory, it was as good a time as ever to revisit Raaka.

Upon entering Raaka headquarters, the first thing you see is the "gift shop."


And then you see everything else.


 The tour started with the beans, of course.

We got to taste some roasted beans, which I don't recommend. Some of the folks in the group were acting like they liked them. I'm not sure if this was because they were vying for more free stuff or if they wanted to appear as though they had a palate distinguished enough to enjoy such a wretched taste, but it was NOT GOOD and wasn't really intended to be.


Give me chocolate in all of it's refined glory any day.


The most exciting part of the tour was when we got to go into a gloriously scented room containing giant tubs filled with melted chocolate. It immediately crossed my mind that it was a little strange to be in this room not wearing a hazmat suit: the chocolate wasn't covered and, although we were all donning hairnets, we were also talking/coughing/sneezing and just generally shedding skin particles in a confined space amidst the melted product.

To my further surprise, we were then each given a disposable spoon with which to retrieve our own sample from said tubs*(please see update below). Let me set the scene: we weren't wearing gloves and were given the go-ahead to dip our spoons into tubs of chocolate ultimately intended for retail for a taste. While I like to consider myself germ-conscious (germophobe seems a little severe), this seemed more than a little unsanitary. But, in my ongoing efforts not to be a dud, I dipped my spoon and had a taste of truly glorious, melted chocolate. However, my satisfaction was short-lived; when I turned around I noticed that a few of the other people on the tour had chocolate all over their hands. I initially thought there had been some sort of chocolate accident, but then I realized: it was because they'd dipped them so far into the chocolate in an effort to get the most chocolate onto their spoon.

a proper taste

So then I was done. Not necessarily with humanity (although almost), but definitely with Raaka for the day.

I wasn't able to bring myself to purchase anything on the way out, I didn't sign up for the chocolate-bar making tour others were interested in, and I easily resisted the urge to run out of the building wheeling this giant bin of chocolate bars. The mystique was gone and it had been replaced by skeeve.

Not sure that I'll ever think of Raaka in the same way I did when I was originally introduced. I've considered that this may just be a case of it not always being the best idea to peer behind the curtain, but I'm pretty confident it errs more on the side of blatant lack of hygiene.

What do you think? Am I nuts, or does this seem in clear violation of health codes?
*UPDATED 1/26/16: I'm happy to report that Raaka's Community Director contacted me via email with the following information:

I wanted to reach out about your recent blog post.

I greatly appreciate your feedback on our tour and the worries about hygiene. I completely agree with your concerns and take them very seriously.

The employee who gave that tour was corrected over the summer on his practices in the grinding room of letting people dip their own tasting spoons in to the machine. The public is no longer allowed to go anywhere near that close to open machinery and the tasting is handed out by a gloved employee. We fixed this practice with this employee in June. 

Regardless of what has changed, I sincerely do apologize for your experience and am saddened to hear we've lost a customer, though I understand your reasons and consider them extremely valid. I want to assure you that we have changed it and are assuredly vigilant about our factory hygiene.

Thank you so much for your feedback and your support of the food community.

Peter Gray | Community Director | Chocolate Maker
             Raaka Chocolate 
     Handmade Virgin Chocolate

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Hello 2016!

I'm sure you can understand why this post was waylaid by this one as the first of the year...

2016 started out pretty fabulously for me. In preparation, I bought the world's best wrapping paper for VM's birthday gift.

The new year literally began with banana bread french toast for said bday. My photos didn't come out that great, but you get the idea.

This nerd got some too.

After brunch, I met up with my one of my oldest friend's families and had the opportunity to meet Cory Booker (!!!!!!). He made a very short, but inspiring speech and, afterward, he spoke calmly and warmly with each of the gads of folks clamoring for his attention as if it weren't a veritable mob scene. My in was a personal introduction by my fake father-in-law, a fellow politician, and I took it the extra mile by gifting him a Charm School Chocolate bar. I'd asked VM in advance if she thought I should share a bar from my haul and she posited, "Well, how much do you want to impress him?" A lot; he got the coconut milk chocolate with maple candied pecans and I hope he thought of me with every sweet and crunchy bite!

As if all of that wasn't enough, there were pignoli cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar for dessert a midday snack.

And then...

ADELE tickets were my gift for VM- of course the caveat is that she has to go with me, but still. The show isn't until September and she has already informed me that we'll be eating at the new Cinnamon Snail at The Pennsy!! She'll get no argument from me on that front.

They weren't open on her actual birthday, so the next night we went to Desta Ethiopian Restaurant to celebrate. Aside from mine, VM hadn't had Ethiopian food in quite a while, so it was easy to convince her we needed to try everything. This is the large sampler that includes every veg item except for the mushroom tibs.

Aaaaand, here are the mushroom tibs. You can only order them as a dinner because they are not part of any sampler and you cannot order them as a side. They are worth every cent of money and every surprised look from the waitstaff when you don't choose between the sampler and the mushroom tibs dinner, instead ordering both while trying not to make eye contact. 

Most of the vegetarian items at Desta are made with olive oil and are vegan by default, but you can confirm by requesting that everything be prepared that way instead of with the nit'ir qibe.

A good time was had by all. Too bad these birthdays only come up once a year.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A preview of The Cinnamon Snail's return at The Pennsy!!

Hey everybody, HUGE NEWS!

The beloved Cinnamon Snail has finally returned, "parked" at The Pennsy! I don't usually link to my individual Vegansaurus posts on A (soy) Bean because you can always read them all here, but this is- as I've stated, HUGE NEWS!

Get the scoop here!

Sending mucho congrats to the whole Snail family and team for being such a bright and delicious vegan example.