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Food & Chocolate Memories

Food & Chocolate Memories

Hello and good day!

We toast white bread in the oven, cut it into cubes, and put the cubes into a large mixing bowl.

While the bread is toasting, we sauté onions and celery in butter with sage, salt, and poultry seasoning.

After we've finished toasting and cubing two loaves, we pour the tender, buttery, onion and celery on top of the bread. My dad adds a dribble of whole milk for moisture, and then comes the best part.

We wash our hands, stick our hands into the bowl, and begin to squeeze the concoction into well mixed lumps.

Once everything is all mixed, we taste it.

If it tastes right, which it always does, my dad will stuff a turkey with it and also put a side portion in a pan to cook separately, so that we have something to snack on throughout the day until the bird is done cooking.

This is our family stuffing recipe. It is my great great grandmother's recipe, and it has been in our family for more than 150 years.

My dad and I have made it together two or three times per year every year that I have been alive. I don't think that we've missed even a single year.

Now, when my dad comes to visit us, he makes the recipe with my three sons.

Here is something that nobody knows, not my dad, not my sons, not my wife, nobody.

They'll know now of course, and now you know too.

When I taste the stuffing, I feel like a little kid again.

It's not a reminiscence. I actually feel different.

I feel myself sitting on the counter of my childhood home in San Diego, California, in that small old craftsman house that my dad loved, with the bars on the windows so that people from the neighborhood couldn't break in and rob us anymore.

It's early in the morning and my hair is messy from sleep. I've got the bowl cut that my parents always told the barber to give me.

What was it about parents back then? Why so many bowl cuts?

I'm wearing pajamas and sitting with my feet dangling from the counter.

Dad brings me a cutting board and a knife.He pulls out a pan of toasted bread slices from the oven and shows me how to cut.

Dad is big and strong and loves to cook and I love when we make stuffing together and I love that he lets me use a real knife.

Mom takes Polaroid pictures of us, and I smile at the camera, a big smile, showing the many gaps where I am missing teeth.

My kids have gone off to play with Legos, my dad is stuffing the bird, and I am back in my childhood family home, a little boy again.

Food can do that to you.

My oldest son Isaiah loves to cook. He is eleven years old.

My grandfather was a chef who owned a chain of restaurants.

My dad built a hotel from the ground up and ran it for 14 years and now we own a chocolate business.

We're a hospitality family.

When it comes to math, I have to use every persuasion trick in the book to get Isaiah to focus and put forth a good effort, even for just 15 or 20 minutes.

But if the opportunity arises to do kitchen work, he'll work hard for two hours, cooking breakfast, baking bread, and even washing the dishes, with no need for any external motivation whatsoever.

He's already mentioned that he wants to go to culinary school, and I think that sounds perfect.

Some mornings he makes breakfast for the family, and before I go up to my home office to do administrative work, I take a look at him in his brown Fortunato Chocolate apron, slapping a spatula on a skillet with wonderful gusto.

When breakfast is ready, Isaiah and my other sons bring me a plate of food and a mason jar filled with coffee on a tray.

They are good boys, serving their dad like that.

Isaiah makes a good cup of coffee. Serving it in a mason jar with a metal top is his own innovation. The coffee stays warm that way.

When I twist the top off and drink coffee out of the heavy glass jar, I can feel myself back in the kitchen, looking at my son wearing his apron, slapping a metal spatula on a metal skillet.

And I know that if I ever want to relive that moment in the future, maybe after he is grown up and gone, all I'll have to do is make myself a cup of coffee in a mason jar.

For seven years, we only sold a single product. We sustained many cacao harvests, and built our business, on the back of our Fortunato No. 4 -- 68% dark chocolate.

Now that we have a lot more products, sometimes that simple, beautiful, two ingredient dark chocolate slips through the cracks on me.

But when I am alone in the shop, and I taste a cube from the sample jar, I am transported back to a warehouse in an industrial park in Las Vegas.

We had received a stellar review in the New York Times food section two months earlier and based on that review we had received a bunch of orders.

We fulfilled the orders from our first ever shipment of chocolate to the United States.

Our first shipment was a very small shipment, and those first orders were very small orders. Now we had a big shipment coming to the warehouse, but none of our clients were reordering.

We had made a terrible error in pricing based on faulty business advice.

We priced our initial shipment of chocolate 40% higher than the next highest priced chocolate on the market and nobody was re-upping.

We thought we could be the Maybach of chocolate, but it wasn't going as planned.

I stood in the big warehouse and watched as a forklift unloaded pallet after pallet of chocolate, ten tons.

We were running out of money and the cacao harvest was about to start again and our budget was in shambles because we didn't get the expected reorders.

I was in charge of doing the accounting and managing finances for the company and I was in a very somber mood.

It should have been a joyous occasion, our first big shipment of chocolate to the United States, but all I felt was fear, because I had no idea how we would see our way through the cash crunch.

The chocolate looked to me like a physical manifestation of our problems and reminded me of the promises that we had made to cacao famers that we would not be able to keep.

And then somebody suggested that we break open a box of chocolate to try it.

We grabbed a box and retired to a conference room. Somebody brought in a knife and a cutting board and cut a 1.1 pound block of chocolate into cubes.

I put a cube in my mouth.

Raisins. Plums. Cotton Candy. Floral.

A wave of calm determination came over me and I knew that we'd make it through.

One way or another, we'd make it through.

With a chocolate like that, how could we not?

The door alarm rings and a customer walks into the shop.

I'm not alone anymore and I am back in the present.

But I know that if business challenges ever seem too tough, I can taste our 68% dark chocolate, and I'll be back in Vegas, and I'll feel that same chocolate induced grit pulsing through me.

The manner in which human beings can use food to trigger memories, the way in which our sensory organs can bring up visions of the past, is something unique to our species.

It is a type of intelligence that belongs to us alone.

Thank you so much for time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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