Food people are my kind of people. That’s why so many of the people I’ve met since I started food blogging have become good friends: they’re generous, they’re insightful, they’re creative, they’re smart and they have good taste. So friendship was clearly in the stars when a longtime reader named Rachel Zoe Insler informed me that she’d opened up a chocolate shop in New York called Bespoke Chocolates. I promised Rachel that I’d be in right away to sample her wares and then totally flaked out; I did include Bespoke in my NY Scavenger Hunt, but I never scavenged there myself because, frankly, I didn’t understand where it was!
I know that’s a lame excuse, but if I’d had a clear picture in my head I would’ve flagged it in my brain and visited the next time I was in the East Village. But all I knew was that it was in an alley somewhere and where exactly this alley was remained a mystery until, last week, I was off to meet another longtime reader–Edd from England–for lunch at Prune.
It was on the walk to Prune, which is on 1st street between 1st and 2nd avenues, that I stumbled upon the alley, the alley where Rachel’s store resides. (Specifically: 1 Extra Place, on 1st street between the Bowery and 2nd Ave.)
I popped in and asked for Rachel but she wasn’t there yet. So I went off to eat with Edd (who’s a really great guy and an even better photographer, he took these pictures!) and after our lunch we went back and asked for Rachel again and the nice woman working there told us Rachel was on her way back, we should hang out and wait for her.
Imagine: having to kill time in a chocolate shop. What’s a person to do? Well, naturally, we ate chocolate. But not just any chocolate: we ate Rachel’s signature chocolate, the pretzel-covered sea salted caramel.
“Put it all in your mouth at once,” we were advised. So we complied and here’s where a great food writer would have the perfect metaphor for what the experience was like biting in. How’s this: like biting into the ocean, a chocolate covered ocean of your dreams.
Soon Rachel arrived and I instantly knew we’d fast become friends. We had such an instant rapport that Rachel stood in the doorway with an armful of bags and didn’t put them down for 10 minutes, the conversation was so captivating.
We talked about her location, her career before chocolate (she studied neurology), her time studying chocolate-making in London and, most importantly, what makes her chocolate better than most.
“Most chocolate shops,” she explained, “have all the same kind of chocolate and only differentiate between levels of darkness as opposed to where the beans come from. Here,” she continued, putting her bags down, “we choose different chocolates from different parts of the world to match the different fillings.”
She pulled a big bag down from the shelf, a bag of chocolate from (I want to say Venezuela)? She gave me and Edd each a bite and you could taste the depth, the complexity, and something specific to the region from where it came. “Now try this,” she said and pulled a different bag down, this one from, let’s say, ummm, Honduras?? (I made that up.)
“Oh,” I said, biting in, “wow.” It was a sincere wow, I really did taste the difference, and I began to appreciate how those at the top of their craft notice things like this, the subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences between your chocolate’s origins.
With this knowledge, we were able to appreciate, on a deeper level, some of Rachel’s other masterpieces: for example, her Southampton Tea Truffle, which combines Caribbean chocolate with “apricot-spiked Black Ceylon tea.”
We also loved her strawberry balsamic truffle which had just the right balance of sweet and tart inside.
But mostly, we loved Rachel. Here she is feeding me chocolate:
Now that I know where to find her, I’ll most certainly be going back soon. And if you love chocolate and find yourself in the East Village, you’d be foolish not to find the alley that leads you to Bespoke. It’s a happy place with sophisticated chocolate and a genial host, a host who confirms what I suspected in the first paragraph: food people are the best people. And if you want to follow this food person, you can find her on Twitter, she’s @urbanartisan.
Thanks, Rachel, for your awesome chocolate and thanks, Edd, for your great pictures. That was a really fun day.