In the world of chocolate making, there’s the easy way, and there’s the Mast Brothers way.
Unlike many chocolatiers who use couverture — discs of pre-made chocolate that can be remelted for confections and bars — Rick Mast, 31, (on the left) and Mike Mast, 28, are one of a dozen or so American chocolate artisans who hand make chocolate from cocoa bean to bar.
They do it the hard way, said Mike, because “you feel a lot more connected to the process.” Rick, who studied chocolate making at the Institute of Culinary Education and with Jacques Torres, continued his thought: “The closer anybody who consumes anything is connected to where it came from, it’s going to be a better experience.”
“We also think we can do anything ourselves,” his brother added.
Right now, they make about 200 bars a week in a 200-square-foot commercial kitchen in Williamsburg — an insane feat considering that they take 50-pound burlap sacks of cocoa beans from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Madagascar (the cacao tree only grows in rainforests along the equator), roast and winnow off their husks with makeshift tools like coffee roasters and hair dryers, then grind the beans superfine, and add ingredients like cocoa butter, vanilla and sugar to create their 14 bars. (Torres, when he does make bean-to-bar chocolate, does so in his gleaming, 8,000-square-foot Soho store).
The handful of Mast Brothers bars BB tried — like the rich, Venezuelan dark chocolate, studded with crunchy cocoa nibs; the dark chocolate with smoky fleur de sel; and the luscious but not overly sweet 60% cacao “dark” milk chocolate — were all to-die-for. Others come with pecans, pistachios, almonds, and cranberries, and each one is packaged Willy Wonka-style in gold film and thick, beautiful Italian wrapping paper.
You can find their chocolate at Spuyten Duyvil Grocery, Marlow and Sons general store, Urban Rustic, and at Artists and Fleas, where they sell their $7-$8 bars in person on Saturdays. But come this summer, possibly as early as June, they’ll be opening a shop in a converted warehouse on North 3rd in Williamsburg, near Radegast, where they’ll be able to produce more chocolate and make confections, using bigger, better equipment. [UPDATE: Their shop is now open at 15 N. 3rd St., btwn Berry and Wythe, 718-388-2625, weekends noon to 6pm.]
By then, they’ll also be clean shaven. To the chagrin of their girlfriends, they decided to grow out their beards until they sold a thousand bars — and it wasn’t until a few days ago, when they tallied the numbers, that they realized they were 300 over their mark.
Photos by Michael Harlan Turkell.