Mexico is credited with introducing chocolate to the world and chocolate continues to be an important staple in Mexican cuisine, appearing in dishes both sweet and savory, used to make the piquant mole sauces of Puebla and Oaxaca and sweet, rich, and frothy hot chocolate. But even with that tradition and the fact that Mexico produces 10% of the world’s cacao, there hasn't been much of a Mexican artisanal chocolate scene.
At the recent Food & Wine Festival in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo we met up with a man who is changing that. José Ramón Castillo, owner of Que Bo! Chocolatería in Mexico City and leader of the Mexican Evolutionary Chocolate movement. He has cocoa-centric shops, foundations, books and television shows to his name and Dessert Professional Magazine named him amongst the “Top 10 Chocolatiers of North America”, making him the first Mexican to achieve this ranking.
Considered by many to be one of Mexico’s top chefs, Castillo is personable and passionate about his country and its ingredients. At a demo at the Hotel Capella Ixtapa, as he swept a flood of chocolate back and forth on an immense granite slab to temper, he explained his chocolate making techniques and philosophies:
— Castillo’s vanguard approach to chocolate making begins with using a single source of cacao. 100% of the products he uses at Que Bo! are Mexican, and he has a strong commitment to celebrating Mexican cacao, and reviving the local chocolate industries, especially the “cola de lagarto” species from Chiapas’ Soconusco region.
— He doesn’t add any dairy products, refined sugars or preservatives. He uses water — or tequila — then wraps, fills, infuses his distinctly Mexican chocolate with local fruits and flavors.
— He eschews fancy pastry tools to make his bonbons and fanciful creations, swapping out molds for filled rubber gloves and using painter's trowels, spatulas and scrapers to fill molds and finesse his forms.