It’s 11 a.m., and my husband has caught me with a spoonful of molten high-test dark chocolate in my mouth. I snuck it from the stone bowl in front of me. “What are you doing?” he whispers, elbowing me in the ribs. “You’re not supposed to eat it yet.”
Steve and I are making chocolate bars — straight from the cocoa beans — at St. Lucia’s Hotel Chocolat, a boutique resort that lives up to its promissory name 24/7. It isn’t just the confections that give the place, and its guests, such a buzz. Yesterday, we drank cocoa martinis and cocoa bellinis before dinner. Downed iced chocolate shots for a pre-lunch pick-me-up. Noshed on seared tuna with cocoa pesto, and cocoa ravioli sprinkled with cocoa nibs (cracked roasted cocoa beans). It’s all part of a dream experiment: Can you, or better yet can I, live on chocolate?
So like a kid raiding the bowl of cookie dough, this morning I’m stealing globs of chocolate whenever chef Jon Bentham isn’t looking. But Jon, who runs Boucan, the hotel’s restaurant, is well aware of what’s getting into me.
“I find everything about chocolate irresistible,” he says, eyeing the smears on the corners of my lips. Hotel Chocolat is the stylish fantasy of the British chocolatier of the same name. (You want style? These guys floated a bond issue — with interest paid in chocolate — and raised more than $5.7 million.) Airy wooden guest cottages, called cocoa pods, are decorated in tasteful shades of white and dark chocolate. There are cocoa-butter spa treatments. Nine-stage chocolate tastings. A restaurant with a menu that promises some form of cocoa or chocolate in just about every dish. I am so ready: Chocolatize me.
It started at our first dinner when the bread arrived — not with butter, but with cocoa- spiked spreads and a chocolate-balsamic dipping sauce. From there it got downright, deliciously crazy. My duck confit was sauced with bittersweet local oranges and cocoa nibs, and accompanied by white-chocolate mashed potatoes. They sounded like something a candy-crazed 5-year-old would dream up. The childishness must have rubbed off on me because I was unwilling to forfeit even a taste of my choc-spuds — or anything else on my plate — to Steve. Not without something in return, like a generous bite of his rib-eye in a killer dark-chocolate port wine sauce. And whenever I felt the need for an extra hit of the good stuff, I’d motion across the table for the grinder of nibs, which eventually found a home next to my wine glass..
By the time dessert came, I’m sure the blood in my veins had turned a dark, creamy brown. To keep it that way, I polished off an espresso-and-dark chocolate mousse with dark-chocolate ice cream. Chocolate contains an insanely natural one-two punch: the endorphin-releasing, mood-elevating chemical theobromine and the “love drug,” phenyl ethylamine, which is released by the part of the brain responsible for sexual excitement. So what we have here are Happy Meals for discerning adults.
“What should I try next?” I asked chef Jon. He hedged. “Tough question. Maybe the Beans- to-Boucan dessert platter.” Nine different forms of chocolate on one plate. I’d have to work up to it.
Early this morning — eschewing a sleep-shattering breakfast of cocoa tea, chocolate granola, and toast with chocolate and hazelnut spread — I decided to start at the source of all this excitement: the hotel’s 140-acre cocoa estate. Under the watchful eye of agronomist Cuthbert Monroque, I tried my hand at plant grafting, to create my own addition to the Hotel Chocolat cocoa nursery.
“Come back in a couple of years and you can taste chocolate from your own tree,” Cuthbert told me. Good deal. But I needed more immediate sustenance to keep my experiment going. So he had me twist a fat, sunset-colored cocoa pod off a tree and then thwacked it open with a machete, revealing the beans nestled inside. “Try one,” he said. I popped a slippery bean into my mouth, and sucked off its tart-sweet pulp. And then I reached for another. I never realized how much I loved botanical science.
Cooking has always been a passion of mine. It’s reaching new heights on the veranda of the 18th-century estate house, where chef Jon is walking us through the making of those high-test chocolate bars. While he dishes chocolatey factoids — “In Aztec society, three cocoa beans bought an avocado; 100, a turkey” — I crush (and taste) freshly roasted cocoa nibs using a mortar and pestle, until they are transformed into a pool of (time to taste again) molten (if somewhat gritty) unsweetened chocolate. I work in on some cocoa butter and a bit of sugar, and get down to some serious sampling.
“I think I could live on this stuff,” I mumble. “Totally agree,” says chef Jon. He backs up the assessment with more facts. “Full of antioxidants, helps relieve fatigue, can lower blood pressure.”
With the bars off to the fridge, I consider booking a cocoa facial. But, frankly, I’m already glowing. That night, Steve and I walk up the restaurant’s dark-chocolate steps and settle into a milk-chocolate banquette for cocoa cocktails. When the server arrives with my first course — a chicken-liver “parfait” spiked with 65 percent bitter dark- chocolate ganache, an outrageous (and completely successful) combo — I can’t help asking: “You must get tired of chocolate.”
She looks at me as if I’ve asked if she gets tired of breathing. So, too, Eddie, who opens our bottle of Chateau Chocolate Vintage Red. “How can anyone get sick of chocolate?” he says.
By the time the after-dinner truffles arrive at the table, I’m positively swooning. My husband suggests I’m in theobromine overload. No question about it: Yes, I can live on chocolate. For a few days at least.