Italy is a country of artisans. In fashion, design, food, art, Italians love to create, invent, experiment.
There are young artisans with an eye to the contemporary. They are pure talents, such as Enrico Vicari, born in 1991, a Sicilian chocolatier, able of bringing Sicilian chocolate (better known as “Modica Chocolate”) to very high levels. Enrico Vicari is the chocolatier 2.0. He works Sicilian chocolate (and the traditional one) with an unparalleled refinement.
In his laboratory Enrico Vicari creates unique artisanal chocolate with which he wins over chocolate lovers visiting the boutique and the laboratory, in the suggestive setting of Ragusa Ibla.
“ChocoHouse” is also the home of a charming Bed and Breakfast where everything speaks of chocolate from colors, to furnishings to delicious breakfast.
Talent and constant updating make the difference. In this interview, Enrico Vicari tells his story: tradition and modernity, combined with experimentation for a sensory experience to try.
1.Being born in Modica (suggestive Sicilian baroque city, capital of the homonymous chocolate) how much did it influence your choice to get closer to the world of chocolate?
Before I was born in Modica, I would say that I was born a craftsman. However, growing up in this city, has given me so much curiosity about the world of chocolate and has given me an advantage in learning the secrets of the chocolate typical of my city. I could hardly have had this experience anywhere else, since this type of chocolate is not yet very well known.
2.When did you realize that the chocolatier would become your profession?
Since high school I have always wanted to pursue a career as a freelancer. I love freedom too much and I could never have conformed to the rules imposed by others for my work. Craftsmanship and using my hands to create something new and beautiful, have always been my hobby and, for this reason, I decided that this should not only remain a passion relegated to leisure time but had to become my daily bread. So, four years ago, closing a first work experience in the chocolate world, I decided to start on my own, to find out what I really could have done without anyone’s help but with the continuous comparison with those who appreciate my chocolate.
3.Can you tell us about your training as a maître chocolatier?
My chocolatier training began more than ten years ago and continues every day. The first course I attended was at an association that deals with the promotion of chocolate in Italy. There, I learned the basics of this “science” and it was also the easiest part although there was a lot of theory to remember and little practice. The following year, I attended a seminar on chocolate processing techniques at a company that produces machinery for the chocolate industry. From that moment on, self-taught training also began. Ten years ago, despite the fact that Modica’s chocolate was already quite well known on the market, it was not yet so much for the sector’s employees outside the Ragusa area. For this reason, during my first working experience in Modica, in a production company, the first times were devoted almost entirely to the reorganization of the machines to make them compatible with the chocolate of Modica which is a little more complicated to work by way of of its graininess. This phase of reorganization was also followed by an experimentation with ingredients, never tried before on chocolate, such as soy milk and agave syrup. It was during this whole period of tests and experiments that I strengthened my knowledge of chocolate and the best way to work it and enhance it. I am therefore grateful to those who have led me to this world by giving me the basics, but I can say that I must also be grateful to myself for the tenacity shown in the early years, when everything seemed anything but easy and sweet.
4.Many confuse the profession of pastry chef with that of chocolatier, thinking they are interchangeable. Instead, they are totally different professions, as you strongly argue. The chocolate bar created by a pastry chef what does not have in common with that of a chocolatier?
Usually, a pastry chef in his creations uses chocolate made by a chocolatier. This is the real difference. A pastry chef has another kind of training, wider not aimed at a single element like that of the chocolatier. Precisely for this reason it often does not even have the appropriate equipment to do it. For the same reason the chocolatier would not be able to create everything a pastry chef does. I strongly believe in the division of tasks. Each with their own job, in order to always guarantee the maximum to the final consumer.
5.Can you explain which features differentiate Sicilian chocolate from the so-called “traditional chocolate”?
Two key elements differentiate Sicilian chocolate from what we are all used to consume: the presence of whole grains of sugar inside the tablet and the way in which it releases its flavors when tasted. Sicilian chocolate, being an ancient product, lacks some production processes that were introduced only after the industrial revolution. The result is its very raw texture and a product in which the little ingredients blend together. This, if on the one hand it may seem a defect, in truth, during the tasting, it helps a lot to perceive the different tastes of the various ingredients that compose it. Indeed, unlike traditional chocolate, in which the ingredients are fused together, both physically and tastefully, in Sicilian chocolate, even if mixed together, during the tasting our palate manages to separate the various aromas; first you taste the cocoa, then the sugar and, finally, the spice, if present, otherwise you will return to feel the taste of cocoa.
6. The choice of cocoa, cocoa mass and its processing make the difference. Why?
To get a good result you always have to start from a good base. The choice of the ingredients is crucial if you want to achieve high results. Not only cocoa, which is obviously the main hero, but also all the other components of a tablet: sugar, spices play a fundamental role in creating the chocolate bar and the final taste. Despite this premise to make good chocolate it is not enough to combine the ingredients together. You have to know how to work them at the right temperatures and with the right processes to extract only the best from each element and thus get the most out of this fusion.
7. How do you prepare your chocolate bar?
All the chocolate made in my shop follows the company philosophy, inspired by an ancient workshop of the early twentieth century. Being in Ragusa Ibla downtown, I wanted to make something authentic and original, not an anonymous activity but something that could communicate to people to feel at home. This, at first glance, includes the duty to research the best and most genuine ingredients on the market. Hence, the choice for example to use for 90%, raw materials of biological origin, to give much prominence to the human factor, making the tablets still by hand as they once did, trying to eliminate waste as much as possible also through the use of cardboard produced with citrus fruit processing waste.
8.Your chocolate is a modern homage to Sicilian chocolate. It keeps the structure intact but with a decidedly more elegant and refined style. Can you “tell it, without revealing the secrets of your work, of course?
My idea of Sicilian chocolate is certainly an antique chocolate, of which I always try to preserve originality but adding the technical knowledge that over the decades have been learned about chocolate processing. Unlike, in fact, what some colleagues do that have come to have dozens of different tastes, in my range of products besides the most ancient tastes, such as cinnamon, chilli and vanilla, I added only four other flavors: lemon, orange, pistachio and hazelnut that have reason to exist only to pay tribute to what is best Sicily has to offer.
Maintaining the originality, however, does not exclude the desire to offer a chocolate that is aesthetically well-presented, both thanks to external packaging, and thanks to the fact that it is tempered and respects the environment. In fact, each tablet is packaged on paper, as it was once, and not with plastic or aluminum films, as happens today.
9. How should Modica chocolate be tasted?
Unlike what you might think, chocolate should be tasted with all 5 senses. An important prerequisite for tasting any type of chocolate is to taste it in the morning, before having breakfast when the mouth is clean from other flavors or in any case away from meals, in order to better appreciate the various nuances. Another key rule for all chocolate, but above all for Sicilian chocolate, is not to chew the piece you are tasting but to let it melt gently so that you can better appreciate the aromatic scales of that chocolate. Having said that, chocolate is tasted first with sight, a good chocolate is shiny and has no strange spots on the surface. Then, with touch. A good tablet has a smooth surface and no dots. Then with the sound. A good breaking chocolate must make a dry noise, the same noise that a piece of chalk that is used in school when it breaks. Then, with the sense of smell to begin to feel the different aromatic notes. Finally, with the taste that allows you to fully appreciate the piece of chocolate you are tasting.
10. How do you choose a good chocolate?
Although there are so many small and large producers on the market, it is not difficult to recognize a good chocolate. A good chocolate is created by a good craftsman who uses a few simple ingredients of good quality, does not add artificial oils or fats and, finally, does not neglect even the details, such as packaging, for example. In general, chocolate is a simple food, made up of a few elements, the fewer there are, the more it is possible to highlight the cocoa taste that chocolate is made of.
11. What advice can you give to those who want to approach the profession of chocolatier?
A chocolate maker is, first of all, a craftsman and like any artisan he must be tenacious, willing and always ready for new challenges. For this reason, the only advice I can give to the new generation that wants to get closer to this wonderful job, is first of all to study as much as possible, to know but also to develop one’s own critical sense and, finally, to have a lot of will. and patience. Chocolate needs its time and only those who know how to respect them can get a great product.