Anthony Bourdain and chocolate

Chocolate experts reflect on working with Anthony Bourdain; say he had ‘affinity with cocoa farmers’

By Douglas Yu

- Last updated on GMT

Anthony Bourdain (left), Dan Pearson (middle) and Éric Ripert (right) met during a trip to a cocoa farm in Peru. Pic: Dan Pearson
Anthony Bourdain (left), Dan Pearson (middle) and Éric Ripert (right) met during a trip to a cocoa farm in Peru. Pic: Dan Pearson

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Following news of Anthony Bourdain's recent death, Good & Evil chocolate bars were suddenly pulled from its producer Éclat Chocolate’s website as owner Christopher Curtin said the decision was made out of respect towards the celebrity chef.

Bourdain contributed to the creation of the premium chocolate with his friend Éric Ripert, who is known for his expertise in French cuisine. The two even started a show called Good & Evil – that was how the product was originally named – in which they talked about their journey of experiencing dishes across the world.

But how did a chef, who was a self-proclaimed “Hershey guy”​ (according to an industry expert he worked with), later become a high quality chocolate connoisseur? The story started in 2013 when Bourdain went on a trip to a cocoa farm in Northern Peru as part of his “Parts Unknown”​ TV show.

“It was probably his firs time to be on a cocoa farm,”​ said Dan Pearson, the president of Marañón Chocolate, when asked to describe his first encounter with the CNN star.

“I spent four days with Anthony. He was personable and funny and all his conversations were spontaneous as they always were on his shows,”​ Pearson said.

“One time he was telling me that he thought Cheetos were the worst food on the planet because they are made so that the device [in human brain] that tells you’re full doesn’t go off,”​ and that reminded Bourdain of his past heroin addiction which he fought almost every day until he turned 39 years old.

Marañón Chocolate previously supplied cocoa beans for Éclat Chocolate to make the Good & Evil bars. But during that trip to Peru, Pearson said it was more than just a bar that came to fruition, he saw the connection between Bourdain and local cocoa farmers.

The farm Pearson sources cocoa beans from is located near the Marañón Canyon, a seven hours drive from Peru’s northeastern city, Chiclayo.

It is an unusual place since the farm is situated at 4,200 feet above the sea level (most cocoa beans grow at 1,000 feet or less) and it is home to the recently rediscovered white cocoa beans that were destroyed by diseases in Ecuador about 100 years ago.

“We were asked by the Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture not to disclose the exact location of the town to protect the farmers and their national treasure – white cocoa beans, which the USDA verified as ‘pure national’,”​ Pearson told ConfectioneryNews.

He noted Bourdain at the time also agreed to comply with the local government’s request and did not reveal the location of the farm in the Parts Unknown​ Peru episode.

In fact, “all the visitors we take to the Marañón Canyon sign a non-disclosure statement. No one has ever violated that statement – which Anthony thought made a better story for the cocoa beans,” ​added Pearson.

In his Peru episode, Bourdain can be heard describing his hiking trip to the cocoa farm with his friend Ripert and the farm owner Don Fortunato as an “epic hump of one hill after another… When I’ve slumped to the ground and urinated all over myself, that would be a tip that I probably want to stop.”

Indeed, when the Parts Unknown​ film crew reached 3,200 feet up the hill, Pearson said Bourdain had to sit down three or four times “because he was just out of breath.”​ He later recalled that trip motivated Bourdain to work out when he returned to New York by taking up jiu-jitsu and karate classes.

On top of the hill sits an agro-farming community where farmers grow six different crops including cocoa, according to Pearson. There, Fortunato showcased the whole process to Bourdain from taking cocoa beans out of their pods to taking them down to the fermenting and drying facility.

“[Bourdain] was very inquisitive about what makes certain chocolate fine products – that was when he decided to make a chocolate brand with his name on it,”​ said Pearson.

“But he also wanted to make a contribution to the farmers after seeing the conditions they lived in – houses built with mud and straw, surrounded by dirt roads,”​ he added. “The town was kind of frozen in time, and it just got electricity two years ago.”

wood fire cooking Canyon
"Women in those farming households cooked indoors using wood which is very expensive, and their ventilation was poor," said Pearson.

Bourdain made a “sizable contribution”​ to farmers, according to Pearson. In addition to cooking for Fortunato’s family during his visit and introducing his daughter to some of the most famous chefs in Lima, Bourdain teamed up with Ripert, Curtin and Pearson to improve farmers’ in-house cooking conditions.

Bourdain wanted all these efforts to be anonymous, said Pearson.

“What happened was that rice is grown by many farmers in the canyon. The rice hulls are removed by the machine, and huge piles of rice husks are created which can spontaneously combust, and the smoke is toxic,”​ he explained.

However, “women in those farming households cooked indoors using wood which is very expensive, and their ventilation was poor, so we found a rice stove design that could use those husks to cook and not be toxic when burning… the rice hulls are free. Anthony, Eric and Chris made substantial cash contributions to making rice burning stoves and gave them to many farm families,”​ he said.

Bourdain’s  co-created Good & Evil chocolate pushed other manufacturers to source cocoa beans from the same Peruvian farm.

Pearson noted, during his four-day stay with Bourdain, the star chef seemed to have “an affinity with cocoa farmers,”​ even though he couldn’t speak Spanish.

At one point, Pearson recalled that Bourdain was lost in his own thoughts and said, “these people [farmers] are so content and happy. What the hell am I doing in New York City?”

“I didn’t reply because I didn’t think he was talking to me in particular, but I thought it was a ‘whistle comment’ [signaling Bourdain’s dissatisfaction with his own life],”​ he told us.

Fast forward to earlier this month when news of Bourdain’s suicide came out. The food industry was devastated. So were Ripert, Curtin and Pearson.

Ripert tweeted, “Anthony was my best friend. An exceptional human being… One of the great storytellers who connected with so many. I pray he is at peace from the bottom of my heart.”

The Good & Evil bars, once created partly to pay tribute to Ripert’s friendship with Bourdain, might not be available on Éclat Chocolate’s site again. But on the company’s Instagram, a black and white image of Bourdain standing against a cocoa tree is there to stay.

The caption says, “I’ll never forget Anthony’s kindness and generosity. The rippling effect will continue to touch all who knew him.”

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