Every man dreams of finding his true vocation and following his destiny. Many of us have the insight into what we really ‘should’ be doing with our lives, but how many have the courage to risk it all and follow a dream? Rick and Michael Mast have the magic combination of both. They’re the ambassadors of the ‘bean-to-bar’ movement in the world of artisanal chocolate.
Unable to find the kind of single-origin, fair-trade product they needed to create their business, they sailed a three-masted schooner to the Dominican Republic to source the raw materials themselves. And unwrapping one of their legendary bars is something of an ‘unboxing’ experience. Like handmade gift wrap, you pause for a moment with the wrapper in your hand and realize you just can’t throw it out.
They got started in their Brooklyn apartment, where in chef Thomas Keller’s words, “they carried out their craft like urban alchemists.” Craft is the key word here: they roasted the beans in their own kitchen, and used a hair dryer to separate nibs from shells. What made the difference between the Mast boys and the hundreds of other hipster hopefuls? The answer is not their exquisite hand-made wrappers. It’s the unique quality of the their chocolate, and the unashamed nobility of their business philosophy.
Their chocolate showcases the unique flavour profile of cocoa beans from different equatorial nations. Like winemakers, they aim to highlight the unique characteristics of their raw materials (beans and sugar) and to reveal the wide range of flavour notes that lay hidden in their carefully sourced varietals. Many top chefs have chosen to use their chocolate exclusively, but some experts question the quality of their product (and their beards). Full disclosure: if you’ve never had ‘craft’ chocolate, your first taste can be quite surprising. It lacks the prized smoothness of classic Swiss chocolate, and can seem at first somewhat unrefined. But if you keep tasting, something intensely exciting emerges. Words fail; you just have to try it.
The co-ops they now work with at small farms around the world are models of fair and loyal partnership. Their lives and the growth of their business are guided by what they call the ‘Seven Crowns’ philosophy: it encompasses family, craftsmanship, zero waste, connection to source, innovation, honesty, and a commitment to making everything ‘delicious’. You can’t taste this in their chocolate, of course, but it’s impossible not to admire their naked idealism. And their paper.