Bean-to-bar manufacturers Patric and Askinosie are putting Missouri on the chocolate map

Chocolate makes people happy. That much scientists know. They're not sure what gives it its distinctive aroma, whether it's an addictive substance or if it really does function as an aphrodisiac. But they do know that the seeds of the cacao tree contain phenylethylamine, a chemical that stimulates the pleasure centers of the human brain and creates a warm, giddy feeling.

By that standard, Alan McClure and Shawn Askinosie, makers of Patric and Askinosie Chocolate respectively, should be the two happiest men in Missouri. McClure works in Columbia, Askinosie in Springfield. They spend every day, sometimes for as long as eighteen hours, surrounded by cacao beans in various permutations: raw, roasted, liquefied, solidified and finally molded into bars of pure dark chocolate.

Some may argue that they're also among the craziest. "You'd have to be insane to wake up one morning and say, 'I'm going to make chocolate,'" McClure admits.

After giving up a career as a trial lawyer, Shawn Askinosie threw himself into making chocolate.
Edward Biamonte
After giving up a career as a trial lawyer, Shawn Askinosie threw himself into making chocolate.
Alan McClure pours liquid chocolate into molds.
Nick Schnelle
Alan McClure pours liquid chocolate into molds.

Location Info

Map

Harvest

1059 S. Big Bend Blvd.
Richmond Heights, MO 63117

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Richmond Heights

Northwest Coffee Roasting Company

4251 Laclede Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63108

Category: Restaurant > Cafe

Region: St. Louis - Central West End

Whole Foods Market-Galleria

1601 S. Brentwood Blvd.
Brentwood, MO 63144

Category: Retail

Region: Brentwood

Straub's

302 N. Kingshighway
St. Louis, MO 63108

Category: Grocery Stores

Region: St. Louis - Central West End

Winslow's Home

7213 Delmar Blvd.
University City, MO 63130

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: University City

Details

"To make chocolate is a complicated process," says Emily Duffelmeyer, the chocolate buyer at Zingerman's Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan, one of the few stores that sells both Patric and Askinosie. "There are lots of steps and opportunities to mess up. It's a very highly processed food. When I taste good chocolate, it's a miracle."

Premium dark chocolate used to be a rarity in the United States. But in the past decade the heightened awareness of food that has made Americans start obsessing over the origins of the grapes in their wine or whether there's raw milk in their cheese has also made them pay closer attention to the amount of cacao in their chocolate.

Twenty-five years ago the French company Valrhona figured out how to make a chocolate bar that was 70 percent cacao and 30 percent sugar, an event the New Yorker writer Bill Buford called "the chocolate world's equivalent of an airplane breaking the sound barrier." Within a few years 70 percent became the benchmark for fine chocolate, and it's now de rigueur for manufacturers to advertise the cocoa content on their packaging.

A bar with that much cacao didn't need any extra fillers or flavorings. Instead, chocolate makers could, in McClure's words, "highlight and elevate the beauty and complexity of cacao's flavor."

McClure uses Madagascar cacao in most of his chocolate. Its flavor is intense and complex, almost shocking, with notes of berries and a tannic aftertaste, like wine. It tastes healthy.

"We're so used to thinking of chocolate as candy," McClure says. "But it's a healthy food — not health food, but healthy."

Dark chocolate is high in unsaturated fats and contains more antioxidants than broccoli. It dilates the arteries, lowers LDL cholesterol, and at least one study has proven that people who eat chocolate live longer than those who don't. (Jeanne Calment, the world's oldest woman, attributed her longevity to her two-pound-a-week habit. She lived to be 122.)

In the past five years a few Americans — not just content to eat chocolate — have decided to try their hands at producing it. Clay Gordon, editor and publisher of the website the Chocolate Life and author of Discover Chocolate, estimates that there are now fourteen bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the United States.

But Askinosie, a former trial lawyer, suspects some of them don't perform every step in the production process themselves and believes the actual number is closer to five. (The others are DeVries Chocolate in Denver; Amano Artisan Chocolate in Orem, Utah; and Rogue Chocolatier in Minneapolis.)

"Even Hershey's isn't a bean-to-bar chocolate maker anymore," he says. "They don't roast their own beans."

To the shock of many in the chocolate world, including McClure and Askinosie, one of the centers of this new bean-to-bar movement is Missouri, a state that, in Gordon's words, "is not exactly known for leading food trends."

"People kept asking me if I'd heard of the lawyer in Springfield who was making chocolate," McClure recalls. "I thought, 'That can't be true. What are the chances of Missouri being the only state with two bean-to-bar chocolate makers?' It was so unlikely, and neither of us knew about each other."

Both Patric and Askinosie produced their first bars in 2007, about ten years after Scharffen Berger opened in Berkeley, California, and changed the American chocolate industry forever. Scharffen Berger was the country's first microbatch bean-to-bar chocolate maker, meaning it produced fewer than 250,000 pounds of chocolate per year. The venture was wildly successful — so successful that it sold out to Hershey's for $10 million in 2005.

A bar of premium chocolate bears as much resemblance to a Hershey bar as a dry-aged steak does to a Big Mac. The price difference is comparable, too: A 1.75-ounce Patric bar sells for $6.25, and a slightly weightier Askinosie for between $8 and $10. In St. Louis you can buy Patric at Harvest, Northwest Coffee Roasting Company and Whole Foods, among other places. Askinosie is available at Straub's, Winslow's Home and the Wine Merchant.

"People are educating themselves to know the difference," says Gordon, "and they're more willing to spend what it takes to buy a great product. Chocolate is one of the least expensive gourmet foods in the world. The price difference between the everyday and the really good is very narrow. Bonnard makes a $22 bar that's the most expensive in the world. Even at $22 a bar, you can buy a bar of the best chocolate every week. You can't do that with the best bottle of wine."

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