Disclaimer: this guy does not make chocolate. I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t she say this was “meet the maker”? So who’s this? Well, this is Mark Bitterman, owner of the fantastically lovely shop in New York and Portland. I first met Mark at a conference in Denver in 2009, where he was carting around giant blocks of salt in his suitcase, eager to show them to anyone who indicated the least bit of interest.
Since then, he has gone on to write two books on salt, including Salted, which won a James Beard Award in 2011. His second, Salt Block Cooking, was released last month. While he’s better known as a salt expert (or selmelier, as he likes to call himself), Mark and I also share an unabashed love of chocolate. I caught up with him at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in September 2012.
What’s your chocolate connection?
I own a store in New York City and Portland, Oregon, called The Meadow that sells salt, chocolate, wine and flowers. We specialize in bean to bar chocolate bars.
How did you come to chocolate?
Through the wine world. I’ve been very interested in wine since well before I was drinking age, and I found in chocolate a similar sort of fascination with flavour and the role that it plays in our lives. As chocolate has burgeoned and come onto the scene, we have this new era where there’s an interest in the agricultural side of chocolate, as well as the confectionary side of it. It becomes a very compelling subject. It’s a great to way to explore and learn about food and people, to really connect and educate people about food and on the importance of food systems.
What’s the best part of your job?
I hesitate…it’s a toss-up between eating the chocolate and talking to people about it. I think really, almost as much as I love eating the chocolate I really just love to share with people.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
The sharing with people. [laughs] No, I think the most challenging part of the job is more on the business side of things, the logistics side of things. Working with crafty artisans means a lot of people are doing things in different ways and so you have to kind of adapt to their way of doing things. It’s not about what the market needs, it’s about what the producers are able to supply. And so that’s a challenge. We adapt. We do things with really strange margins, we do things with really strange conditions, we have to accept really strange terms. That’s just how you do business, because you cannot standardize.
What do you do when you’re not making chocolate?
That’s pretty hard to answer. I might well be in a jungle some place making chocolate…and salt…and maybe wine and flowers.