Cocoa V's Pamela Blackwell Talks About How to Make Vegan Truffles, the Nut Cheese Phenomenon, and Fakin' Bacon
In 2006, Pamela Blackwell opened her first restaurant, Blossom Restaurant & Cafe, in Chelsea, and won a devoted following for her organic, vegan cuisine. Two weeks ago, Blackwell opened Cocoa V down the street from Blossom (which has a sister location on the Upper West Side, and beginning next week, another on the Upper East Side). The boutique and wine bar is New York's first storefront purveyor of vegan chocolates and truffles, which are made by Patrick Coston, a chocolatier, pastry chef and sometime-Food Network Challenge judge. Blackwell spoke with Fork in the Road about what makes a vegan truffle, the seeming paradox of vegan cheese, and why even someone in Idaho now knows what a vegan is.
So how do you make a vegan truffle, or a truffle vegan?
Traditionally, unless chocolatiers are using dark chocolate, they do put cream or milk solids in their truffles. We use soy milk instead, and other soy products. We have four types of truffles: Our signature dark chocolate is no-soy, and then there's the coconut truffle, the cinnamon truffle, and the silk truffle, which tastes like milk chocolate. My chocolatier, Patrick Coston, has been doing this for about 20 years. He's extremely talented, so it took him some time [to figure out the recipes] but not very long -- he had some ideas.
Is he vegan?
He's a vegetarian.
What made you think that this was the right time to open a vegan chocolate and wine bar?
I'm always trying to think of other businesses that I can do that help animals -- I'm vegan for animal rights reasons. I try to educate people about what they eat -- food can be just as delicious vegan. There were no vegan chocolate shops and I thought, oh my god, this is crazy. I met Patrick was blown away -- this is exactly what I was looking for. It's great to be able to offer it to vegans -- usually, all you can find is dark chocolate bars. It's interesting to talk to people about why we don't use dairy because they ask all the time. So we have the opportunity to talk about animals and how they're treated.
Where does your chocolate come from?
Our cocoa comes from the Dominican Republic. It's processed in Switzerland.
You have a vegan bacon-goji berry truffle on your menu. A lot of people, vegan and non-vegan, believe that fake meat is kind of pointless. What are your feelings about that?
That was really for flavor -- we wanted to come up with some really interesting things for vegans. Goji berries and bacon go really well together because of the salt and the sweetness. In terms of meat substitutes, people are raised on meat and want a certain texture and flavor. If we can offer something that satisfies people, then why not? It's just a product and as long as it's not coming from an animal, that's all we care about.
You've also got a vegan cheese plate on the menu. What's that all about?
It's nut cheese. There are three cheeses: one is herbed macadamia nut, one is cashew-based, and one is cashew and blue green algae. They're really delicious and taste just like cheese -- exotic cheeses, not cheddar. They're served with dried fig, strawberries, and vegan honey. That [dish] has become extremely popular.
You've been open for two weeks. How's business been so far?
It's been really good. People in the neighborhood are super happy. The vegans are really happy, and people in general are happy and receptive. We're also bringing in other food items like a vegan quiche and also making crepes that will all have some kind of chocolate component. We'll do fondue and mousse, and we're also bringing in pizza, and we might bring a few things over from Blossom, like panini. We're making making [the wine bar] like a cafe because during the day people aren't coming in for chocolate and wine; that happens after 6. During the day people are coming in for light food items; they've been coming in and having hot chocolate and the cheese plate. A lot of tourists come in -- we're in the Vegan Guide to New York, and have had a couple of people walking in with that book. Plus there's word of mouth, and being on the Internet and having Blossom doesn't hurt.
Would you say that attitudes towards veganism have changed since you opened the first Blossom in 2006?
Definitely. Five years ago people didn't know what the word "vegan" meant. That's not the case today: That word's so popular today that someone in Idaho knows what it is even if there aren't restaurants in the area. A lot of that is due to PETA and Farm Sanctuary. And people are very curious today for health reasons; even doctors today are saying maybe you should cut back and eat a few more vegetables.
Where do you go for vegan food, other than your own restaurant?
That's a tough question, but not because I think Blossom is the only place to get good vegan food! We cook a lot, but sometimes I go to Angelica for something completely different: Our food is more savory, and their food is almost more macrobiotic. I might go to regular restaurants and might try to get something vegan. But it's tough because while there are little spots, there aren't that many vegan restaurants. Maybe that's why we keep opening them.