Roni-Sue's Chocolates Opens up a Bigger Shop (Q & A)
Just a few weeks ago, beloved Lower East Side chocolatier Roni-Sue's (148 Forsyth Street, 212-677-1216) ventured beyond its Essex Street Market stomping grounds and into a stand-alone retail location on Forsyth Street. In addition to soon-to-launch classes, the sibling space is offering coffee, hot chocolate, morning pastries, and, of course, its now-notorious (in the neighborhood, at least) chocolates. In this interview, owner Rhonda Kave discusses the new space, basement-brewed absinthe, and why bacon is still having its moment.
What's your best-selling item?
Our Pig Candy (chocolate-covered bacon), bar none. We started making it in 2008, and I thought it was going to be around for a New York Minute. I thought people would try it, they'd like it, and that'd be the end of it. We featured it in that year's Chocolate Show, and it got written up in the New York Times -- then everyone wanted it, and it built and built. There has been this kind of craze over bacon and desserts over the past few years, and we were kind of at the forefront of that serendipitously.
You're a fan of some pretty offbeat flavor combinations. Anything you've done recently?
Every year for the Lower East Side Pickle Day, I actually make a pickle truffle. I started doing them because I wanted to make a weird splash in the neighborhood, and I thought, "why not a pickle truffle?" And it was really surprisingly good -- it's kind of refreshing. It was fun to challenge myself in that way. That's one of the things I like to do -- to see if I can bend something quirky into my will and make it tasty.
How do you choose which base to use for your truffles?
We have a white chocolate ganache, which I'll use for some of the cocktail truffles -- such as the Margarita or the Lebowski -- where you want the alcohol and the other flavors to be really front and center. [White chocolate] is pretty neutral, so when you add the lime and tequila (for the margarita), that's what you taste.
Many of your truffles take a 'behind the bar' approach -- any particular reason?
I used to be a bartender back in the day. The Cocktail Collection was actually the very first collection I made when I started Roni-Sue's. I was in the middle of creating it and was trying to determine the sixth and final chocolate for the line. My son, who's a chef, came by and brought a little bottle of absinthe from the restaurant he was working at. This was before absinthe was legal -- they were brewing it in the basement. I said to myself, "That's what I'm going go make: an absinthe truffle!" So I did.
How do you manage to create so much flavor in such tiny bites?
One of the other bases I make is called persipan, which is a little bit unusual; not too many people are making it. It's similar in consistency and flavor to marzipan, but it's made predominantly with apricot kernel instead of almond, making the resulting base lighter and fruitier. When I want the underlying ingredient to be the thing you taste the most, I'll use this. In fact, two of my seasonal truffles right now use it: the pumpkin spice and the caramel apple.
How do you think up these flavor profiles? What is your process?
Right now I have a couple of folders of ideas that haven't seen the light of day yet. They're waiting for their turn -- their close-up. I get inspired by different ingredients that I might see. I love going to a place like Kalustyan's; it's a playground for me. I can't get out of there without spending a minimum of $100. I just went there the other day, and I bought watermelon powder. I don't know what I'm going to do with it yet, but if I see watermelon powder, I've got to have it -- I might need that! Whenever I see something that's really quirky and piques my interest, I usually get it and then think about what I'm going to do with it later. I also like to haunt old liquor stores -- the dusty shelf on the bottom, especially -- to see what might be there.