Kevin Lindee, Chocolatier: Five Questions

Kevin Lindee, Chocolatier: Five Questions

When it comes to making truffles, Kevin Lindee isn't afraid of much. Rather, the Columbia Heights-based proprietor of Ganache: Truffles for Every Occasion thrives on infusing his truffles with flavors that might not sound as natural as, say, chocolate and nougat, but somehow work. Lindee's innovative creations will be available for a second consecutive year at Taste of Chocolate, a dessert competition raising money for the Bloomington Fine Arts Council. He spoke with The Hot Dish about how he decides what ingredients to use, and how everyday food items can provide inspirations for truffles.

1) The truffles you will be presenting at Taste of Chocolate will be infused with fresh thyme. How do you decide on savory flavors to combine with chocolate? I'm a culinary student, and throughout my baking and pastry education, I've also done the culinary management side, so I actually was in the savory side and the hot food side of the kitchen. I was exposed to all these herbs, and all the different techniques of using these things. And it's just 'If this goes well with this, why can't it go well with this?' Speaking of the thyme truffle, chocolate goes well with raspberries, raspberries go awesome with lemon, and lemon and thyme go together. I do that with a lot of things. I have a citrus and basil truffle, an orange and tarragon truffle, a saffron and black courant truffle. So mixing and intertwining all these savory applications to the sweet side put my truffles at a different level of fanciness, I suppose. More on the exotic side.

2) What's your pitch to get chocolate-lovers leery of unusual flavors to branch out? I would just say try it. There might be some odd combinations that you would want to try. There's a chocolate bar made by Vosges that has bacon in it. Bacon and chocolate--that's kind of scary. But you know, sweet, salty, savory, crunchy, smooth--I mean, it's almost the perfect candy bar. It's just teasing your palate and hitting every area of your tongue and seeing how it all melts together.

3) Even big-box stores now are selling exotically flavored chocolate: red pepper, sea salt, corn flakes, etc. How do you stay inspired and inventive in your own chocolate making? I'm a member of the American Culinary Federation, and we're a huge network of professional chefs, so we come together with recipes and educational sessions, and I get inspiration from them. Even if I look at a salad and it has strawberries, pine nuts, goat cheese, and arugula in a balsamic dressing, I'll think, 'Wow, these all go well together, can I turn this into a truffle?' So, maybe a balsamic reduction [would work], and I can use my culinary knowledge to make it into a truffle. That's a huge inspiration. It's just a matter of playing around with different ingredients.

4) You use a lot of locally raised dairy and sustainable agriculture in your chocolate. What difference does it make in your truffles? I have been exposed to all these different creams, butters, sugars, and flours through my education. And I like to support local agriculture. I also found that our local products are very good compared to imported food, even if it's just coming across the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. There's a huge difference in the taste of the final product. It's great flavor and good fat content.

5) It seems there are quite a few successful local chocolatiers. Do you see yourselves as competitors with one another? Established chocolatiers go to other people and say, 'Hey, I need some help. Can you share some of your knowledge with me, because I'm stuck on this.' More than likely we're happy to help each other out. Obviously we won't give each other recipes, but it's a whole big networking thing. It's all about who do you know, what do they do, and how you can help them. I haven't had any troubles finding help if I need it, and I've had people contact me. It's a friendly environment.

The 15th annual Taste of Chocolate runs from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Bloomington Center for the Arts. Proceeds benefit the Bloomington Fine Arts Council.

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