Chefs who do guest sessions at FareStart usually come work with students in the program’s training kitchens, but last week a group of about 20 students instead visited Theo Chocolate’s facility in Fremont for a lesson in making caramel. It’s the first time these two Seattle institutions have joined forces in this particular way; the end result will be a Theo+FareStart collaboration box of caramels, due out this holiday season.
This weekend FareStart celebrates 20 years of feeding the homeless and offering culinary job training to disadvantaged men and women, an august occasion that inspired Theo to invite its students over to get creative with caramel. The box of student-inspired flavors will be the latest in the lastest in the Theo Chef Session series that has also included limited-edition caramel creations by just about every James Beard–winning chef in town, as well as big-time out-of-towners like Gabriel Rucker of Portland’s Le Pigeon, and San Francisco offal maestro Chris Cosentino.
FareStart students pick up various dessert and pastry skills during their training, but those basics generally don’t include infusing caramel with flavors like mushroom, capers, or chives. After guiding students through the basic recipe, Theo chocolatiers turned them loose with a host of spices, along with vegetables like carrots, onions, and celery. These are the elements in a mirepoix, one of the most basic flavoring agents and one of the first things FareStart students learn in the training program. The idea: to have this building block of savory foods also serve as the flavor foundation for sweets.
Students experimented with combinations like carrot, ginger and coriander, and Theo chocolatiers discussed technical aspects like creating flavors that you’d enjoy in an entire caramel, not just a tiny bite, and how excessively pungent creations can stink up a box, overwhelming its more delicate neighbors.
Eddie Miller, one of the students making caramel, says his group group “got our Frankenstein on” with a mix of caramel, onions, and celery. Big and gregarious and sporting the blue hairnet mandatory inside Theo’s facility, Miller says he has aspirations to work the line in a restaurant kitchen. This type of creativity, he says, is a critical part of being a good chef. “You can’t get more creative than adding veggies and caramel.”
At the end of this creativity session, the students gathered back up to sample and discuss what worked, what didn’t, and why. Some of the highlights were caramels flavored with tomato preserve and lemon, carrot and fresh cilantro, and—who knew?—a heady blend of basil, garlic, and caramelized onion. In the coming weeks Theo staff will test, refine, and develop a formal recipe based around these flavors.