The Netflix reality baking show Nailed It! has made Pastry Chef and Judge Jacques Torres a celebrity—-especially among the playground set. Torres, who has young children of his own, confesses that when he visits the playground with his own kids he is often approached by children asking if he is the chef on “that dessert show.” Yet, Torres has been crafting chocolate and working with pastry long before reality TV was even a thing. He has been working in pastry since he was 15 years old and in 1986 he was the youngest person ever to win the Meilleur Ouvrier Patissier de France competition. Today, in between filming Nailed It!, managing a cacao bean plantation in Mexico and working on a wellness chocolate offering for Costco, Torres also oversees his eight New York-based chocolate shops and a 40,000 square foot chocolate production facility—even Willy Wonka would be proud. Below he shares his insights into the world of chocolate and the world of reality TV.
When they proposed Nailed It! to me, I was skeptical but they told me there was no drama. I didn’t want to be a part of show where people would be crying. They convinced me to try it and I enjoy it because we laugh all the time, and I can teach and show people how to do things. The surprising thing is that kids really love the show. When I go to the playground with my three year-old kids will come up to me. But, they also go to kitchen with mom and try things. When they see what people make on Nailed It! they think “I can do better than that.” I love that!
I love Nailed it! because it’s not about being perfect, it’s about fun. Nicole is a treasure and we are the most unlikely people to be together. She’s a comedian and everyone around her is about comedy and I am a chef, yet we love to work together.
The best chocolate chip cookies should have layers of chocolate, not individual chips. You want a cookie where the chocolate actually melts during the baking, which means the chocolate is high in cocoa butter and the mouthfeel is so much better. I use the highest quality chips in my cookies—-I don’t like to put cheap wine into a sauce either. If someone buys a chocolate chip cooking and the chip is still whole, even after being in the oven all that time it didn’t melt, what is that chip going to do in your stomach? The cheap chocolate made for cookies doesn’t have much cocoa butter so it’s not really going to melt. If that chip is intact in your cookie, it is low on cocoa butter.
When you own a business it’s a little bit of everything. I was busy with some plumbing this morning for our new Costco product. I was extending some of the pipes to go to the machine. As soon as you start to manufacture on a large scale you have to address plumbing, electrical and mechanical issues. We need to automate some things or we cannot deliver volume, now we have a mechanic in house; he and I divide and conquer, whatever it takes to get it done.
The special product for Costco is a superfood chocolate. We are making clusters with superfood in them; they are very simple but sometimes simplicity tastes good. I love to shop at Costco; they sell quality. Meat, fish, everything; they carry good products. It’s good for us to be there; I always tell my staff, all I have is my brand so I take careful care of it the product is very important.
Twenty years doing business in NYC is not easy, it’s a tough city. I love New Yorkers; if they like your product the will tell you, and they will tell you if they don’t like it. People are exposed to a lot here—-it really is true, if you can make it here you can make it anywhere.
The challenges have grown in this business. When we started it was a lot easier, there was less competition, and rent and labor were less costly. Now we face more competition, increased food, labor, and rent costs. And, there is the online demand which will always be determined by season; it’s almost impossible to ship in warm months.
In 2020 people are going to want even more transparency about where your product comes from. People are already asking about where the beans come from, how they are paid for, is the farmer being treated fairly. Producers will have to become more and more transparent about all aspects of chocolate production.
Recently, somewhere in Asia, I tasted a bean to bar chocolate that was made in less than two months (from place of origin to bar, which is pretty fast). When you taste chocolate that fresh it is a great chance to experience the true flavor of the beans. I think more people will be focusing on freshness too so we can taste the identity of the terroir and DNA of those beans.
I am stressed and overworked but things are going well so I am happy. My children are three and a half and nine months old so sleeping is something we don’t know about anymore, but life is beautiful, they bring so much joy.