Lula’s Chocolates adds new shop in the midst of the annual holiday surge.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Super fresh cream. Real butter. Himalayan sea salts. Smaller, softer macadamia nuts from Hawaii. Very spendy 10-pound bricks of Peter’s Swiss chocolate, for which the minimum order is 500 pounds.
There is no shortage of impeccable (and expensive) ingredients that go into the dizzingly delicious Lula’s cremes, caramels, truffles and other treats. There is one ingredient they contain, though, that cannot be replicated at any price point: Grandma’s juju.
When late Granny Lula told her grandson, Carmel’s Scott Lund, “no more chocolates for Christmas” – she couldn’t lift her kettle or see the thermometer readings any more – he headed over to her kitchen and followed orders that kept a family tradition alive.
As part of the proceedings, they would sit stirring butter and cream for caramels over low heat for two hours. Two hours. She would tell stories, which Lund says she never embellished. Same for her recipes. “This is how you do it,” she’d say. “That’s how it comes out well.”
So when you can taste the crazy buttery blessing the toffee brings, the symphonic seduction of the handmade mint cremes, and even the opulent silkiness that comes from recrystallizing sugar in caramels on such a tiny scale that any chance of grittiness is vanquished, you also taste Grandma Lula’s technique.
Now Lula’s chief chocolatier, Lund has gone to four confectionary courses to better understand her gourmet gifts.
“She was an artist,” Lund says. “I had to go get the science.”
This week, even as Lund and his team take on the busiest time of their calendar year (look no further than Lula’s shipping room for evidence that Christmas season isn’t waiting for Thanksgiving around here), he is adding another ingredient to further cement his goal of “owning” Monterey County chocolate. Lula’s (655-8527) is already a fixture at local markets and upscale tasting events, and also enjoys a low-pro Crossroads shop to complement the Ryan Ranch headquarters/lab. Now Lund soft-opens his new shop (624-LULA) on Mission between Ocean and Seventh in Carmel this Friday, Nov. 18. (The official grand opening/ribbon cutting follows Dec. 5.)
The Carmel-by-the-Sea spot pledges greater sales possibilities to a dream disposable-income demographic, and greater regional traction and online sales for a local edible star.
Lund no longer has to stir together his chocolate alchemy with giant paddles for two hours. (Last time he did, he got blisters.) He has a specialized machine that does it for him, which is just one of the joys awaiting anyone who tours the modest Ryan Ranch “factory,” a fun confluence of history, gadgets and sweetness that requires at least one reference to Willy Wonka. But each of his chocolates is still crafted and dipped by hand by a team that feels like family.
The free, by-appointment tours are a fun and educational undertaking (with a couple nibbles); tour-tastings are rarer pay-to-play events with more chocolate chomping that could work as a great holiday party or special gift ($250/eight people). Same goes for Lula’s selection of clusters, cremes, truffles and toffees, or their marshmallow creations (this season they’re stars and snow flakes and such) and their unrivaled caramel apples. My favorite gift box is the sea-salt caramels, which come with a variety of nine different exotic salts in collections that start at $12.95. My favorite pairing with them: wine. On Dec. 8, Lund leads a holiday chocolate and wine pairing ($50) at brand-new Holman Ranch Tasting Room (659-2640) in Carmel Valley Village to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association.
It all makes for quite the season for Lund’s team and our tummies. Something tells me that up there on her chocolate-covered marshmallow cloud, holiday-loving Grandma Lula is grinning.
• In August the Weekly broke news of a CSA-style cooperative for local sustainable seafood. At that point, Local Catch Monterey Bay (345-5153) project principals Oren Frey and Alan Lovewell were gauging whether there was enough interest. There was: They just sent word that they are accepting memberships and payments for a Jan. 17-April 3 season. “Crab, black cod, Pacific herring, sand dabs,” they write. “These are a few items that may be offered.” $20-$40/week for a small or family share. Register at www.localcatchmontereybay.com.
• Phoebe’s Cafe (372-8016) opened to the public at Asilomar Conference Grounds this week. The antique-wood decor in Hearst Social Hall creates a classic setting to sip espresso, teas, local beer and wine and graze on vegetarian-leaning fare. There’s a from-scratch soup du jour ($4) plus panini like the turkey-brie with cranberry relish ($10 with salad) and a falafel-baby greens salad ($9). The cafe dishes 6:30am-10pm daily – and looks like a great spot to warm up with some java or chili pre – or post-beach.
• Two talents intertwined last week for a historic meal, the first winemaker dinner in Rio Grill’s beautiful new Santa Fe room (625-5436). Peter Figge brought the backstory of his cellars (384-4149) – and his Chardonnays, Pinots and Syrah, which retail around $30 – which Chef Cy Yontz paired with veal short ribs, poblano pesto-horseradish-crusted wild salmon and an ancho-chile chocolate tort. The room enjoys its own bar and can seat up to 50 (75 standing), making it a great play for holiday parties.
• MEarth at Hilton Bialek Habitat next to Carmel Middle was already unlike any classroom – with its outdoor kitchen, Italian pizza oven, acre of organic gardens bursting with curly kale, seashell cosmos and heirloom apple trees – before it added the breakthrough “green classroom” complete with living roof and Cooking Channel quality kitchen. I swung by for some of the garden-fresh breakfast and found it hard to leave. Visit the blog for a link to look inside.
• “All you need is love,” Charles Schulz said, “but a little chocolate doesn’t hurt.”