Why We Love Shawn Askinosie

Unwrapping one candyman’s secret to really good chocolate, and making the world a better place.

by Marcy Harris

Shawn Askinosie with bags of cocoa beans.

There are some who like chocolate, and then there are those of us who would melt away without it. While I certainly wouldn’t pass up any chocolate you put in my hand, really good bean-to-bar chocolate takes the experience to a whole new level, from my palate to my soul. If you’ve ever had Askinosie chocolate, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

One man raises the bar on chocolate.

After working as a trial lawyer for two decades and feeling exhausted in body and soul, Shawn Askinosie left his work at the bar to pursue his passion for chocolate making. He and his company do so by buying all of their amazingly good beans from farmers across the globe to bring back to their hometown of Springfield, Missouri, and then make them into incredibly good chocolate bars. The bars are crafted from 100% traceable, single-origin cocoa beans from four regions: San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador; Davao, Philippines; Cortes, Honduras; and Tenende, Tanzania. Askinosie mostly specializes in dark chocolate, and the flavor of their product truly represents the origins where the beans were grown.

As a result, the flavors of Askinosie chocolate are big, complex, and compelling. When we say “full-flavored” here at Zingerman’s, this is what we are talking about. It’s dimensional, very well-balanced, and it’s got a long finish that stays with you, which is what us chocolate-lovers really go for.  Unlike most small chocolatiers, he’s actually going straight to the agricultural source and buying cacao beans from the growers. Shawn has spent significant time in South and Central America in order to meet every single one of the farmers from whom he’s getting cacao in order to get to know them and what they do.

“Because of that,” he explains, “I’m able to literally evaluate the beans before we get them delivered. I direct the exact fermentation and drying specifications of my beans and this is the greatest influence of taste that there is.”

There are additional factors that contribute to the quality and flavor of Askinosie chocolate. Shawn spends a significant amount of time teaching fermentation techniques to the growers, for example. Fermentation is what helps develop the flavor of the chocolate. Also, to focus his chocolate on the pure flavor of the cacao, Shawn does not use any of the lecithin or vanilla that are commonly used in most commercial chocolates. He does add a bit of cocoa butter, which he makes himself in Missouri. The superior chocolate that results from his endeavors is used pretty much exclusively at the Roadhouse in anything that requires chocolate, such as our chocolate pudding, mochas, and syrups, because it in turn makes our product taste better.

“‘Cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good.”

While Shawn makes the world a better tasting place to live, he has also made a huge impact on making the world a more meaningful place to live. He makes his chocolate in a workplace that focuses on people, and uses a revolutionary business approach. Not only is he feeding us with really yummy chocolate, but he is feeding the souls of the people he works with, as well as his own with the purposeful work he does. His inspiring book Meaningful Work, A Quest To Do Great Business. Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul talks more about this calling and how to find it for yourself.

Through their model called A Stake in the Outcome™, Askinosie practices open-book management, and their employees are share-owners–just like Zingerman’s!  According to the World Cocoa Foundation, an estimated 8o-90% of the world’s cocoa supply comes from 5 to 6 million smallholder cocoa farmers, and most of these farmers live in poverty. By profit-sharing with these famers in addition to what he pays for the beans, Shawn has addressed this poverty by paying an average of 48% more than the average of what they would normally get paid for their product.

They are also a Direct Trade company. Direct Trade approach cuts out the middleman and pays above Fair Trade market price to the farmers. In turn, Askinosie develops a deep and transparent relationship with the farmers, who are inspired to continue improving the harvesting process to meet quality standards–and we get to eat really good chocolate.

Askinosie involves their community in Missouri to have a greater impact as well. They started Chocolate University, where they teach local schools in Missouri through the lens of an artisan chocolate-maker about how we can solve global issues through business. Through their Product of Change program, they sell chocolate products to local schools in Missouri, then use 100% of the profits to feed malnourished children in the communities where their beans originate in other countries.

So while his chocolate was already delicious, because of the love Shawn puts into it at the source, we guarantee it tastes that much better. Stop by and feed your soul with our favorite bars of chocolate at the Roadhouse!

Check out the yummy Roadshow beverages we offer that are made with Askinosie chocolate!

Chocolate Chess Pie: Simple and Delicious

By Marcy Harris

Did you know that Zingerman’s Bakehouse created a recipe based on a Southern favorite just for the Roadhouse? Many years ago, when the Roadhouse first opened, the classic American dessert chess pie was added to our menu. For 14 years, it has continued to hold a special place seasonally on our dessert menu and in our hearts.

So what exactly is chess pie? We know it is traditionally a baked custard pie that migrated from England to New England, and it can be made in a variety of flavors. At the Roadhouse, we feature chocolate and occasionally lemon from the Bakehouse.

A pie by any other name…

The name is what tends to throw people off. When I was growing up, I was convinced that it had something to do with the game of chess. Apparently, we can check that idea off as not likely. While the origin of the name is not exactly clear, there are stories that are considered more plausible.

One idea is that the pie was typically stored in a pie chest, so it was referred to as “chest pie”, and over time the name may have evolved to “chess”.

Another thought has more to do with the simplistic nature of this pie. While the flavor is richly layered, the ingredients are quite simple: sugar, flour, eggs, and butter. Some folks think that the pie was referred to as “just pie”, but when pronounced with a Southern accent, the name sounded similar to “jes’” or “chess”.

Not jes’ your everyday pie.

Chess pie is generally smooth and creamy in the center. The Bakehouse uses a special dark chocolate from Mindo in Dexter, MI, which makes quality chocolate from cocoa beans in Ecuador. The result is a rich, velvety texture with a deep cocoa flavor. With the flakey, all-butter crust, each bite is simply decadent. In the new Zingerman’s Bakehouse Cookbook, Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo call it “flourless chocolate cake in a pie crust.” Oh my.

 

 

 

The recipe is indeed in the Bakehouse Cookbook, which we have for sale at the Roadhouse. Our chocolate chess is a favorite for the holidays, and we sell whole pies of it every year for Thanksgiving. Looking to treat yourself after a full day of holiday planning and shopping? Stop in at the Roadhouse for a mini personal pie! Topped with our housemade, real whipped cream, this little pie will offer up big flavors!

 

Vegetable Butchery: Ari’s Interview with Cara Mangini

Cara Mangini will be our honored guest at our Tomato Dinner #214 on September 12th! We will be tasting delicious recipes from her new book, “The Vegetable Butcher”, and watching a live demo of her butchering vegetables for the guests!

I love that you focus so much on vegetables.  How did that happen?  Did you grow up a vegetarian?

The ritual of sitting down to share a meal has always been extremely important to me. Since I was a kid, I enjoyed the daily celebration of food and my family, and how those moments marked the year. I knew there was a special kind of magic that was created at the table. I also thought a lot about what I ate and the connection between food and health—how certain foods made me feel beyond sheer enjoyment.

I started to gravitate specifically toward vegetables when living in Paris and traveling around Europe in college. I continued to travel, cook, and eat my way through France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, and Turkey in my 20’s. Those food experiences had a profound effect on my perspective and path. It became very clear to me that I wanted to contribute to making vegetables second nature in our culture—the way they were in so many other places. At the same time, I lived in Brooklyn for 10 years while a vibrant farm-to-table movement was making big waves around me. It completely inspired me. I realized that vegetables have always been the most exciting and delicious part of the plate for me.

I’m sure you get asked this all the time but, what’s a vegetable butcher?

A vegetable butcher is a trusted professional who demystifies produce with tips, tricks, and practical, how-to information (the stuff that somehow no one ever taught you). We have professionals that we turn to for advice in so many areas of our life—traditional butchers, cheesemongers, doctors, hairdressers, attorneys. A vegetable butcher is that person you can count on and who will help take the guesswork out of breaking down and cooking with vegetables—an artisan who has dedicated her life to getting to know the ingredients so that you can benefit from her knowledge, lessons and recipes.

As someone who’s not a vegetarian but who eats a lot of vegetables, I’m excited to see them being put front and center in a cookbook like yours.  Can you talk about that a bit?

At it’s core The Vegetable Butcher is a celebration of vegetables! It’s both a guide that will help readers break down vegetables with knife lessons, insider tips, and approachable preparations as well as a comprehensive collection of produce-inspired recipes (over 150). My hope is that The Vegetable Butcher will give readers the confidence, encouragement, and motivation to cook and eat vegetables every day—and ultimately, find the joy in cooking with seasonal ingredients that connect you to nature and to each moment of the year.

Tell us about your restaurant in Columbus?  You also have a new place opening up soon? And how did you get to Columbus anyways? 

Little Eater is a produce-inspired restaurant and farm stand in Columbus’s historic North Market. And, yes, we are in the middle of opening our second location which is our first real home where we will be able to welcome guests for a full experience. Everything on the menu in our restaurants is inspired by local ingredients and is designed to bring everyone to the table with focus on flavor and abundance (never sacrifice or obligation which can too often be the case or perception with vegetable-driven food). It is our mission to honor the work of our farm partners and to support the health of our community.

I am from the San Francisco Bay Area, went to school just outside of downtown Chicago, and spent most of my adult life in New York. Columbus was not on my radar! I met my husband at the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams booth at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. I was living and working at a farm and associated farm to table restaurant in Napa Valley at the time. I moved to Columbus six month later and started actively working on my business and book. I always say (and it’s the absolute truth), Columbus was the missing link in my business plan. We are surrounded by inspiring entrepreneurs, incredible farmers and farmland, and a community that is just as invested in our success as we are. I am so grateful for it.

What are some of your favorite dishes in the book?

I can’t pick favorites, but I do have go-to recipes in every season!

Spring: Asparagus, Hazelnuts, and Mint with Quinoa and Lemon Vinaigrette, Snap Pea, Asparagus, and Avocado Salad with Radish Vinaigrette, Artichoke Torta, Swiss Chard Crostata with Fennel Seed Crust, and Ramp (or Leek) and Asparagus Risotto.

Summer: Corn Fritters with Summer Bean Ragout, Marinated Peppers with Goat Cheese Tartines, Seaside Gazpacho Zucchini, Sweet Corn, and Basil Penne with Pine Nuts and Mozzarella, Eggplant Polenta Cake.

Fall: Fall Farmers Market Tacos, and Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Chard and Coconut Black Rice, Turkish Carrot Yogurt.

Winter: Celery Root Pot Pie, Broccoli and Radicchio Rigatoni with Creamy Walnut Pesto, Parsnip Ginger Cake with Browned Buttercream Frosting.

What do you think are some of the biggest misunderstandings about vegetables amongst Americans?

Vegetables don’t have to equate to sacrifice. They can produce over-the-top flavor and craveable, deeply satisfying food. Vegetable-based food isn’t about what isn’t on the plate, it’s about everything that is.

Given that you’ll be here for the dinner in mid September what are some of the dishes you’re thinking about for this special menu?

We’re going to highlight the tomato harvest and all of those late summer ingredients that we’ll be missing a few months later. For sure we’ll do an heirloom tomato panzanella to highlight all of the different colors, textures and varieties of tomatoes grown at Roadhouse Farms. It’s going to be a beautiful celebration of that specific and fleeting moment of the year when the sun is that golden angle, and the food coming out of the ground and the people who grew it deserve to be honored.

Have you been to Ann Arbor before?  Are you excited about coming?

I have never been to Ann Arbor and cannot wait! I have heard about what a special place it is and I’m excited to experience the food scene, most especially Zingerman’s that, honestly, I have admired from afar for so long!

What else should I ask? 

I think you asked good questions, nothing to add. I always ask people that by the way:)! Always the best question… sorry, I don’t have a better answer:)

Purchase tickets today for our Tomato Special Dinner #214: Featuring Vegetable Butcher, Cara Mangini!

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Roadhouse Closed Election Day

Zingerman’s Roadhouse will be closed on Election Day, November 4, 2008.  As a “thank you” to our staff for all of their dedication and commitment over the past 5 years of operation, we are taking this opportunity to show our gratitude to them.

The Roadhouse will open again for regular business at 11am on Wednesday, November 5.  The Roadshow staff will be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 6am to serve our drive-up guests espressos, lattes and breakfast bagels.

Thank you for your understanding!

Harvest Dinner

The bounty of the garden has been taken from the ground and put onto plates. A whole lot of plates. Our third annual harvest dinner was served up last Tuesday to 120 hungry guests at the Roadhouse. Tomatoes had the largest presence, but our heirloom peppers and potatoes represented themselves pretty well. We oven roasted San Marzano romas at a low temperature for a long time to make the perfect sweet and colorful roasted tomato, and made it even better by stuffing it with blackfin tuna from Tobago. We hollowed out squash and made room for house made lamb sausage, and sliced cucumbers thin for a creamy fresh salad. We actually took three different types of our potatoes (german butter balls, kennebecs, and pontiac reds) and hand cut them for french fries. We then challenged our guests to decide which one was the favorite, and that one will be grown in massive quantities for the restaurant next year. We also steamed the taters for an amazing potato salad… The pepper were all over in different dishes, but I was most excited by the heirloom pimento cheese. Pimento cheese is a southern specialty already on our menu (cheddar, mayo, roasted red peppers, cayenne), but we took it a step further by making it with our hot hungarian wax peppers, red and yellow hinkelhotz, and an appropriately named amish cheese pepper. The flavors blew me away! The heat was definitely at the front, but continued to linger on the tongue. We did not even need to use cayenne to add spice! At the end of the huge buffet was our raw bar of heirloom tomatoes (and me). We had ten different varieties that I sliced to order so that you could sample varietals side by side to compare flavor profiles. We also had house made fresh mozzarella, basil from the garden, a vast selection of American olive oils, and plenty of Portugese sea salad to make fantastic caprese salads, just the way you like them. There were, of course, much more- a gigantic sundae bar, peach cobbler, blueberry grunt, bean salads, sweet carrots…… I will post the menu as incentive to make your reservation now for next year!!

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If You Dream It…

Imagine the scene: It is early in the morning… Mark is basking in the lowlight (and temperature) of the time prior to the heat. Chef Alex Young strolls to the backyard (our massive garden) and sips a steaming cup of coffee. He tells Mark that he had a dream (I see a patten here..) that he had potatoes ready under ground. Mark, not ready to contemplate potatoes in his harvest list, hesitates. However, and this only further proves that my boss is far too prophetic, hesitation may set itself aside. We have potatoes, and we have a one Chef Alex’s sixth sense to thank for that. Kennebecks and Pontiacs. Ready to serve. Come and get ‘um.