Although nothing says Valentine’s Day quite like a box of chocolates, nothing says it more than homemade treats for a loved one.
In hopes of teaching students the art of chocolate in time for Valentine’s Day, Executive Chef Mark Bratton of West End Market and Executive Chef John Scherer of Owens Food Court are holding a “Chocolate-Dipped Treats and Truffles” workshop today.
Bratton, who came to Virginia Tech in 2000, has acquired a wealth of experience with chocolate throughout his career. According to Bratton, he was exposed to chocolate since in his first job in 1982 working at a bakery in Arlington, Va.
“I kind of got that bug planted early on in my career,” Bratton, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, said. “I’ve pursued it throughout because when you own your own restaurant, or you’re a partner in a restaurant, everyone has to do dessert and everyone loves chocolate.”
Before coming to Tech, Bratton was a sous chef at Buckhead Diner in Atlanta, Ga. and executive chef at both Heron Park Grille in South Carolina and Bistro Savannah in Georgia. Bratton said he learned to work with chocolate by watching other professionals.
“I would purposely stay over and work extra to learn from them — kind of as an apprentice — so I could learn how to temper chocolate, which is an art as well as a science,” Bratton said.
In addition to learning from other professionals in his field, Bratton also attended chocolate workshops, including a class hosted by the chocolate company Albert Uster Imports at the University of Richmond in 2009. According to Bratton, the class was taught by one of the top pastry chefs in the world.
“I learned how to handle chocolate really well and have fun with it,” Bratton said. “It’s one of those things that if you get enough confidence with it, you’ll learn to have fun with it and then it comes a little easier.”
Scherer agreed that working with chocolate can be fun. Scherer has hosted the Valentine Chef Series for the past few years and said that he always has fun working with chocolate and interacting with students. This year, Bratton will be joining him as co-host.
“In the past, I’ve mostly done chocolate strawberries,” Scherer said. “Now, Mark is kind of taking the lead and he’s branching out with truffles and giving a little bit more of an education (behind the chocolate).”