Mort Rosenblum on The Chocolate Trail
Published by The New York Sun on 2005-02-10
To sweeten discussion of his new book, "Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light" (North Point Press, 2005), Mort Rosenblum comes bearing -- what else -- a handsome grey-satin box of chocolates made by his favorite chocolatier, Jacques Genin of Paris. The contents are gratefully -- even greedily -- gobbled up before the interview starts, which seems to please Mr. Rosenblum. His own taste in chocolate evolved from the plebian -- he was raised in Tucson, Az., on Hershey bars -- to his cheerful self-characterization as being an "insufferable chocolate snob."
Should that we all be so lucky. But a reporter with, shall we say, a somewhat generous waistline asked Mr. Rosenblum, "Isn't chocolate bad for your health? Doesn't it make you fat? Doesn't it give you pimples?"
"No," was the response from the man who, in his earlier avatar as an acclaimed foreign correspondent for The Associated Press and executive editor of the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, would scarcely have countenanced a mono-syllabic answer to a journalistic question.
Then the intense, bushy-haired author softened. "Chocolate, in fact, makes you fall in love -- if not with the person who gave it to you, then certainly with the maker," he said. "Good chocolate should melt just by looking hard at it."
He looked at a lot of good chocolate around the world in the two years that it took to research and write the book. He discovered that chocolate was an annual $60 billion industry, that 3 millions tons of cocoa are produced each year -- half of the annual world production of coffee -- 40% of them in the strife-ridden West African nation of Ivory Coast. He found that the Swiss consume 22.3 pounds of chocolate per person each year, followed by Austrians with 201.3 pounds, Irish at 19.47 pounds, Germans at 18 pounds, and Americans at 11.64 pounds.
In fact, Americans consume more chocolates per capita than the French (11.38 pounds), though Mr. Rosenblum avers that the latter make the best chocolates in the world. Fuelled by a desire to engage in luxury-goods consumption, Americans are increasingly buying designer chocolates, including European imports. That seems only fitting because chocolate was "discovered" in 1598 by the man who discovered America, Christopher Columbus, when, landing in the Honduras, indigenous people paid tribute to him in cocoa beans. Mr. Rosenblum also found that Mexico's Emperor Montezuma habitually drank 50 cups of hot chocolate before visiting his harem of 200 winsome maidens every evening.
"Chocolate was an early Viagra," he said. That line that resonates well with audiences, he says, particularly in lifestyle-conscious California, where his book has already become a best-seller.
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist