Don't hate Julie Pech because she has the best gig on the planet. It took some serious guts for the gal to toss her corporate job years ago to pursue her passion--chocolate--and share the knowledge she gleaned about this wonder food by writing an informative, research-based book incorporating various findings, The Chocolate Therapist: A User's Guide to the Extraordinary Health Benefits of Chocolate. Armored with a degree in nutrition, she then hit the speaking circuit, touting chocolate's wondrous ways on cruise ships before buying a chocolate line and opening her own shop dedicated to the brown stuff many of us love more than our mates (sometimes). After selling nearly 8,000 copies of the first book, a publisher contacted her with a request to revise it, sweetening the pages with more fun stories and info on pairing wines with chocolates.
We caught her between bites for the brief interview below, but you can hear more out what the Countess of Chocolate has to say when she speaks at the 2010 Miami Book Fair at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow.
New Times: Now that your career is chocolate-focused, do you ever get sick of eating the stuff?
Julie Pech: No. Mainly because I don't pig out on it at all the time. I have one or two pieces of my favorites and then I don't need any more. I never get sick of it.
Do you just pop pieces like vitamins or is it a whole meditative practice?
Usually I'm sitting at my desk. I'll just grab a few pieces of my favorites and I savor them. I don't just chow it. I appreciate the flavors and I think about them.
How much should we eat?
Most doctors are recommending about one ounce per day. That's half a bar. I eat closer to two ounces a day, which is about 50 pounds of chocolate a year. I have a really clean diet. It's easy to stay on a healthy diet when I know I can have a little chocolate every day. I never feel deprived.
But, uh, how do I put this nicely: Are you fat?
I'm really lean and I do eat chocolate every day. I make time to work out every day, about 30 minutes a day. I'm 5-foot-5-inches and 115 pounds.
Pech's a lean, chocolate-eating machine.
Yet there's all that sugar in there and stuff...
You have to eat good chocolate. That is my message. In the book there's a whole section about how to read labels and what to stay away from. Cocoa should be the number one ingredient. Cocoa butter is probably number two. Sugar is probably number three and soy lecithin would probably be the next one. It's an emulsifier. In Hershey's dark and Dove dark the number one ingredient is sugar. And then vanilla with an "a." Vanillin is an artificial flavoring.
What's so great about it, aside from the amazing taste?
It's the richest source of nutrients and antioxidants on any food on the planet. If you eat good, pure dark chocolate it can really be a benefit to the body, the heart, the immune system, the brain. It's a very pure source of vitamins and minerals.
Tell me about your book.
It's a renovation of my original book. The first book was research. The second book is based on my experience and little trade secrets.
What's new in that second book then?
The first book was based off of research. This second book is based on my experience. There's a whole section about how to pair chocolate with wine. That information is not published anywhere.
Can you give me the Cliff's Notes version?
I do primarily four wines that go well with chocolate. I do a Muscato, a sweet dessert wine, with orange fruits and milk or dark chocolate. Oranges, mangos, peaches, apricots. Anything orange. Then either a Zinfandel or Cabernet--something fruit forward with lots of personality--those go well with dark chocolate and red fruits. Shiraz I would do something fun, like nuts and spices. The absolute best is Tawny Port with caramels, toffee, nuts, and spices.
Look at the flavors on the wine bottles and find chocolates that are synergistic and have similar flavors.
What's the latest and greatest in the cocoa world?
Peppery chocolate is the trend right now. Cayenne pepper chocolate.
I had no idea chocolate could help with so many physical issues. How many are listed in your book?
I came up with the concept of dividing all the ailments I was studying, alphabetizing them--I've got like 60 in the new book--and I give a fun chocolate recommendation followed by supporting evidence. You can just go to the ailment and see all the research neatly organized.
And how did you dig up so many little nuggets?
For the Where Do You Hide Your Chocolate chapter... I queried, like, 30,000 people. The ones that came back that were so funny. They were like a cult--the chocolate hiders! I like the one where the woman put her chocolate cake in the dryer and her husband never does the clothes but he did the clothes and the chocolate cake got tossed through the clothes. He was such a good sport about it.
Should I tell you where I hide mine?
In the book it says if you're in an emergency at someone else's house go check the freezer under the vegetables.
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Okay--that's scary. I have a bar under a bag of green beans at this very moment! Do you have to hide your stash at home?
I use decoy chocolate. The cheap chocolate goes on the available shelves. My kids and I dig out the good stuff.
Order a copy of Pech's book on www.thechocolatetherapist.com then mention this blog in an e-mail to email@example.com and the shop will send $5 in free chocolate with your order." Feel free to share a few squares with us.