We have to admit, we first judged Fine and Raw chocolate by its wrappersthe beautiful paper labels you see tucked in Brooklyn's corners just beg to be examined and collected. Then, of course, we opened one, and knew we had to track down the mad genius making such amazing chocolate out of mesquite, lucuma, and sea salt.
One of New York's most irreverent artisans, Daniel Sklaar started Fine & Raw to "save the world through silliness and chocolate"; we tracked him down in his candy lab to hear how it all came about:
SCOUT: How did you get started in chocolate?
DANIEL: Well, when I moved to New York I was a financial analyst, then I quit and became a traveling hippie, and then I got into the kitchen and I became a chef. When I was in the kitchen, I just discovered this passion for chocolate, and I wanted to throw it into pretty much every single dish. I'm obsessed like that. Slowly the gravity towards chocolate grew while I was working in a cafe out in the middle of the desert in Arizona.
SCOUT: Is that when you go the idea to start Fine & Raw?
DANIEL: When I got back to New York, I started making truffles in my fridge. So, my friends would come over, and I'd feed them truffles -- they were good, and weird, and would bend people's minds. I had tons of fun making them, which is all really the purpose of truffles. My parents came to visit me and I sat them down and I gave them some truffles, and they scarfed them down, and immediately told me I need to start a chocolate company. And I thought, wow, I've got enough support coming around me, so, I decided to roll the dice and start the chocolate company.
SCOUT: Do you remember what went into your earliest truffles?
DANIEL: Those truffles were a mixture between a variation of flavor on the cacao and agave truffle that I have now. It's sort of the signature truffle for Fine and Raw. There was also an early variation on the coconut chunky bon bon. At that time I was also doing some other crazy truffles, with things like bee pollen and hemp seed and star anise, and really exotic ingredients.
SCOUT: Have you ever had an experiment go awry?
DANIEL: Oh, wow! Yes! Absolutely. I've had some completely go off the charts, but the good thing about chocolate is that even when you run afoul of the classic palate, there are chocolate creatures out there who really appreciate just super dark, weird chocolate. I mean, okay: There was the Great Salt Disaster of 2008. [Laughs] Salt is a phenomenal ingredient in chocolate, but it can go horribly wrong very quickly. So I have made a couple of total salt cakes, and just other-side-of-the-moon dark chocolate. But, funny enough, some people are in to them! Though I've yet to find anyone into the salt cakes.
SCOUT: What's a typical day look like for you?
DANIEL: I like to start my day with like ten minutes of yoga at least, to try and get my Zen on. and then I sit down at my little laptop and I kind of go through all my ideas, I'm super organized through technology ... then I'll get to work on some chocolate experiments. Then I'll eat a bunch of chocolate, and then I'll have lunch, and then I'll eat a bunch more chocolate. Then I'll play around and melt some chocolates, and then I go off on deliveries before coming back and eating a bunch more chocolate. That's kind of my day.
SCOUT: Is it all your own chocolate?
DANIEL: It's all my own. I'm getting high on my own supply. I'm breaking fundamental rules here. I'm a bit of a rebel that way.
SCOUT: Where do you get inspiration for your chocolate experiments?
DANIEL: I would say that I get alot of inspiration from ... it's almost cheesy, but: music. A lot of my friends are DJs and they'll send me sets that they've made and that will really inspire me. And I've travelled a lot, I've been really lucky an have been able to spend a months in Europe, and Asia and Africa for months. Just going around New York City as well. I'll cross over from neighborhood to neighborhood, and something will pop up that's akin to to a place I've been in that world. And I'll have sense and feelings that remind of me flavors and I'll think oh, how does that go into chocolate. And just the rest of my friends, some of whom are massively talented.
SCOUT: Was the Fine & Raw aesthetic inspired by some of those friends?
DANIEL: Oh, yes, completely. The wrappers came together very well. The original logo was done by an adult garment / lingerie designer friend of mine. I brought designs from my favorite record labels to the table to her, and a bunch of different chocolate-related images, and she just brought an amazing sense of these great curves. From there, well, the community that I live in is just filled with artists, and everyone who kind of came through my path added a little dash and splash and curve.
SCOUT: What's a pairing you'd recommend that people try that they might not seek out on their own?
DANIEL: At a recent event with the fine gentlemen of Noble Rot we did an event pairing Perriere-Jouet Champagne -- the 2000 Brut -- with the Almond Chunky, which is something I wouldn't really have considered doing because it seems so bizarre - you've got this almond chunky - the confection is irreverent and just dope - and youv'e got this $150 bottle of 11 year old champagne. It works. It was delightful.
Okay, if that's a little weird, I'll add a classic note: The raspberry chocolate bar pairs up with a malbec wine. I mean, hold onto your hat.
SCOUT: What's on the horizon for Fine & Raw?
DANIEL: Oooh oooh! I've got so many exciting projects on the go for you to lookout for. More cowgirls, look out for those, and then look out for .... well, I don't want to let the cat out of the bag, but there are some awesome secret projects ... a chocolate house. I've already said too much.