LOCAL FLAVORS - Issue 1 - April 2018
With spring approaching, what better artisanal product to highlight here in the Hudson Valley than chocolate – Easter chocolates in particular. Imagine pressing your nose against big storefront windows with row after row of hand-made chocolates receding deep into the store – white, milk, dark, molded mounds, slender barks, centers filled with the hidden surprise of some sweet chewy confection at its core. And that is before you walk inside to the intoxicating aroma of chocolate and to the visual feast of golden boxes, purple and green wrappers, and transparent cellophane baskets filled with the Easter candies of your childhood.
Such a place is Commodore Chocolatier, a third-generation confectionery store located on Broadway, the main drag in Newburgh, New York. Owned and operated by father and son, John and Gus Courtsunis, the business has had staying power across three generations, occupying the same building since 1935. In the hands of gifted artisans, clearly fine chocolates are here to stay.
This is not to say that the confectionery business never changes. John notes that consumers’ tastes have evolved, pointing to current preferences for dark as opposed to milk chocolate. Peanut butter has elbowed its way big time into chocolate making, although John points out that the best peanut-chocolate combination comes from dark-roasted peanuts dipped in high-quality chocolate. And the chocolate-covered cherries of our childhood – those very sweet, preserved maraschinos — have been replaced by centers based on sour cherries marinated in kirsch. Adaptations to changing tastes aside, John and Gus retain an unremitting commitment to importing the very highest quality couverture chocolate bars from Belgium, melting them down in seemingly endless combinations with their own artisanal production of confectionery centers variously molded into drops and rounds and squares topped off with swirls and sprinkles of crunch and sweetness in contrasting hues of cream and mocha and nearly black chocolate. Just imagine the sensation of biting into a truffle composed of butter crunch morsels dispersed across a generous square of dark chocolate.
Commodore Chocolatier is also a feast for the eyes. Not only are the chocolates home-made, but with Gus’s mechanical engineering degree from RPI, son and father have adapted their small confectionery business to incorporate hand-made gift boxes into the business model through the lease of a 7,000 square foot plant off-site. So if you found the individual chocolates appealing in the vitrine cases, just imagine an assorted box of candies packaged in the signature golden box imprinted with the dark brown Commodore Chocolatier logo. These are the most alluring boxes of chocolates we have seen outside of famous confectionery shops in Europe.
One of the greatest rewards of an artisanal enterprise, according to father and son, is the need to always keep learning and adapting and staying close to sources. John and Gus travel regularly to Europe to maintain relationships with those who supply their business and to explore creative boundaries. So we asked how customers should be inventive in turn. “When you come into our store,” noted John with his eyes sparkling , “be adventurous and try something different.” Based on our own personal experience, visitors to Commodore Chocolatier couldn’t go wrong if they sampled that white chocolate bark filled with beautifully hued dried fruits, which somehow seem to make eating another chocolate somewhat less indulgent.