To outsiders, The New York Times' recent "36 Hours in Richmond" article may have put our hamlet on the map. Yet the moment we really graduated from burgeoning burg to savvy cityscape occurred several weeks earlier, when a serious chocolatier hung out its marzipan shingle. Until Gearharts Fine Chocolates (306 B Libbie Ave., 282-1822) opened an 804 satellite of its Charlottesville boutique, my bittersweet tooth remained unsatisfied.
Two brothers, Tim and Matt Gearhart, make it all go. Tim started out as a military cook in the Marines and then honed his touch for 10 years as a pastry chef. But after "one too many Christmases in hotel pastry," as Tim puts it, he was ready for the next step. "When it comes to foodie culture, the '80s brought wine to the fore, and the '90s saw microbrews take off. We may have grown up on Wonder bread and Pop-Tarts, but tastes have evolved."
For the Gearhart brothers, this is the decade of chocolate. Leaving to others the lengthy process of rendering criollo beans into euphoria-inducing couverture chocolate, Gearharts employs the Venezuelan El Rey as its base chocolate. "It brings fruit character with more complexity, more acid, and bite," Tim explains. "We started with two dipping forks and a bowl of chocolate. Now, peak time means five to six thousand pieces per day."
Is 70 percent cacao the new 4:20? Chocolate contains compounds that activate the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, mimicking molecules found in marijuana, though your boss probably won't can you for passing around a profiterole during break time. And there's no need to delay gratification. Unlike commercial brands that owe their shelf life to additives and preservatives, Gearharts chocolates are meant to be consumed within two or three weeks of confection. Yes, Richmond has arrived.