Archive for Mast Brothers

Choc tactics (Financial Times How to Spend it)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2010 by markcoflaherty

Weekday afternoons at the tiny Mast Brothers chocolate factory in Brooklyn are a family affair. A close-knit team of ten sit down for lunch before Rick Mast and his wife take turns, along with friends and brother Michael, hand-wrapping chocolate bars in exquisitely patterned papers. The Mast Brothers operation is one of a growing number of small-scale, young chocolatiers who have a fresh, contemporary style of presentation as well as an innovative, artisanal approach to production.

Many of the new brands are bringing aspects of fashion and graphic design to the table. While the Mast Brothers have been celebrated by foodies as the sole bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers in the US, and had most of their kitchen hardware designed and created exclusively for them, they’ve also captured the imagination of the hipster neighbourhood of Williamsburg – they look like Amish Comme des Garçons models and have been feted for their natty attire, luxuriant beards, and choice of typography as much as for their wonderfully pure dark chocolate with fleur de sel. More tellingly, they are Thomas Keller’s source of choice for chocolate dishes at Per Se and French Laundry.

‘We started off by wrapping our chef’s kilo bars in butcher paper,’ says Rick Mast. ‘And then found some old vintage Italian papers from New York Central Art Supply to wrap the smaller bars in. But that was dead stock, and our dream was always to design everything ourselves. So we design and print everything with our friends. We’re not businessmen with marketing majors, we just like the imagery and the typography that we’ve used. We have an appreciation for an old world aesthetic and the handcrafted. It’s one of the reasons why we created a chocolate with Stumptown Coffee Roasters from Portland – they have a similar ideology.’

Mast Brothers’ chocolate ($10/bar) sells extremely well at the Manhattan branch of Stumptown Coffee, where each tattooed barista wears a variation on a 19th century pioneer-cool outfit with waistcoat, braces and flat caps. Twenty blocks uptown, at Bergdorf Goodman, Alice Chocolate ($30) has a very different, but no less distinctive look. Alice is a Swiss product that echoes the minimalist sleek and impact of Chanel: each stark white flip-box has the silhouette portrait of a young girl on the front and contains five slender silver bars of Wild Amazonian Criollo 68% dark chocolate. The high style, glossy milieu of Bergdorf’s is its ideal home.

Many of the most interesting arrivistes to the world of haute chocolate have direct links with fashion. The scene at Cocomaya in London’s Connaught Street, is colourful, gossipy and very chic – all zesty acid colours and gold cups. The café is a favourite hub for high tea, thanks to the bonhomie of cofounders Joel Bernstein, former head of concept at Liberty, and luxury accessories designer Walid al Damirji. They create incredible chocolate – their passionfruit, olive oil and fig and sugar-free rose ganaches have customers ordering large bright orange selection boxes (£36) – and they have just launched a collection of colourful bars, adorned with bright florals and butterflies. They’ve worked with Manolo Blahnik on a chocolate shoe and have just opened a concession – Chocolate Wonderland – at Liberty.  ‘We’re very image conscious,’ says Bernstein. ‘The aesthetic is very important for us – our background in fashion brings a unique attention to detail. And we like kitsch.’

The artist Andreas Gratze has created all of the imagery for Zotter, the Austrian bean-to-bar company that specialises in offbeat but delicious ‘hand-scooped’ slabs (£3.25) that coat layers of fruits and other ingredients (including Scotch Whisky and Peanuts and Ketchup) in couverture. Collectors of Gratze’s work ensure they buy and keep the wrapper from every new bar that appears, and rather like buying someone a box set of anything else, gifting a set of 10 or 20 different bars is as exciting for the aesthete as it is the gourmet. His work has something of the flourish of the graphic novel about it, particularly the voluminous male and female silhouettes on Zotter’s Rose and Basil bar. The imagery on the Labooka bars have the essence of vintage fashion illustration, with a man’s hand, in a floral-printed Edwardian-style smoking jacket, reaching onto the petals of a rose on the wrapper for the Bouquet of Flowers duo bars.

Both Mariebelle founder Maribel Lieberman, and Chantal Coady, who established Rococo, the UK’s default high end chocolatier, have backgrounds in textiles. Lieberman grew up amidst the cacao fields of Honduras but moved to New York City to study fashion at Parsons. She segued into food ten years ago when she opened Maribelle in NoLita, selling chocolates emblazoned with fashion illustrations. ‘The images were based on my lifestyle in New York,’ she says. ‘The pistachio ones had hats and mannequins on, and the espresso one has a woman walking energetically in the street. When I first started it was very hard to put the graphics on the chocolates and I had them done in Europe. Now we do it in house, but it’s still very complex – each colour is its own layer, and takes 24 hours to dry. The lavender has five colours, so takes five days to do.’ Boxes at Mariebelle range from four pieces ($14) to 100 ($260).

The blue and white antiquarian literary illustrations on the packaging at Chantal Coady’s Rococo have become as classic as Coca Cola in many discerning households. This year, they redesigned 18 of the bars with a distinctively different look. ‘I was looking out of the window on to the Moroccan garden at our Motcomb Street store, staring at the patchwork of different colours in the tiling,’ recalls Coady. ‘I had a lightbulb moment.’ The result was a collection of bars with emotive colours and patterns, including spicy orange for chilli pepper and crystalline blue and white for sea salt. For Christmas, Rococo will be producing gift sets containing three bars (£14.50).

Reinvigorating an established brand is one thing, creating one from scratch is another. Curious Chocolate was set up last year by Ben Bailey and quickly found favour at Terence Conran’s Albion deli in Shoreditch as well as at Harvey Nichols and now John Lewis. As well as high quality bars (£3.50) of dark, milk, white, marmalade, crystallised ginger and caramalised almond, Bailey produces boxes of truffles and wafers (£9.95), each instantly identifiable by its retro letterpress-style packaging. ‘I found a tiny shop in Amsterdam with drawers full of all kinds of print block,’ says Bailey. ‘The images that stood out were locks, keys, pigeons and cutlery, all of which we’ve used. The graph-paper graphics lend an air of nostalgia, and I found the typeface in an obscure magazine when I was getting my hair cut. Then we chose sophisticated chocolatey colours, with a flash of fluoro pink to keep it fresh and modern.’

Some chocolatiers are creating whole retail environments as well as products. The space-age Chocolate Research Facility in Singapore has more in common with the high concept beauty interior of its neighbour Aesop than it does with a traditional confectionary store. And the 100% Chocolate Café in Tokyo is another sweet-toothed destination that chimes more with stark, clinical and directional parfumeries than with candy vendors. The stand-out item at the café is 365 Days Chocolates, a novel gift that allows you to order a year’s supply of chocolate, month on month (5,500 ¥/£41 per month). There are 56 styles of chocolate (from single-bean to fruit and herb) that appear throughout the calendar, and each is dated in sharp ITC Avant Garde Gothic type.

There’s more to modern chocolate than design, of course. The chocolatiers behind Choki of Brockley sell their pretty, artisanal, pink and gold embossed bars at London’s Greenwich Market, but also create fine preservative-free truffles with fresh cream to be consumed within a fortnight.

Melt is one of the smartest and most progressive chocolate shops in west London. They sell a range of Chef’s Chocolates (£10.50) created by some of the UK’s most renowned kitchens, including The River Café (a 75% bitter chocolate truffle from nine different beans) and Mark Hix (cider brandy). Each is packaged with Melt’s distinctive lower case type, as well as the collaborator’s logo.

Many of the most style-literate chocolatiers have embraced a sea change in chocolate tastes. As Daniel Sklaar of Fine & Raw in New York City says, ‘There’s a trend for darker chocolate, of course, but also single origin bars and an approach that provokes different levels of flavour. It’s more of a wine mentality. You might be a fan of Madagascar bars in the 80% range, or prefer 70% Ecuadorian.’ Sklaar’s attention to detail includes packaging with bold flowing lines: ‘Like the chocolate… simple ingredients with rich flowing flavours’. He claims to have traded a lifetime’s supply of chocolate for his company’s distinctive logo, created by lingerie designer and close friend Kristina Kaye.

Eco-awareness has had a radical effect on the look and taste of fine chocolates. Philipp Kauffmann co-founded Original Beans in 2008 and has just released a newly packaged range, the result of a collaboration with the Department of Graphic Sciences in Los Angeles. It’s intricate and rich and stylish, but also fits with the Original Beans ethos of ‘the planet: replant it’. ‘We wanted a tactile feel, with a lot of detail to discover,’ says Kauffmann. ‘It should feel as much like a gift to oneself as to others. It’s also a product entirely derived from trees – cacao beans, FSC certified cardboard, and wood cellulose foil.’  Original Beans’ Esmereldas Milk (£6) with fleur de sel and 42% cacao has a stand-out taste of creaminess and mild saltiness, but Kauffmann’s own favourite Original Beans product is the Cru Virunga (£6), which is produced on the fringes of the Virunga National Park, home to some of the poorest populace on earth. ‘We’ve started to introduce cacao and make this chocolate to restore livelihoods. And because of its quality, you can find it on the menu of Scott’s and the Ivy in London.’

The best modern chocolate tastes good, looks good and comes with a clear conscience. While the world’s best chefs may be drawn primarily by taste, and the likes of the Mast Brothers represent a new kind of foodie rock and roll, the smaller and more exclusive the operation, the more control the chocolatier has. Although Rick Mast sees the chocolate he produces as a proud Brooklyn phenomenon, from the roasting and winnowing of the beans to the wrapping, he also admits ‘there’s nothing local about chocolate’, because ultimately the beans don’t grow in New York City. ‘From next year we’re actually going to sail our beans here from South America to diminish oil abuse. We want to utilise the power of wind.’ The imagery of the chocolate box has changed radically, and at the same time, chocolate need no longer be a guilty pleasure.


Alice available from Bergdorf Goodman, 5th Avenue at 58th Street, New York City 10019 (+1 800 558 1855;

Cocomaya, 12 Connaught Street, London W2 (020-7706 2770; and at Liberty, Great Marlborough Street, London W1(0207-734 1234;

ChokiofBrockley stockists detailed at

Curious Chocolate available by mail order at 01989 567132 ( and from John Lewis, 300 Oxford Street, London W1  (0207-629 7711;

The Chocolate Research Facility, The Roy Lichtenstein Sculpture Plaza, 9 Raffles Boulevard, Singapore (+65 6338 5191;

Fine and Raw available by mail order at

Marie Belle, 484 Broome Street, New York City 10013 (+212 925 6999;

Mast Brothers available from Dean & Deluca, 560 Broadway, New York City 10012 (+212-226 6800; and from

Melt, 59 Ledbury Road, London W11 (0207-727 5030;

100% Chocolate Café, 2-4-16 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo (+81 3 3212 5025;é)

Original Beans global stockists detailed online at (+646 894 2929)

Rococo, 5 Motcomb Street, London SW1 (0207-245 0993;

Zotter available at branches of John Lewis and online at


Cool as folk (House)

Posted in Art, Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2010 by markcoflaherty

One of the more unusual sights at one of London’s most well attended fashion parties last year was that of Rei Kawakubo, the notoriously glacial Comme des Garçons designer, being instructed on the finer points of Morris Dancing. The Folklore Fete, a fundraiser for the Museum of British Folklore was, as the fashion world says without any sense of its own ridiculousness, ‘a moment’. It was also affirmation that folk culture – both in the UK and abroad – is enjoying a very 21st century kind of renaissance in popularity and credibility. For a whole bandwagon-load of hipsters (essentially the bearded Urban Outfitter-clad redux of Beat-loving folkie troubadours of old), the Jack in the Green is the new black and it’s all wicker, man. And yet, there’s a lot more substance to it all than a bunch of pissed-up bank holidays on the Kent coast and gentle guitar refrains from Portland Oregon.

The Folklore Fete’s host, Simon Costin, is one of fashion’s most influential figures. More than that, he’s a fine artist in his own right: Costin’s formative career saw him working on film projects with Derek Jarman and later creating shamanistic jewellery from bones and semen. Since then he has designed theatrical, seemingly impossible sets for Nick Knight and Steven Klein, made rain fall on Alexander McQueen’s catwalk and recently helped recreate the centre of Paris at one-third scale inside the Grand Palais in the French capital for Sonia Rykiel and H&M. Last year’s Fete marked the launch of his Museum of British Folklore, scheduled to open in the south east of England in three years’ time. He subsequently went on a nationwide tour with a capsule collection of folk artefacts, including a corn dolly, a dessicated cat from the 15th century and a phallic wand from a coven in Sussex – all housed in a converted 70s Carry On-style caravan painted in Laduree macaroon colours and faded fairground swirls. This year the caravan appears again at a variety of fairs, while Simon curates a show at the Queens Gallery Hexham, as well as a string of summer-long exhibitions at a variety of venues, including the Gatehouse in Port Eliot.

Close friends Gareth Pugh and Stephen Jones contributed costume pieces for Costin to wear on tour – making Simon an integral part of the Museum experience. For milliner Jones the project struck an immediate chord: ‘I’d always thought I knew Britain and that it wasn’t exciting,’ he says. ‘Then I went to a village fair with my parents and we had our photograph taken with some prize turnips… when I looked at the picture afterwards it just looked so typically, eccentrically, English that it inspired me to put together a collection which I called Handmade in England. Then I bumped into Simon at JFK and he told me about his Museum.’

Folklore has been reworked in fashion more times than the shoulder pad. Vivienne Westwood showed several collections at the end of the 80s under the banner ‘Britain must go Pagan!’, and she’s never lost interest in Brit-folk imagery; last season she showed men’s rag rug knits in May Pole colours. Carmen Haid, of the online vintage fashion boutique Atelier Mayer, says a lot of the most sought-after pieces she handles have heavy folk influences: ‘Particularly the YSL 70s Ballets Russes collections; Ossie Clark’s Celia Birtwell prints and almost every collection by John Galliano.’ Galliano’s last collection riffed on the look again, with heavy folk-embroidery, lucky charms, and male models catwalking as platinum-blond horned satyrs.

As well as helping create fantasy worlds for the world’s most directional designers and documenting and curating the vernacular arts, Simon Costin has a passionate and personal relationship with folk culture. This spring he’ll appear, as in previous years, painted emerald and moving with the procession of other ‘bogeys’, black-faced Hunters Moon Morris men and ivy-headdressed locals through the old town of Hastings for the Jack in the Green festival. It’s but one of hundreds of events in the annual folk calendar; a schedule that’s growing apace. Certainly it’s no coincidence that there’s been a resurgence of all things folk at the same time as a global economic meltdown and the disappearance of (jobs aside) so much of what was really rubbish to begin with. ‘There’s been an estimated 25% increase in attendance at folk events around the country,’ says Simon Costin. ‘This might well be to do with a need to feel a part of something in a time of crisis, a part of a real community.’  Costin’s Museum will be made up of the past, present and future, acting as a catalyst for new craft as much as a space for document. ‘Britain is a tiny collection of islands and we have a wonderfully rich folkloric history, but we don’t celebrate it,’ he says. ‘This is a living tradition. Each generation reinvents things and makes it relevant to the modern day.’ Alongside his Museum projects, Costin is working on a book, to be published next year, of portraits of British folk festival participants, photographed by Henry Bourne.

Folk style, while very ‘of the moment’ is timeless. Roddy Woomble, the frontman of Scottish guitar band Idlewild, released his solo folk album My Secret is My Silence in 2006 and then went on to form a folk supergroup with Kris Drever and John McCusker. The band spent last year touring their album Before the Ruin, to slavish audience adoration. Both records are achingly beautiful and a paradigm of a whole backwards-to-go-forwards movement in music. While many cultural commentators are waiting for an equivalent of punk to come and wash away the creative void of light entertainment synonymous with Saturday night talent shows and Lady Ga Ga, the revolution might already be here, wearing a beard and waxing lyrical about Celtic legend. For Woomble, folk is perpetually modern because, he says, ‘it can’t get any older. People have always had stories and sung them into songs. Folk songs are elemental, like the wind. They can never go out of fashion because they pre-date it.’

Folk is very much the soundtrack to now: from Grizzly Bear and Shearwater in the States to the UK’s Blue Roses, Malcolm Middleton and Mumford & Sons, the accent is on all things candid, acoustic and which invite you to gather round and listen. For all the pretence that Britney’s recent stadium renaissance is ironic kitsch gold rather than the ghoulish showbiz equivalent of a dog eating its own sick, one can scarcely imagine the genuine excitement that would be generated by a live tour by Joni Mitchell or perhaps Kate Bush.

Folkie north London club night The Local started out life as a monthly event at a pub in Crouch End and has now expanded into tours, a festival and a record label – it’s a total phenomenon. The ceilidhs at Cecil Sharp House, where Costin’s Fete took place, are amongst the best-loved club nights in London with kilted queues snaking around the block. Rather like the Mighty Boosh truism that it’s impossible to be unhappy in a poncho, you can’t have a bad time at a ceilidh, if only because you’re compelled to dance with strangers. The ceilidh is the diametric opposite of all those dour, louche, bottle-service clubs in Mayfair and Midtown that now feel so mid-noughties. Like all things folk, it’s about getting back in touch with human nature and stripping things back to what’s important, as well as genuinely beguiling. It’s a human touch and it’s getting your hands dirty. You can see it in the handicraft that sells by the truckload on the DIY craft site and in the flamboyant toys, handbags and even wedding dresses that are coming out of the year-old Harris Tweed Cooperative in the Outer Hebrides. It’s even in the salted artisanal dark chocolate made in small exquisitely packaged batches in Williamsburg by the Mast Brothers, Rick and Michael, two chaps who look like an Amish duo on a shopping spree at Dover Street Market and who epitomise the slow food movement and integrity of craft in produce.

There is, of course, a potential disconnect between ‘fashion’ and ‘folk’, and some irony in the former embracing the latter (and yes, Dean & Deluca are selling that Mast Brothers chocolate for $10 a bar). Fashion is, by its very nature, ephemeral and disposable. It’s also, potentially, a shallow and fragile crafting of identity. Folk, on the other hand, comes with centuries worth of roots. It connects us all to something fundamental that makes a mockery of, and could potentially disassemble, a culture of idiocy and rubbish that can’t just be excused as post-modern frivolity any more. It’s the search for something a bit more real and a bit more rewarding; a pursuit which must be timeless.