Michael and Rick Mast are the founders of Mast Brothers Chocolate, their line of chocolate that epitomizes the ‘bean to bar’ method. Here, the two artisans speak about their product as well as the launch of their first printed book, aptly titled Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook.
Life+Times: The two of you have been called pioneers of the bean-to-bar craft chocolate movement. What exactly is this?
Michael Mast: Chocolate is the most popular food on earth but no one knows how it is made. This fact still blows our mind. We have started a revolution that is reintroducing chocolate to the world. We are pioneering the idea that chocolate is a true culinary art form, a beautiful food, and not just a candy bar.
L+T: You launched your company in 2007. What was the motive behind this?
Rick Mast: We had been “home brewing” chocolate in our Brooklyn apartment for a few years and it had become a sort of underground phenomenon. We started selling our chocolate at weekend markets throughout Brooklyn and people were drawn to it. We really felt like we were on the verge of something incredibly special. When people taste our chocolate it is like they are tasting it for the first time.
MM: Family is also very important to us, we were excited to create a modern family business.
L+T: Since its inception, how has the company changed and progressed?
RM: Everyday we wake up and look for a way to get better, to make our chocolate more delicious. Over the years we have discovered incredible cocoa farms around the world that provide us with the rarest and most complex cacao. We started making chocolate for the local farmers markets and now our chocolate is available across the world and is used by the most discerning chefs in the finest restaurants.
MM: My brother and I were the only employees for the first years. Now we have nearly 50 employees, a world-class team of the most talented chocolate makers. We are one big family.
L+T: What makes your chocolate stand apart? What makes your product unique?
RM: I don’t mean to sound immodest…maybe I do, but our chocolate is the most delicious, finely crafted chocolate in the world. This is because of the people that are making it happen. I’m not talking about Michael and I; I am talking about our entire staff, our farmers and our family. Machines don’t make great chocolate, people make great chocolate.
MM: Our chocolate recipe is unique as well. When you source the best ingredients you don’t need to hide them behind soy lecithin, fake vanilla, extra butters and oils or too much sugar. We believe in clarity of flavor, a unique simplicity that makes our chocolate so beautifully complex.
L+T: You’re also proponents of sustainability. What are you two doing in order to achieve this eco-movement?
RM:One historical initiative that we have taken on is to increasingly import our cocoa beans using just the power of wind and sail. Traditionally container ships are being used to transport nearly every good on earth – we are going against that by using a sailboat to carry our ingredients from the farms. So far, we have sailed over twenty tons of cocoa beans. Our maiden voyage was in 2011 and it was the first time cargo was sailed into New York since 1939!
L+T: You’ve also recently released your cookbook titled MAST BROTHERS CHOCOLATE: A FAMILY COOKBOOK. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of making this book? What was the editing process like?
RM: We really wanted to reintroduce chocolate to the world with this cookbook. We wanted to cover the whole spectrum of chocolate, from classics like brownies to savory BBQ sauces to more complicated dishes inspired by our relationships with great chefs. I love the fact that the first recipe in the book is for chocolate milk. A simple, beautiful glass of chocolate milk.
MM: My brother and I really wanted to let people in to the world here at Mast Brothers. Our chocolate is very limited and not everyone is able to make it to Brooklyn to see the factory so we wanted to share stories, from our point of view, that describe important moments in time. We love literature but have rarely written for others to read. It was an adventure on its own.
RM: Our friend Tuukka Koski did the photography. He is probably the most sought after food photographer right now and he’s been our buddy for quite some time. He even apprenticed as a chocolate maker many years back! His photography is so rich in texture. His work inspires us.
MM: Our Chocolate Director, Vesa Parviainen, endlessly tested and edited the recipes. He is one of the world’s great pastry chefs and we are lucky to have him on board. He is the third brother and this book wouldn’t have happened without him.
L+T: Thomas Keller wrote the foreword. Why did he seem like a good fit? What is your relationship like?
RM: Thomas Keller is one of the great chefs of all time. He has been a hero to us and now he is a mentor. We find daily inspiration from his ability to continuously master his craft. He pushes us to improve our ability to make the worlds finest chocolate and to build an extraordinary business. It will always be one of the great honors and moments in our career that he wrote such kind words in the foreword of our first book.