Rick and Michael Mast run a bean-to-bar chocolate factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Latest in our popular series about the new generation of handcraft personalities are the Mast Brothers. Featured in all their bearded glory in The Craft and the Makers, Rick and Michael Mast provide a particularly inspiring story of artisanal craft meeting entrepreneurial spirit. They know their suppliers personally, use sustainable sources, hand-wrap their chocolate, and have even been known to bring back their beans from the Dominican Republic by sailboat themselves.
The Mast Brothers started out in 2006 making chocolate from scratch in their apartment. With this act they transported the concept of chocolate from a massive, mysterious, faraway factory to a more human scale. Since then their company has grown to 50 employees, but they still approach the process with the same small-batch mentality and artisanal attention to detail. "Every step of the way, we've had to come up with how it's done. There's no such thing (in the US) as small-batch chocolate makers. There is no such thing as a chocolate kit," say the brothers.
Mast Brothers chocolate is crafted using only two ingredients: cacao and cane sugar. "Cacao beans were used as a currency by the Aztec centuries ago. They were known as the food of Gods," they explain. "Following such ancient history, we always try to stay as close as possible to the roots of chocolate and cacao beans. The driving force in our project was for us to reconnect with our curiosity and master the art of crafting chocolate."
The brothers source the finest cacao available from countries including Belize, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea. Cacao beans are picked from trees in pods, at which point they resemble a white fruit with a pulpy texture. The beans are dried and fermented by the farmers and by the time they arrive in the Brooklyn factory, they are ready for roasting. The husks are separated from the useable cacao nibs following the roasting process. The nibs are ground in stone grinders while sugar is added. After 48 to 72 hours they are transformed into a silky paste. Like some wines, chocolate benefits from aging to allow the flavor profiles to develop and mature, and this takes from one to three months.
As distinctive as the pioneer-chic personal style of the chocolate makers themselves, the patterned wrapper designs are created in-house and printed locally in Long Island City. They add to the sense of childlike wonder that comes from opening a weighty new bar of chocolate and breaking the golden foil. "Everything in our enterprise roots back to our love affair with the spirit of craft and things that are crafted. That is why you'll find us restoring an old letterpress printer to emboss wooden sailboats or vintage blueprints into our thick wrapping paper."
At the Gestalten Pavilion
Their chocolate is found at well-curated markets worldwide and used in some of the most celebrated restaurant kitchens in America, including Per Se and Le Bernardin. Mast Brother converts living in Berlin will be pleased to know they can get their weekly ration at the Gestalten Pavilion store.