Brooklyn, Chocolate and Two Bearded Brothers

By Sonya Rehman

They’re tall, they’re bearded and they make chocolate. Artisan chocolate.

Meet the Brothers Mast: Rick and Michael. Their company, Mast Brothers Chocolate, is slowly gaining momentum in Brooklyn.

Michael and Rick Mast (Photo by Lucy Hamblin)

Written about in The New York Times  as part of Brooklyn’s new culinary movement, the brothers launched their company three years ago with the help of “our mother and credit cards.”

But it was only in February that they moved into their rather spiffy factory, with steel chairs and a wooden table, the air within breezy yet steady, with the aroma of warm chocolate churning away, being tempered in another room.

The 120-year-old building used to be a spice factory. No wonder then, its rustic and rather earthy feel. But rather than having the appearance of a factory, both its interior and exterior makes it look like a sturdy warehouse.

Three years ago, while Michael was taking film courses at NYU and dabbling in different productions, Rick had an epiphany.

Working as a chef at different restaurants in New York City and at private parties, Rick, who had studied with the chocolatier Jacques Torres, began serving confectionery, such as truffles, that he made from scratch. The feedback he received was encouraging, goading him to finally decide to launch his own company with his brother.

From very little equipment, a small room and burlap sacks, Mast Brothers Chocolate has come a long way.

But it’s been slow and steady, just the way Rick likes it.

He is resolute about continuing the production of personalized, bean to bar, artisan chocolate-making. From choosing which regions to import their cacao beans to personally visiting the farms and then making the chocolate – the nine to 15 varieties of chocolate are custom-made, from start to finish. Flavors include the traditional — with almonds — to the more unusual — fleur de sel, or sea salt.

“We mainly produce dark chocolate,” says Rick, “We have a dedication to people who don’t eat dairy.”

But what makes their chocolate “artisan chocolate”?

“The whole process,” Rick (obviously the more talkative of the two) says. “One has to be at par with the whole process. Finding the best farmers, the best cooperatives, and going down to the regions and buying the beans ourselves.” This attention adds to the price, of course — a 2.5-ounce bar sells for about $12.

“We wanna be like the local butcher,” Rick states hopefully, adding that he’d like his customers to develop a certain level of trust with their product.

Walking over to the table where Stephanie Ault (one of six employees at the factory) is sorting out the cacao beans, Rick runs through the entire process, from the sifting to the husking, to the crushing and to the mixing, to the cooling and to the cutting. The aroma in the mixing room is stronger, as the mixers gently roll the mounds of thick chocolate over and over.

In the mixers, the chocolate being twisted and twirled is almost hypnotic. That, coupled with the aroma … and one is in a trance.

With cacao beans flying in from the Dominican Republic to Madagascar, and from Brazil to Venezuela, what do the Brothers Mast look for in a bean?

“That it’s delicious,” Rick answers intently, “If it’s delicious, everything else tends to follow.”

Class assignment – Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

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