Author of 10 cookbooks, Alice Medrich owned seven locations of her groundbreaking chocolate shop, Cocolat, in Northern California. She continues to influence baking and all things dessert with her work on non-wheat flours.
• BA in history from University of California at Berkeley
• Self-taught in baking, stages at Ecole Le Notre
• Wine and Food Achievement Award from the American Institute of Food and Wine
• Five James Beard Foundation cookbook awards, including two Cookbook of the Year Awards, one for “Cocolat: Extraordinary Chocolate Desserts” (Warner Books, 1990) and one for “Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts” (Warner Books, 1994); and Best Baking and Dessert Cookbook for “Flavor Flours: A New Way to Bake with Teff, Sorghum, Other Whole and Ancient Grains, Nuts and Non-wheat Flours” (Artisan, 2015)
• Six awards from the International Association of Culinary Professionals, including Julia Child Best First Cookbook for “Cocolat: Extraordinary Chocolate Desserts,” Cookbook of the Year for “Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate” (Artisan, 2003), and Best Baking Book for “Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies” (Artisan, 2010)
• Other cookbooks include “Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies” (Warner Books, 1999), “A Year in Chocolate: Four Seasons of Unforgettable Desserts” (Warner Books, 2001), “Chocolate Holidays: Unforgettable Desserts for Every Season” (Artisan, 2005), “Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts” (Artisan, 2012), “Seriously Bittersweet: The Ultimate Dessert Maker’s Guide to Chocolate” (Artisan, 2013), and “Pure Dessert: True Flavors, Inspiring Ingredients, and Simple Recipes” (Artisan, 2015)
• Accolades include “Cocolat is to chocolate what Tiffany is to diamonds” from Gourmet magazine; “Few people write better about baking, and no one writes better about chocolate,” from the New York Times; and for “Flavor Flours,” “This book is a game changer,” from the Oregonian
• Television shows include “Growing a Business with Paul Hawken” and “Baking with Julia” on PBS
• Fitness routine includes a trainer twice a week and walking for the cardio, creative thinking and problem-solving time.
A Life-Changing Truffle
A single bite of a bittersweet truffle shaped and foreshadowed Alice Medrich’s 40-year love affair with chocolate.
Twenty-one and just married, Medrich moved from Berkeley, California, to Paris in 1972. Medrich and her husband rented two rooms on the third floor of a private (and rather grand) home on a cul-de-sac in the chic 16th arrondissement.
The kitchen consumed a tight corner with a gas oven the size of a breadbox, a pair of burners on top, and a dial with no temperature marks. An adjacent sink and a dorm room-sized fridge on the opposite side completed the ensemble.
Medrich cooked an abundance of food in that tiny space. Boeuf bourguignon, poulet roti au porto, gateau au chocolat, and the accompanying techniques laid the foundation for a lifelong career as a pastry chef. She also consumed and compared countless chocolate éclairs, mille-feuilles, and opera slices.
The year in France was a time of discovery and ingenuity, like the time she made fondue. Medrich improvised a warmer with an iron on the cotton setting, wedged flat side up in another pot to keep the cheese warm. When she made éclairs, she learned that custard turns green when it’s not in a nonreactive saucepan. Initially seduced by super flaky croissants ordinaires, Medrich learned to choose the less flaky but more flavorful croissants, toute au beurre, made entirely with butter rather than shortening.
And truffles. Her landlady, Madame L’Estelle, made truffles unlike the ones sold in Parisian chocolate shops in the ’70s and still different from those available in the U.S. today. They were made with fresh egg yolks and butter rather than ganache.
“Chocolates at home were coarse, sweet, and sugary by comparison,” Medrich says. “I still remember that moment tasting them for the first time. Ultra smooth, rich, and profoundly chocolate like a bittersweet poem.”
When her time in Paris ended a year later, Medrich left with an ideal of simplicity and elegance embodied in that truffle—and L’Estelle’s recipe.
In 1976, Medrich opened her first Cocolat shop in Berkeley, where truffles and French-style cakes became signature desserts. Cocolat established itself as a mecca for chocolate lovers, growing to seven stores before the concept was sold in 1990.
“Paris was a defining time,” Medrich says. “I made the connection between flavor and amazing ingredients, and that connection still guides me.”
Alice Medrichis also part of Simple Feast, an app the hosts an amazing community of Chefs and their delicious recipes. To view more recipes by Alice and other incredible Chefs go to Simple Feast.