Chocolate Mixed by Hand at Houston's Mostly Chocolate & Catering

 In a world that is growing more technical by the day, chocolatier Dany Kamkhagi of Mostly Chocolate & Catering sticks with time-honored tradition in preparing his chocolate truffles. The chocolatier works entirely hands-on in a Spring Branch commercial kitchen and retail store – melting, tempering, scraping, shaping, filling and serving chocolate that’s produced within Mostly Chocolate & Catering’s walls.

And though the young chef is surrounded by innumerable kitchen appliances and tools, French-imported ribbons and dessert boxes and cookbooks such as The Art of the Chocolatier and Jerusalem, a thermometer is nowhere to be found in his workspace – a surprising practice in the art of preparing chocolate desserts. Besides the use of a tempering machine, Kamkhagi likes to trust intuition over temperature control.

“Our process of making truffles is done entirely by hand, and what that means is that aside from the chocolate melters, everything is tempered on marble with hand scrapers and no thermometers,” Kamkhagi explains. “Not using a thermometer gives you the ability to develop an even stronger relationship between you and the chocolates.”

In preparing his varied truffles, Kamkhagi melts batches of Valrhona, Callebaut and Cacao Barry chocolates in a 110-degree tempering machine before transferring a third of the resulting melted chocolate to a marble surface to cool. Once the transferred chocolate has reached an appropriate temperature range – determined by Kamkhagi’s sight and touch – he transfers the batch back to the tempering machine with the remaining hot chocolate, combining the two mixtures with a rubber spatula.

From there, Kamkhagi shapes, paints, scrapes, fills and seals a menu of truffles, including salted caramel, champagne, bananas Foster, Earl Grey tea, lemon mint, cinnamon tabasco and single malt whisky. “I’d say one of my biggest breakthroughs was mastering the basics in regards to hand tempering, making shells and finishing with a nice seal. Once I was able to do that, I knew I had the confidence and ability to do anything,” he says.

The young chocolatier’s handcrafted desserts haven’t gone unnoticed. For two years now, Mostly Chocolate & Catering has placed in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s Best Bites Competition’s dessert category with the sea salt-garnished goat cheese truffle, which placed first in 2015, and the decadent pecan pie truffle, which placed third in 2016.

A lot of what Kamkhagi cooks up offers unexpected surprises. A mysterious-sounding hazelnut and poprocks truffle starts out smooth with gentle hazelnut notes, but seconds later is electrified by a childhood-reminiscent wave of fizzy candy rocks. The lavender truffle is soft, subtly sweet dark chocolate infused with a minute reminder of the powerful purple herb. The first bite of the Key lime pie truffle starts out with a hint of citrus that evolves into an impressive riff on the Southern-favorite pie with white chocolate ganache and graham cracker gianduja.

Kamkhagi admits he’s experienced his fair share of mishaps. “'Disaster' is a word you learn to become comfortable with,” he jokes. “It’s kind of like what they say about how to become a successful quarterback in football: You have to have a short memory, meaning you can’t let the bad throws and interceptions get to you. You have to work through it to produce and accomplish your goals.”

Though Kamkhagi has only been Mostly Chocolate & Catering’s head chocolatier for a year, it’s a trade that runs in his family. Kamkhagi’s mother and father, Rina and David Kamkhagi, founded their family-owned, Houston-based catering business 12 years ago, serving an assortment of authentic Lebanese cuisine and customized menus, but the delicate truffles eventually became the pillar of their endeavors. Growing up devouring petite, marzipan-filled pistachio and almond chocolates in Lebanon, Rina Kamkhagi honed an appreciation for homemade, decadent sweets early on in her childhood and continued her culinary education later under Houston chocolatier Ana Gomes, as well as at the Chocolate Academy in Quebec.

Before Dany Kamkhagi stepped into his mother’s shoes, he used his communications degree from the University of Houston to work on the business side of Mostly Chocolate & Catering. “I was the errand boy, delivery guy, the grocery shopper, the social media guy, but over the years, I grew an interest in working with chocolate,” he says. “I shadowed my mom for years, and she insisted that I intern in New York. That's where I learned how to table temper and do everything by hand. It completely changed my philosophy on how to make chocolates. I took the skills I learned from New York and through my mom and bought a big piece of marble to put in my chocolate room. I spent almost every single day coming into the office and worked to perfect and hone all the important skills, until I could do everything with my eyes closed.”

Mostly Chocolate’s dessert menu also includes an intriguing chocolate salami: a milk chocolate or dark chocolate bar filled with dried nuts or fruits; two 64 percent dark chocolate bars: a punchy-but-pleasant wasabi sesame seed and Hawaiian salt and a cardamom and crushed espresso bean flavor; mondies, which are caramelized almonds dipped in dark chocolate and coated in edible gold; and the recently launched raspberry jam.

Throughout the year, special orders are being packaged, delivered and shipped across the city and the United States. And though the company’s truffles are slowly gathering fan followings at pop-ups in places like Highland Village’s Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn, Kamkhagi admits that there is one menu item he has yet to inherit from his mother: the marzipan she has loved since her childhood. “She still has to teach me how she does it so well, and that’s going to take some time.”

Mostly Chocolate & Catering. 1050 North Post Oak, Ste 220. 713-446-5826. Hours: Mondays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.