With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, there’s never been a better time to visit Choco-Story New York: The Chocolate Museum and Experience with Jacques Torres. The museum, adjacent to the Soho outpost of renowned master chocolatier Jacques Torres’ eponymous shop, traces the history of chocolate from bean to bar.
Your little ones are greeted at the entrance of the 5,000 square foot self-guided Museum with scavenger hunt stickers. Kids match the stickers with photos and artifacts found in the Museum’s display cases. My children were definitely motivated to read the information in the exhibits and fill in their sticker grid knowing that a Jacques Torres sweet treat awaited them at the end of their visit.
The exhibit begins with artifacts of more than 5,000 years ago from the Mayan and Aztec civilizations and traces the evolution of the much beloved confection from 19th-century Europe to present day. We were fascinated to learn that the Mayans, who discovered the cocoa bean and cultivated the crop, drank it during human sacrifices. Grinding stones, knives and pottery are on display highlighting the fact that these ancient civilizations consumed it first as a bitter beverage. My children loved the hands-on demonstration of how Mayan hot chocolate was made. A museum employee showed them the grinding of cocoa seeds by hand and mortar and they were allowed to add their own spices and yes, even sugar. Both children agreed that we owe much gratitude to the nuns of Oaxaca, Mexico who brilliantly decided to add sugar to the drink in the late 1500s.
The children also discovered that the Aztec ruler Montezuma first introduced cocoa to Spanish explorer Hernando Cortès who shipped the beans back to Spain, leading to a cocoa craze that spread across Europe. By the 16th and 17th centuries, cocoa was the drink of choice among nobility and several displays showcase the intricate drinking mugs that were favored at the time. Modern-day chocolate really grew in popularity during the beginning of the 19th century when molds were introduced so that different forms of solid chocolate could be made into figurines including the ever-popular Easter bunny. Another museum highlight was watching a Jacques Torres-trained chef make ganache and fill it within a hardened chocolate shell to make the ultimate bob-bon. Samples, of course, were offered and there are several samples with “eat me” signs sprinkled throughout the Museum.
Torres, who hails from France, is dubbed “Mr. Chocolate” in foodie circles and is passionate about all things chocolate. “I wanted this museum to come full circle and explain the history of chocolate,” says Torres, who opened the museum in partnership with Eddy Van Belle, a chocolate aficionado and founder of four other Choco-Story Museums around the world, from Belgium to Mexico. Torres owns eight shops in the city and is so dedicated to producing premium chocolate that he recently purchased land in the Yucatan peninsula where he is growing his own cocoa beans.
Torres felt that having hands-on chocolate making classes on-site was important to the museum’s immersive experience. For an additional fee, visitors can participate in a one-hour chocolate making class. My children were delighted to don their aprons and make their own emoji and mustache chocolate-shaped lollipops. My foodie-in-training daughter loved using the piping bag. My science-obsessed son was more interested in learning how to temper chocolate. The class is recommended for children ages 5 and up.
Play Area for the Youngest
There is a dedicated play area where younger kids can discover artifacts in an archaeological sand pit or pretend to be pastry chefs in a mini kitchen. Be sure to stop by the chocolate shop next door for additional goodies before you head home because after tasting premium chocolate from Jacques Torres, you may want to upgrade your Valentine’s Day treats.
Stacey Pfeffer is a chocolate-loving freelance writer based in Chappaqua, N.Y.
Choco-Story New York
The Chocolate Museum and Experience with Jacques Torres
350 Hudson St., New York, N.Y.
Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
$15 adults; $10 children ages 4 to 12; free under 4.
Hands-on Experience Chocolate Making Class Only: $40
Hands-on Experience Chocolate Making Class and Choco-Story New York: $45
Class slots are available by appointment only.