Diego likes chocolate. Correction: he loves chocolate. Brazil’s answer to Willy Wonka, Diego Badaró has been producing his own organic chocolate brand – AMMA Chocolate – from bean to bar for just over a year.
An evangelist for Brazilian cacao, Badaró has been a champion of the fledgling industry – fledgling, that is, in terms of its slow return to form after the devastating outbreak of witches’ broom fungus that ravaged crops in the 1980s.
What was it that first got him so hooked on the sweet stuff? ‘I think I’ve tried just about every brand of chocolate in the world’ beams Badaró. ‘I love it! I’ve got a wine cellar at home and I’ve taken out all of the bottles and filled it with chocolate. One time I brought 200 kilos of chocolate back from France and I had to buy four new suitcases at the airport.’
It makes us wonder, then, how come Badaró isn’t the size of a house? ‘Me?! I’m thin and athletic, but last year I put on a bit of weight when I worked at the factory from 7am till 11pm. I like to eat; but I run, cycle and have an active life.’
You might say Badaró has chocolate in his veins, coming from a line of five generations of cacao producers. ‘I’ve always been involved with the land, from our quintal (back yard) in Bahia to the fazendas in the South, so working with chocolate was a natural step for me,’ he says.
And although AMMA, sold at as much as R$20 per bar, is a premium brand, his love for chocolate extends to a concern that it should be accessible, rather than set out of bounds as a luxury product. ‘The world production of chocolate is falling, but consumption continues to rise. If we don’t respect the land, if we don’t reforest, in ten year’s time a bar of chocolate will cost R$100 – the price of truffles.’
This message of preservation and respect for nature is something Diego is passionate about. ‘What I love, really, is nature. It’s a mission in my life to make people aware of the important social and environmental side of our work. In the next ten years I want to reforest at least 50,000 hectares of Atlantic forest. I think cacao is one of the planet’s saving graces – it needs shade, biodiversity and humidity, so it’s a plant with a great power to do good.’
It’s not Diego’s only mission in life. ‘I want to rescue and preserve the flavour of chocolate. Chocolate is an art – there’s no way to mechanise it. You can have the same grain at the same fazenda but in the hands of different chocolateiros, you can create completely different products. So it’s the personal touch of each one.’
When Diego is not producing his delicious chocolate in Bahia, he’s most likely to be found in São Paulo, a city that for him combines work, family and, of course, chocolate. ‘My wife is from São Paulo and we have a house in Jardins. São Paulo is a gastronomic centre, everything that happens in Brazil happens here.’
So break it down for us, Diego: when you’re in town and in need of a chocolate fix, where do you go?
Diego's top five
‘I met Julien Mercier at Caesar Park at the end of last year. The hotel restaurant is not very well known, but he’s a French super-chef. The high-light was his chocolate mousse, which was very well balanced and not too sweet, but packing a lot of personality.’ Rua das Olimpíadas 205, Vila Olímpia (2163 6622, caesar-park.com).
Chocolat des Artes
‘I love the use of tropical fruits in the chocolate bomboms at Chocolat des Artes – I love pitanga, which is my favourite, and cajá, and the delicious café crème. They also do interesting mixes with geleias (jams).’ Rua Diogo Jácome 360, Vila Nova Conceição (30447431, chocolatdesarts.com.br).
‘Bel Coelho at Dui – I think it’s one of the best restaurants in São Paulo – is a revelation. She does a jantar clandestino (clandestine dinner) on Thursdays, and creates absolute marvels. One time I was there she made foie gras with 100 per cent cacao chocolate. It was very special.’ Alameda Franca 1590, Jardim Paulista (2649 7952, duirestaurante.com.br). PLEASE NOTE, DUI CLOSED DOWN IN MAY 2013
Lá da Venda
‘The chocolate ice cream at Lá da Venda is made with AMMA chocolate, and you can really taste the nuances of the cacao – the characteristics and personality. Our batches of chocolate are like wine – they don’t have a set formula. Each grain and each batch is a separate process, so when people use your products, you feel the varieties of flavour over the course of the year.’ Rua Harmonia 161, Vila Madalena (3037 7702, ladavenda.com.br).
‘They were our first clients, and the owner, Raphael Rosa, does fantastic things in the padaria (bakery) with a lot of affection and exceptional textures. He does a delicious chocolate cake using 75 per cent cacao chocolate. It’s moist and generous, and one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever eaten.’ Rua Bela Cintra 1618, Jardim Paulista (3384 6900, padariaartesanal.org). Read more on PÃO