Meet & Eat: Rhonda Kave, Roni-Sue's Chocolates

Meet and Eat: NY

Conversations with chefs and food personalities in New York City.

In response to ideas that have flopped: "Yes, the gazpacho truffle. I may try to revisit it one day, but it was too muddy tasting with all the flavor elements warring instead of melding."

20090212ronisue.jpgWhether you're in a schmoopy relationship, enjoying the single life, or somewhere else on the romantic spectrum, a tasty treat from Roni-Sue's Chocolates will guarantee a big smile on Valentine's Day. Her use of high-quality ingredients and often unusual flavor combinations will woo even the most jaded, bitter, New York City heart. Let's hear from Rhonda Kave about the magical power of chocolate and the "tastebud trifecta."

Name: Rhonda Kave
Location: Lower East Side
Occupation: Chocolatiere, Roni-Sue's Chocolates

People are crazy about chocolate. What is it that makes chocolate so absolutely craveable? I think it's hard-wired. Bio-chemical. I see it every day, on every face as they taste--the bliss sets in as the endorphins release. And it's legal!

What prompted you to become a chocolatiere? I have always loved the craft of making candies since my friend Judy and I took an adult-ed class twenty-five years ago where we learned to make buttercrunch--still my signature candy. I also enjoy the freedom to create.

Does being around chocolate all day take the crave factor away for you? No. Though I don't eat it every day I do taste often. I mean, after all there's such a thing called quality control, people!

You often incorporate bacon into your chocolates and other treats. What makes this sweet/savory combination so special? Salt/Sweet/Fat = holy trinity. AKA tastebud trifecta.

Why is chocolate a traditional gift for Valentine's day? Do you have any special Valentine's Day offerings? Well, there's the part about it being an aphrodisiac and I recently read about a study that documented women's stronger physical response to chocolate. My customer demographic seems to tilt strongly in the female direction--or guys buying chocolates for women. Or each other. Hmm, maybe everyone likes chocolate?

What specials do you have right now? Two. The one nearest and dearest to my heart is the dozen of my Roni's Roses truffles. In honor of Valentine's Day we donate $5 of the $30 purchase price to the Coalition Against Domestic Violence (where I worked for 8 years before opening Roni-Sue's). My other Valentine's Day offering is the Pig Out package. You get our three bacon treats: Pig Candy, bacon buttercrunch, and our newest product, BaCorn (homemade caramel popcorn with bacon & chile pinon nuts), which is totally addictive. And by that I mean that we can't stop eating it ourselves. [Author's note: I totally concur. We got to taste all three treats at Cochon 555 and had to be torn away from the trays.]

In addition to bacon, you often use other ingredients in your chocolates that some might consider atypical. How do you come up with ideas and inspiration? I love markets--all kinds of markets. Whenever I travel the first thing I do is check out the local supermarket (great source for cool and cheap presents!) and especially the farmers' markets. I love sourcing ingredients from the Union Square Greenmarket for my candies too.

My favorite inspiration location in New York is Kalustyan's. I spend hours (and dollars) there exploring exotic ingredients and tastes. I also obsessively browse liquor stores for obscure elixirs and potions. When I'm out walking if I encounter a new spot I have to check out the dusty bottles in the back!

What are some of your other more non-traditional chocolates? My two chile truffles, one dark chocolate ganache and one perzipan center are savory/sweet for sure, along with my "Inna a pickle" truffle that I make only once a year for the Lower East Side's International Pickle Day (Author's note: We were there, but somehow missed said truffle.). Coming in the spring is a collection of savory sweets that will be non-trad for sure.

Any ideas that flopped along the way? Yes, the gazpacho truffle. I may try to revisit it one day, but it was too muddy tasting with all the flavor elements warring instead of melding.

What are your favorites? My personal favorite is the fresh coconut. I'm also especially proud of the pistachio truffle.

On your website, you have a list of cookbooks and other food-related books that you say "have all influenced (your) relationship with food and ingredients in some way." What are some of your favorites on that list and why? The spice and herb workshop I took with author Julie Sahni had a profound influence on me, exposing me to new tastes and possibilities. I've taken workshops with most of the authors in the book section and having that personal connection and the opportunity to learn from them first-hand is a privilege.

Can you make any personality generalizations based on what kind of chocolate someone prefers--dark, milk, or white? I try not to be judgmental. I'm just happy that people like chocolate period. Many New Yorkers are dark chocolate snobs/geeks. I like dark chocolate the best personally, but I use chocolate as an ingredient. It's not the end, just the beginning.

Do you have a favorite chocolate dessert somewhere in the city? Not right now--sadly I don't get out much!

What about a dish that is as crave-worthy as your chocolates? Pork belly and watermelon salad at Fatty Crab [Author's note: Possibly because her son, Corwin, is the chef there!]

Best pizza in the city? Di Fara.

Favorite burger? Hands down the green chile/cheese sliders at Shopsin's. [Author's note: Mmm, yeahh]

Favorite bagel? Murray's or Ess-a Bagel.

Best late-night eats? Cabrito for carnitas.

Undiscovered gem? Well, a lot of us know about it, but the muffins at Rainbo's/Tra La La in the Essex Street Market are ridiculously good.

Guilty pleasures? I like junky candy like Good & Plenty.

Food you won't eat? Soup--don't ask.

Most memorable New York City meal? There have been too many over the years to single out only one.

Everyone has a go-to person they call for restaurant recommendations. Who's yours? My friend Arlyn knows everyone and everything.

What's the best recommendation he/she has given you? An offer I've yet to take her up on--a personally guided tour of her favorite haunts in Queens. I've gotta get some free time!

Roni-Sue's chocolates can be found in the Essex Street Market, Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.