Oscar Ortega’s earliest memories of chocolate flowed from a clay pot in his grandmother’s kitchen. As a boy he would watch as she pulled spices from cupboards and in pinches and sprinkles add the magical ingredients to the boiling caldron of chocolate she heated on the hearth of her kitchen.
He remembers her adding cardamom and cinnamon, vanilla beans and citrus zest, however, there was no limit to the spices she would add – Ortega mentioned curry, or mole as viable outliers. The warm chocolate drink was always delicious and an essential part of Ortega’s childhood and Mexican culture.
Ortega, Jackson’s preeminent chocolatier, rose from his family kitchen in Mexico City to international recognition and fame for his mastery of the dark – and sometimes milk – chocolate arts. His memories of this childhood ritual in his grandmother’s kitchen were formative for his love of chocolate. This childhood treat so inspired Ortega, that when he performed in front of judges at the 2009 World Chocolate Masters to prove his expertise, his grand finale included a cup of his signature hot chocolate.
In Mexico, hot chocolate is a treat enjoyed all year round, and reaches back to the country’s earliest recorded histories. Chocolate was a gift from the god Quetzacoatl in Mesoamerican culture.
Ortega selects his cacao carefully and pines over how long the cocoa beans dry in the sun and are later roasted. He then crushes the seeds, turning them into a dark, bitter paste that is dried again and then combined with sugar. For Ortega’s World Chocolate Masters recipe he added three types of chiles, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, Mexican allspice, pink peppercorns, coriander and fennel, finally whipping the cocoa powder with hot steamed milk until the full range of flavors came to life. Ortega said he was attempting to capture the flavors of his childhood in Mexico. He cites the earthy flavors in the chocolate that give way to notes of banana, papaya and pineapple, which Ortega says is imparted by fruit trees that shade the delicate cacao. The flavor gives way to a cornucopia of spices that spill out across the final splash of the chocolate wave.
You can buy his world-renowned Mexican Hot Chocolate, and a European Hot Chocolate, premixed at his Jackson stores, CocoLove and Atelier Ortega, and online, but Ortega insists making your own hot chocolate is simple, even if his recipe is not.
To make your own Mexican hot chocolate Ortega recommends buying some Mexican style chocolate from the grocery store and melting the chocolate bar in boiling milk. After that, “It’s just like a steak, you can cook it with just salt and pepper,” Ortega says, “Or you can add any number of spices. Have fun with it.”