drguysandcocoa

The Mast Brothers Live Up To Their Name

Brooklyn’s most celebrated chocolatiers set sail.

Brooklyn’s most celebrated chocolatiers set sail.

It’s only five years since brothers Rick and Michael Mast began making their life-changing chocolate in a Williamsburg apartment but in that time they’ve become the exemplars of the area’s artisan era. From their DIY process (they were the first bean-to-bar outfit in New York) to their sustainable sourcing standards (they buy direct from small organic cacao farmers whom they regard as fam- ily) to the extraordinary quality of their product (bought by the likes of Dan Barber and Thomas Keller) to their facial hair (which would make President Lincoln envious), the brothers are emblem- atic of the Brooklyn food phenomenon.

Given their postmodern reappropriation of preindustrial processes, we shouldn’t have been surprised when the brothers decided to think outside the shipping container. In an effort to “be oil-free,” they turned to wind power—not by selecting the turbine option on their electricity bill, but by retrofitting a 70-foot cargo ship into a three-masted shipping schooner called the Black Seal, docking off the Dominican Republic and loading up with nearly 20 tons of organic cocoa beans.

Baffled customs agents, accustomed to narcotics-related chicanery, had a few questions, but eventually Captain Eric Loftfield won approval to point the little ship’s prow north toward Brooklyn. after two weeks out on the atlantic, the crew docked in Red Hook and unloaded 400 bags of cocoa, marking the first time such a ship had arrived in a New York port since 1939.

The brothers are working their way through the magic beans, about a year’s supply, and say they’ll soon be back at sea. Within three years they plan to use only wind and sail to transport all their beans, literally shipping boatloads from Central and South america with less energy than it takes to drive a case of turnips down from the Catskills.

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Gabrielle Langholtz is the editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. Her background includes many projects at the intersection of gastronomy and ecology: She ran communications for the Greenmarket office, wrote the teacher's guide to Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire, worked on a Catskills vegetable farm, volunteered at The Edible Schoolyard and taught a food systems course at NYU. Now married to the head livestock farmer at the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, she has visited dozens of local farms, milked cows and sheep, played midwife to ewes, castrated piglets, tapped sugar maples, foraged ramps, got in the way of swarming bees, helped slaughter turkeys and has planted and picked more varieties of fruits and vegetables than most Americans eat in a lifetime—which admittedly isn’t saying much. While she wants to change the food system one reader/eater at a time, she prefers using carrots to sticks.