Turning Over a New (Hot Chocolate) Leaf

EdibleManhattan-2.1Last summer when a nearby herb garden yielded a bumper crop of lavender, Scott Campbell rubbed the fragrant leaves and buds on wild striped bass and rack of lamb. But he secretly dreamed of Lavandula angustifolia-perfumed marshmallows bobbing atop herbal hot chocolate, beckoning shivering visitors to get cozy at his restaurant tucked into a corner of Inwood’s Fort Tyron Park overlooking the Hudson.

“Most Americans think of it as something that goes into soap,” says Campbell, executive chef of New Leaf Café, the restaurant incarnation of the New York Restoration Project, which Bette Midler founded to help save Gotham greenspaces and the joy, peace and produce that they bring forth. “They ask, ‘You mean you actually eat the stuff?'”

Yes, and Campbell is confident his clientele are warming to herb-infused desserts, like the basil-shiso ice cream he made in summer, or the herbal cocoas now on offer. He’s been eyeing the fennel, savory, thyme and sage at the Cloisters’ monastery-inspired garden nearby, but for now sweet-savory hot chocolate options include that purple bud, smoky chipotle, coriander, and, for the over-21 crowd, brandied summer cherries. The cups of cocoa are a comfort not only to Upper West Siders mourning Scott’s since-shuttered restaurant SQC, which famously offered a menu of 13 hot chocolates, compared by cocoa cognoscenti to the chocolat chaud at Angelina on Rue Rivoli near the Louvre.

Too many Americans have been burned by the beverage, and not just on the tongue. “A lot of us grew up on bad hot chocolate,” acknowledges Campbell, referring to the just-add-water sugary packets. But his viscous Valrhona version is a warming winner, and he’s got dozens of bundles of herbs hanging in his kitchen, stocked for cocoa season.

Photo credit: Akiko Nishimura