It’s only a couple days until Easter, and I told you I was going to bring you a slew of vegan candy reviews so you could do your conscious candy shopping just in time to fill the baskets for your loved ones. Earlier in the week I posted the Gourmellows review, and of course you can never forget about good old GoMaxGo vegan candy bars. Now it’s time for What Am I Chocolates to shine.

What I Am Chocolates is a new artisanal chocolate company producing organic fair trade agave sweetened small batch chocolates in Brooklyn, NY. In addition to their retail business, What Am I operates a quasi “Kitchen Residency” program where artists craft limited edition chocolates.

The first sample I tried from What Am I Chocolates was their Dark Bar + Roasted Almonds. A simple but tasty chocolate bar, it was quite evident that the cacao was pure and the almonds were fresh. Not too sweet, not too bitter, just right. I would’ve liked if the almonds were a little more embedded in the bar rather than just sitting on the top, but that’s just a personal preference.

The other sample was a small square of their Dark Bar Mini + Roasted Almonds + Ghost Pepper Sea Salt. For those of you not familiar with the Ghost Pepper, or Bhut Jolokia, it is the hottest pepper on the planet, approximately 100+ times hotter than the hottest known jalepenos! Obviously working with this pepper is tricky to say the least, and I commend What Am I for their bravery. It did, however, fall a little short of my expectations as they errored on the side of not spicy enough and the sea salt was more apparent than the spiciness. Still a quality bar, I would’ve liked to see the salt reduced a little and the pepper increased just a little, that would’ve made this chocolate one of the most unique ever.

Thanks to What Am I Chocolates for sending me some samples to try and for putting in the effort to make chocolates with love the old fashioned way, instead of on some assembly line conveyor belt.

Click here to visit the What Am I Chocolates site.

Click here to follow What Am I Chocolates on Twitter.

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What are you Chocolating about? (2011)

What are you Chocolating about? (2011)
Production still from performance @ Interstate Gallery
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WHAT AM I CHOCOLATES operates a quasi “KITCHEN RESIDENCY” for artists and musicians, resulting in UNIQUE LIMITED EDITION CHOCOLATES. WHAT AM I CHOCOLATES invites artists to explore new flavor profiles, innovative packaging design, sculptural CHOCOLATE molds, music, performance and encourages experimentation that challenges the commercial constraints placed upon CHOCOLATE by experimenting with elements of temporality, decay, consumption and restraint. These EDITIONS will address not only the social and political ramifications of the labor and history of CHOCOLATE, but will investigate the process and aesthetics of the medium. WHAT AM I CHOCOLATES operates out of an evolving collection of home and commercial kitchens as well as in artists studios and practice spaces in and around NEW YORK CITYWHAT AM I CHOCOLATES encourages artists to play with their food and to CHEW with their mouths OPEN.

KITCHEN RESIDENCY is made possible with the generous support of:

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Chocolate and the Big Question: What Am I?

In 2004, MoMA art space PS1 presented a retrospective of 375 pieces by artist Dieter Roth, including some of his “decay objects,” sculptures made of edible materials. While then a coordinator at PS1, future artisanal chocolatier Josh Altman was especially influenced by Roth’s use of chocolate.  

“I was interested in the audience’s reactions,” says Altman. “To the smells, to the properties of the chocolate.” Having studied fine art and photography, Altman didn’t set out to make chocolate his trade, but for the past six years, he’s been making small-batch bars for his beloveds. For an arts advocate and chocolate lover, the Roth exhibit hit Altman’s sweet spot.

Altman saw this as an opportunity to respond to the issue of free speech and censorship in the arts. So he created the vegan, Sriracha-spiced “A Fire in My Belly” chocolates
Citing Edward Ruscha’s “Chocolate Room,” an installation made up of 360 sheets of chocolate shingles, as another influence, Altman is driven by the pairing of contemporary art and food. His fine arts background led him to do more conceptual work, preferring to curate rather than create. He curated his first show, Superfat, in 2005 to address the issues of food and consumption. “I was interested more in the research than the production,” he says. But with chocolate, he can still explore the concepts behind the food, the side of creating he’s most fascinated by.“I’m interested in the politics of chocolate,” Altman says. “The material, the structure. You can look at it as a major production and how the cocoa bean is regulated. Just look at the Ivory Coast.” In 2005, it was reported that 200,000 children were working on cocoa labor farms in the Ivory Coast, and at this time, less than 1% of the world’s chocolate market was Fair Trade. Altman only uses Fair Trade and organic ingredients, finding his materials from a small network of chocolate lovers to create his modest, simple flavors.Using organic agave as a sweetener and pure cacao mass, Altman delves into the spirit of the craft. He’s interested in infusions, not just oils or extracts, but in the steeping of the flavors, such as the warm kick from cayenne pepper, the savory twinge of cardamom or sea salt, and the delicate and mellow natural vanilla bean.

After tapping into the element of research that goes into his craft chocolates, Altman has also found a way to draw inspiration from the art world. His limited edition bar, “A Fire in My Belly” takes its name from the art piece by the late artist David Wojnarowicz.Last October, The National Portrait Gallery opened Hide/Seek, an exhibition focusing on sexual differences in modern American portraiture and exploring how art reflects society’s progressing attitudes toward sexuality. By the end of November, the museum censored the exhibit.Just before he took control of the House, Speaker John Boehner demanded the museum pull one piece in particular: “A Fire in My Belly,” a tribute video and tormented response to the artist’s friend’s death from AIDS. For some conservatives, the Catholic League included, the video’s disturbing use of religious imagery demanded it be pulled from the exhibit. The Smithsonian Institution surrendered to Boehner’s threat that the museum’s funding would be reconsidered when Congress reviews the next budget.Altman saw this as an opportunity to respond to the issue of free speech and censorship in the arts. So he created the vegan, Sriracha-spiced “A Fire in My Belly” chocolates (which are smaller chocolate cups) as a way to use his craft to feed a cause he supports. 10% of the proceeds go toward furthering tolerance and freedom of speech in the arts.The Hide/Seek exhibit ends Feb. 13, but the Wojnarowicz video continues to play in other galleries as a response to the museum’s decision to remove the video, which is “a huge disservice to freedom of speech,” says Altman., which is not affiliated with the Smithsonian, provides a central list of all the screenings of the video along with related events.

So with Altman’s decision to create a socially meaningful chocolate, the name of the confection, “What Am I” sounds like a big question. “It’s really just a play on that old saying, ‘What am I, chopped liver?’ My grandmother used to say that all the time. I wanted to reference that,” he says. It makes sense that when Altman started making chocolates for his close friends and family that the name should reference a loved one, but with all the care, passion, and storytelling that goes into the chocolates, the name grows in meaning. Gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said, “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.” By choosing to eat a Fair Trade chocolate inspired by contemporary art, supporting freedom of speech, you can’t help but answer part of the question: “What am I?”Altman will continue to make contemporary art pairings and inspirations. His chocolates can be ordered at What Am I Chocolates.Photos: Monica Abend

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WHAT AM I CHOCOLATE: The New Kid on The Block

by Erin Goldberger

Brooklyn Exposed image

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we Brooklynites are not short on chocolatier options. NuNu Chocolates, Mast Brothers and Jacques Torres, to name a few, will have to move over just a tad bit to make room for the new chocolatier on the block.  We had the opportunity to chat with Chocolatier Josh Altman, founder of WHAT AM I CHOCOLATE.  If you need a unique sweet for your “sweet” this holiday, Josh may have the artistic creation you’re looking for.

BE: When did you start making chocolate? Did you study cooking? How did you get into this trade?

JA: I have been making small-batch confections for friends, family and colleagues for the past 6 years. My professional background is in Contemporary Art, and my training is in Art History and Museum Studies. My first real “aha moment” with chocolate came in 2004, while working at PS1/MoMA on the Dieter Roth retrospective exhibition. There I witnessed an immediate and visceral reaction from the public when they encountered the performative and reactive properties of chocolates. Placing an emphasis on smell and texture, it highlighted the politics of chocolate and the process of such an important German artist with Swiss roots. I was also been informed by Edward Ruscha’s Chocolate Room, 1970/2004 and Janine Antoni’s Lick & Lather, 1993. From these and other seminal works, I discovered that the performative potential of chocolate is endless!

BE: Any special processes involved that you use to make your creations?

JA: I hand temper all of my chocolates via the double-broiler method. I source only the best organic ingredients. All of the Cacao is organic, fair-trade and single-origin from South America. The only sweetener used is pure Agave, which interacts exceptionally well with the rich dark chocolate. Aside from vanilla, salt, spices and/or fresh herbs or special inclusions, there are no other ingredients added to the chocolates. I start with pure Cacao Mass and work each batch to highlight and enrich the subtle nuances and characteristics of that particular bean.

BE: Where do you make your chocolate?

JA: I make all of my chocolates in my home kitchen in Williamsburg (image above), where we live adjacent to the Graham Ave L train. For larger patches, I have utilized commercial kitchens in Brooklyn, but I enjoy working at home primarily for the time being, where all of my batches get my full attention. As things progress, I will eventually need to utilize commercial kitchens more and more, and I am looking forward to the challenges of processing larger and larger batches. I have also worked in artists’ studios, which always makes for an interesting learning experience.

BE: Where can your chocolates can be purchased from?

JA: The chocolates are currently available on my website.  I hope to place them in local shops within the next 1-2 months. Interested retailers and boutiques can contact me

BE: What are your price ranges?

JA: Prices range from between $5-7 per bar depending on the inclusions and the origin of the beans I have access to. Boxes of assorted chocolates start at $10 per box of 6.

BE: How do you feel about the established chocolatiers here in Brooklyn?

JA: Brooklyn has a rich and informed community of chocolatiers, from high-end boutique shops to Bean-to-bar producers. The range and superior quality of chocolate being produced here makes this an exciting time for all of those involved. Even more important, Brooklyn is home to an informed and passionate community for small-batch artisanal foods.

BE: What are your Valentine’s Day specials?

JA: We are offering limited-edition batches of spiced A Fire in My Belly chocolate bars ($7/bar), made in response to the Smithsonian’s decision to withdraw a film by the late artist David Wojnarowicz titled,  A Fire in My Belly (1987); from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  A percentage of the profits from these sales will be donated toward furthering freedom of speech. For those who are interested in learning more about the Smithsonian’s decision to withdraw this work, please visit  Also, our Sweet-Talkin’ cardamon infused bars will be $6/bar as a special for the month of February.  We also have petite versions of all bars available for $4/bar.

BE: I recently saw the censored Fire In My Belly video at the New Museum. Can you tell me about the Fire in Your Belly Chocolate? Do you often use pop culture and news as a source of inspiration? What else do you use for new creations?

JA: Yes, a key inspiration for WHAT AM I CHOCOLATES is the potential for artistic collaboration. Coming from the art-world, there a great number of visual and performing artists who are constantly looking to new media as a way to execute their concepts. My hope is that I can re-introduce chocolate as a viable and valid means of artistic expression. I see no reason why fashion designers, web designers, musicians and visual artists cannot expand their practice to include chocolate. With the Fire in My Belly chocolates, I saw an opportunity to participate in and give visibility to such an important free-speech issue. I suggest those that are interested in learning more about the Smithsonian’s decision to withdraw the David Wojnarowicz film A Fire in My Belly (1987) from the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition entitled Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, visit for additional information.

BE: Where do you hope to see WHAT AM I CHOCOLATES in the next year?

JA: I see WHAT AM I CHOCOLATES up to our elbows in chocolate!  On the immediate horizon, I see collaborations with artists, resulting in limited editions of chocolates, as well as growing our website and twitter site. I would love to see the fruits of these collaborations available not only on our website, but also in Brooklyn and Manhattan, in both traditional and non-traditional retail outlets, boutiques and galleries. I would personally really love to see us at international art fairs such as Art Basel, Art Basel Miami, and Frieze, as well as at local artisanal food and craft fairs and markets.

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What Am I Chocolates

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Super Fantastic from ourgreentable

This from Penelope, our dear friend at  Ourgreentable :

Do I smell chocolate?

Yesterday, I smelled it…right in my mailbox. I was like a pig rooting out truffles. A box of chocolates that I had ordered from my son’s friend and now my friend, Josh, had arrived. I had first tasted these rich, dark, silky, spicy organic chocolates at Christian and Resh’s during Christmas. Oh my…de-lish. Absolutely fabulous!! Then Josh and I became Facebook pals and poof…my mailbox became a treasure chest. 

So what that it is 9 in the morning!! Like those who say the starting bell of 5:00 for cocktails is always ringing somewhere, same is so for chocolate. Any time is chocolate time…especially when they are Josh’s!

Here is the link to order up some yourself. Gee, I’d like to share mine, but…

Order your box of “A Fire In My Belly” Organic Spiced Chocolatestoday. Each box contains 6 “small cupcake” sized delights!  The perfect Valentine’s gift or what the heck…”to me from me” gift! $10 for a box of 6. Order by contacting Josh

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