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 family) 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 emblematic 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.
Photo credit: E. Conor Hagen.