Feeling Conflicted About the Brooklyn Artisan Aesthetic


There’s nothing new about handcrafted goods made in Brooklyn, and there’s also nothing new about the more recent, gentrified Brooklyn food artisan movement that was extensively profiled by the Times. But browsing a shop today, I came across some chocolate by the Mast Brothers, a company out of Williamsburg, that gave me pause.

These chocolate bars are going for $8.25 each, which seems like an awful lot for a candy bar. On the other hand, the two Mast brothers say that they travel down to South America to buy the cacao beans from small family farmers–and sometimes you get what you pay for. (And sometimes you’re being overly credulous.) Either way, $8.25 is a lot.

The bar above on the left has almonds and sea salt embedded in 72% dark chocolate from Madagascar. The one on the right is the same chocolate, but featuring crunchy cocoa nibs. The chocolate is deep and earthy and bitter, with a nice, sharp snap to it. And the packaging is beautiful, like the best-quality wrapping paper.

But there’s something that bugs me about the way the company presents itself.

The Mast brothers’ picture bears a strong resemblance to the one accompanying the Times article on Brooklyn food artisans–the commonality is that no one deigns to smile! You’d think they sold artisanal caskets. At the risk of sounding like a philistine, is chocolate (or pickles, or whatever) really so serious? I guess what rubs me the wrong way is a certain preachiness, combined with very high prices that no one but Brooklyn’s most recent, gentrified population can afford. For instance, on their website, the Mast brothers quote Pete Seeger, “I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.” Agreed, but how is ultra-expensive chocolate helping Brooklyn communities take care of each other?

Still, there’s no doubt that the Mast brothers make a quality product (as do most of their compatriots). Making food from scratch, using great ingredients, should be applauded, and we should all support small, local businesses. Which is why I’m constantly swinging on a pendulum between admiration and annoyance when it comes to the Brooklyn food artisan aesthetic.

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