By David Nelson / Photos by Brevin Blach
Hand Keegan Gerhard a hunk of costly French Valrhona chocolate, and he looks at it the way Michelangelo studied a block of marble. Something beautiful is inside; he just needs to carve it out.
Thanks to years of regular stints on television, including his multi-season role as a judge on Food Network's hit reality series Last Cake Standing, Gerhard, the owner of Hillcrest's hip D Bar Restaurant, is a rock star among American sweet specialists.
When discussing chocolate, he becomes as intense as the rare, 99-percent-pure-cacao Peruvian Fortunato that turbocharges many of his sensational creations.
"Chocolate, I believe, is crafted by people who share the same sensibilities as winemakers, coffee roasters and vanilla bean farmers," he says.
Gerhard refuses to work with or sell chocolate that, like much of the world's supply, comes from the hands of child laborers and slaves in poor and developing countries.
"Philosophically, in this day and age, it's not enough to find a great growing region for chocolate," he says. "Gone are the days when you can buy a bag of cacao beans on the world market and take no responsibility for it."
Gerhard's plans to continue training as an Olympic cyclist derailed when he began working under pastry luminaries at top-rated luxury hotels like the Ritz-Carlton chain and the Waldorf-Astoria. He moved to San Diego when a local developer of a new restaurant space on a prime Hillcrest block recruited him to open D Bar, where the "D" represents Drinks, Dining and Dessert.
Gerhard's bonbons feature exteriors decorated to reveal the sweet surprises inside. This jibes with his observation that "Americans eat with their eyes," but you'll want to eat these chocolates with your mouth.
A Touch of Class
Learn sweet tricks of the trade from Keegan Gerhard
D Bar offers chocolate-making and cooking classes that can have unique themes, like a February 9 class to teach men how to cook a Valentine dinner. Sign up and you might catch Gerhard composing an elegant, molten-centered chocolate lava cake. In the eight minutes it takes him to bake the cake in his speedy Turbofan oven, he creates a syrup of fruit juices, vanilla sugar and liqueur. In that, he poaches plump raspberries as a garnish that will enrich the cake, along with a crunchy chocolate wafer and house-made Sicilian pistachio ice cream, sprinkled with cacao nibs.
3930 Fifth Ave., Hillcrest