“Manhattan by Sail” will highlight a different distillery each week – join us on Tues Oct 2 and Thurs Oct 4 aboard the Clipper City in New York Harbor. The cocktails will feature Cacao Prieto spirits.
Join us at Astor Wines for a tasting of our Widow Jane Bourbon and Don Esteban Liqueur.
DANIEL PRIETO PRESTON / CEO / CACAO PRIETO
It’s easy to get distracted when you start with the word ‘chocolate’, but Daniel’s story snaps us back to attention rather quickly. He’s what we might call an ‘extreme career changer’ (if we were writing a reality show), and we were surprised to discover that even an aerospace engineer can apply his existing job skills to making chocolate. Of course, it’s so much more than that, as you’ll see when you read his interview, visit the Cacao Prieto website, or taste one of their amazing confections (are we getting distracted again?)
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
My background is engineering. I founded an aerospace company producing life saving technologies for our military. When I sold the company the deal came with a five year non compete. I found myself in a position where I had to do something completely different. There was no real ‘aha’ moment, more like a conspiring of the universe that landed me here.
My closest friend is a noted foodie and mixologist in NY, he talked me into partnering on a cocktail bar. The bar is called Lingua Botanica (language of plants in Latin), aka Botanica. It features an extensive cocktail list of unusual and esoteric herbal liquors, fresh herbs and botanicals…. I developed an appreciation and fascination with herbal alcohols and artisan distilling… Overlapping with this I visited family in the Dominican Republic and was exposed to Cacao. My family goes back to the late 1800’s in D.R. and were always in agriculture. Cacao is truly a magical tree. I became fascinated by the plant and when I delved into the chemistry and science behind it I was hooked….
I set off to vertically integrate my family’s farm. Most people are not aware that cacao seeds (cocoa beans) do not taste like chocolate until they are fermented. Chocolate is a fermented food. The byproduct in the fermentation is a foul alcoholic liquid called “sweatings”. When I began integrating processes on our farm, it occurred to me that there were thousands of years of recorded science behind cultured foods: cheese, wine, yogurt, etc… and pretty much all of this had passed cacao by. Standard practice was to crack open cacao fruit (pods) in the field and pile up the pulp covered seeds to allow it to ferment. Basically completely uncontrolled and performed in a dirty environment, the fermentation begins contaminated. You would not find wine makers who would stomp their grapes in a puddle and hope they taste good in a week. So why cacao? I set out on a journey to do things differently. We have since re-examined and re-engineered most all aspects of cacao cultivation and chocolate production. The results led me into founding companies for liquor and chocolate, deeply rewarding and delicious enterprises…..
If I did have to pick an ‘aha’ moment, though, I would say it happened in architecting our farm expansion…We have outgrown our initial farm and are expanding with 2000 hectares. The project is monumental: we are clearing 300,000 coconut trees that are too old to be productive and replanting with 2,000,000 cacao trees. We are building a city for 1,600 employees, schools, churches, a saw mill, a brick factory, large scale biochar, compost and vermiculture operations, setting up germplasm repostories for the genetic preservation of the countries rare cacao breeds, building laboratories for invitro cultivation of cacao, etc……its a bit overwhelming…. I never thought I would fancy myself a farmer, but I also never dreamed just how much science is involved in operating a self sustaining farm (and how difficult it could be).
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
I am a professional inventor, I hold over 100 patents in 17+ countries. The legal definition of an invention is something that doesn’t exist in the public domain and which is not obvious to someone normally skilled in the art. I have some particular abilities that make me a natural inventor: I have a photographic memory which allows me to catalog information I have read, I am very good at seeing patterns and connecting the dots that others pass by.
That said, I came across this industry of cacao and saw no vertical integration. There are many companies and people in between the plant nursery and the final chocolate maker. I saw no alignment of interests… I guess my skill set allowed me to visualize the way things should be and try to change it. We are beginning to change things on a national level, and before this project comes to completion we will have changed things on a global level.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
I am truly passionate and intellectually engaged by what we are doing. I imagine it will hold my attention for a long time to come…as to obstacles, they are everywhere, but that’s par for the entrepreneurial course, they’re what makes life more interesting.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
I have never been much of an alarmist or conspiracy theorist, but I am sure that our current system of food production at a farm level in this country is not sustainable. I find the most exciting opportunities out there involve correcting this problem. Educating America in healthy diet and sustainable farming practices, etc.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
Chocolate ! Already there.
The weekend has passed, but what a fun weekend! After a fantastic evening at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic opening gala on Friday, I headed on over to my first MCC event on Saturday afternoon, the Hands-On Distilling Workshop: The Art and Science of Distilling. The seminar was held at Cacao Prieto in the Red Hook part of Brooklyn…
Don Estaban Chocolate Liqueur Receives 90 points from Ultimate Beverage Challenge – “Excellent, Highly Recommended”
The Ultimate Beverage Challenge rated our Don Estaban Chocolate Liqueur 90 points in the 2012 Ultimate Spirits Challenge. This high mark reflects the passion for Rum Liqueur we put into each bottle of organic Don Esteban sweetened rum, and we are delighted to report that the Don Esteban is rated as “Excellent, Highly Recommended.” See the full results on ultimate-beverage.com.
Cacao Prieto is teaming up with Brooklyn Botanic Garden. On Friday, February 10th, we will be shaking up chocolate rum cocktails for the LUSH boogaloo and latin soul dance party. The LUSH event celebrates Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s collection of over 6,000 tropical orchids.
Friday, February 10 | 8 p.m.–Midnight | BBG Palm House
An evening celebrating Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s collection of over 6,000 tropical orchids Read more;
“Unique Chocolate liquor may be recession proof” – from International Business Times – Featuring our Red Hook chocolate factory.
By Sally Turner | Jan 30, 2012 12:14pm EST | Video length: 5min:43sec
Cacao Prieto, the artisan chocolate factory, was founded by inventor and former aerospace engineer Daniel Preston. Following a skydiving injury, Preston decided that he could design a better, safer parachute, one that would correct the design flaw that led to his own accident. The design was a major financial success and when Preston sold his controlling shares of the company he decided to go into the chocolate industry. He built his factory here in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood.
Our distillery’s custom designed copper still is the heart of our Brooklyn distilling operation. It was designed by Cacao Prieto founder Daniel Prieto and manufactured by Christian Carl, one of Europe’s oldest still makers. Our custom still is quite possibly the only fully automated, computer controlled still in the artisan distilling world.
Get ready for whiskey!
Yes indeed, our new grain mill is ready for action and that means that we are that much closer to full on whiskey production.
We bought a beautiful turn of the century 16″ stone mill this past week from the original manufacturer who fully restored and rebuilt it for us. Unlike hammer mills, antique stone mills operate at very slow speeds creating a uniform, cold grind that makes the highest quality flour or grits. Modern hammer mills can burn the grain through high speed friction and create a very uneven, coarse grind. We will be using our mill for only artisanal grains, no GMO corn or animal feeds. Read more;