A decade ago, a young Ursula XVII had the good fortune to be in the orbit of Ferran and Albert Adrià, the brothers behind the legendary restaurant elBulli in northern Spain. XVII, then known as Ursula Illa, was at elBulli's closing service in 2011 — and that same year asked famed pastry chef Albert Adrià, "How do I become you?"
His short answer: Start with culinary school.
Chances are he didn't add, "then eventually move to Long Island's North Fork to create yuzu and candied cacao bars and hot-chocolate bombs." After a decade of study, work and experimentation in the elBulli tradition, however, that is where the road has led XVII, who recently launched Disset Chocolate in Cutchogue.
"We tell people, take a bite and let it sit in your mouth, and you can see the complexity as you let flavors coat your mouth," said XVII of her chocolates, which are meticulously shaped and juxtapose flavors such as raspberry with black sesame or strawberry with black pepper. They are sold, for now, via her website and local pop-ups.
XVII grew up in both New York City and Barcelona, and after that pivotal conversation with Adrià studied pastry arts in Chicago. She went on to work in luxury hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants in New York (A Fiori) and Catalonia (Ca L’Enric), among others. The number 17 — "disset," in Catalan — is her given middle name, and now her legal surname.
It was partly that propensity for numbers which sent XVII on the road toward pastry, which she noted combines science and creativity. "It’s easier to experiment when you’re working with a platform that’s so scientific and exact," said XVII, who also worked with renowned pastry chef Claudia Fleming when she co-owned The North Fork Table. "I’d fill notebooks and notebooks with ideas. I did a lot of r&d, and tested things to a neurotic extent."
XVII, who sources Valrhona chocolate, said flavor combinations will retire seasonally as others debut. During the winter, for instance, a box of Disset bonbons ($17 for four, $34 for 9) feature a banana-walnut bread version and another that evokes lemon meringue; pink-hued strawberry-black pepper and salted caramel hearts appear in the 12-piece Valentine’s Day box, as does a white chocolate with edible flower petals and pate de fruit studded with edible gold candy. Dark-chocolate honey bars ($15), hot dark-chocolate bombs ($7.50 each), s’mores kits ($29) and hazelnut-chocolate spread ($6) are all part of the winter repertoire, too, as are paint-your-own chocolate bars ($39) that come with cacao-butter paints.
XVII soon plans to open a brick-and-mortar store on the North Fork; she thinks it’s important for customers to be able to see her chocolates in the flesh, so to speak. As a chocolatier, she’s inspired by her proximity to local farms and wineries (she’s taught chocolate making at Peconic Bay Winery) and thinks some of the same principles of wine tasting apply to chocolate. "When you let [chocolate] sit on your tongue, it’s almost like a second decanting," she said.
Disset Chocolate, dissetchocolate.com