Holiday Tour Day 3: Polymathic Being and Mirzam
The Renaissance of the spice of life
Thanksgiving might be over, but I’m not quite done feeling the gratitude. The gratitude for everyone who said YES! to my invitation to join this Tour with literal days to make it happen. The idea sparked Thanksgiving week, the emails started going out in batches, and here we are, with a full 25-day slate.
This is why I’m spending so much time putting these posts together. The tabletops alone take hours. It’s also why I’m giving away prizes (with real chocolate, stay tuned for deets!), and it’s why I extended my 20% off FOREVER offer till the end of this Tour. Why pay every year when you can do it just once, and be a Cacao Deity forever? (Yes that’s a membership level, read about it here.) That’s what deities are supposed to do, live the life immortal. Or at least as long as the Internet holds up.
This is the giving season, after all.
Welcome to Day Three of the Cacao Muse Holiday Tour. Put on those reading glasses! We begin this pairing with a studious albeit none-too-academic exploration.
WARNING: dictionary definition ahead 😱
[Greek: πολυμαθής, polymathēs, “having learned much”; Latin: homo universalis, “universal human”]
A polymath is “an individual whose knowledge spans a substantial number of subjects, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.”1
AKA the more romantic “Renaissance” man or woman. A person of a wide range of abilities, talents, and interests—notably in the arts and sciences, as was the custom during the actual Renaissance (hello Leonardo).
The Substack ecosystem is brimming with polymaths and Renaissance folk. Brazilian jiu-jitsu masters. Satirists and futurists. Ex-Wall Street traders, corporates, and executives. Entrepreneurs and investors. Chefs and bakers. Technologists. Journalists and researchers. Scientists and teachers. Painters and photographers. Travelers and singers. Historians and poets. Chocolate makers, storytellers, and dreamers.
And some have dipped their Substacks all the way into the pool of polymathy, freediving among disciplines and interests with curiosity and openness. Today, we’re pairingand his publication with Mirzam, a bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
TCM Holiday Tour Day 3 pairing:
POLYMATHIC BEING and MIRZAM
Father. Husband. Engineer. Thinker. Writer. Novelist. Puppy whisperer. Outdoor enthusiast. Freediver. Skydiver. All this and no doubt much more that he’s too humble to tell us about, is Michael Woudenberg.
No really, he freedives:
Not only does he dive in water, he dives in the air, too. Michael, why don’t you tell us.
Michael: I’ve jumped out of about as many planes as I’ve landed in, I’ve done two 10-day fasts, and I’ve held my breath for over five minutes training for freediving. I was Ranger and Airborne qualified in the army and did a bunch of skydiving in college.
Birgitte: I’m still at the “I’ve jumped out of about as many planes as I’ve landed in” part. I don’t think my brain stretches quite that far 😅 But here’s Michael, jumping out of his … what, 50th plane?
One more pic, which is arguably the most memorable—and wholesome.
That’s Michael wearing his Dad-Puppy Whisperer-Outdoorsman hat.
Please welcome Michael Woudenberg and his publication.
The Cacao Muse: Michael, good to have you with us on the Tour. Talk to us about this concept of polymathy.
Michael Woudenberg: Fundamentally, I view polymathy as an aspirational goal to reconceptualize the world around us and draw from a broad array of fields to solve complex problems. In my Substack I explore counterintuitive insights from technology, innovation, philosophy, psychology, and other areas.
The thing to underline is that it’s aspirational, not an end state. In fact, I hew to the idea that we are always white belts. Andrew Smith, who you heard from yesterday, would agree even though he can claim a 4th-degree Black belt in BJJ. The more you learn, the more you learn you don’t know.
Birgitte: Ooh I like that. Let’s pull that out and make it a re-stackable quote.
The more you learn, the more you learn you don’t know.
~ Michael Woudenberg
TCM: You and Andrew Smith wrote a collab together on coffee.
Michael: Yes, we did a piece called “Ode to Coffee.” We’re also doing one titled “Ode to Beer,” that’s coming out next week. It’s a series that explores the history, culture, and the science of the things we love. I typically handle the science side and explore the complexities of creation. So for example chocolate is a product of fermentation, but different from beer fermentation. Oh, and we’ll also be collaborating with The Cacao Muse on An Ode to —
[sound of shattering glass and a roaring leaf blower choking on metal airplane parts]
Michael: Umm, hello?
[off-camera voices violently whispering: Are we announcing the collab here?? Did anyone talk to the PR people? No? What? They said we’re not announcing yet. Okay I think we saved it. Just tell her to move on. Back on with the interview, we’re live!]
[sound of an electronic device restarting, series of beeps as we come back online]
Birgitte: Apologies to our readers, we seem to be experiencing some unexpected extraneous noise outside. Thank you Michael, that’s a fantastic series and I’m sure our—I mean, your readers will be just thrilled with the next one, but let’s move on now to our next question.
Michael: Okay, well, I was just going to add, I love to find out how to change perspectives and find the counterintuitive insights amongst the common, everyday things we just accept.
TCM: So what’s your favorite chocolate?
Michael: I’m not a chocolate snob but I do like dark chocolate much more. That said, I’d say my go-to is probably Moser Roth Dark Chili.
Birgitte: Ah, yes we’ve heard of Moser Roth. [speaks louder in case The Boss ever sees this interview] So unfortunately we don’t have any bars of that brand here, but I’ve got something I think you’ll really like. It’s certainly got spice!
Introducing… Mirzam’s Dark Chocolate with Kashmiri Chilli! The perfect bar for the discerning polymath, from a company so far away they have to source their beans from their part of the world.3
Chocolate: Dark Chocolate with Kashmiri Chilli
Origin: Unknown [made bean to bar in Dubai]
Ingredients: Cacao beans, unrefined cane sugar, cocoa butter, chilli powder.
Tasting Notes: When you see “chili” and designs of chili peppers on a chocolate bar wrapper, you will either recoil in trepidation (if you’re not a spice lover) or rip open the package (if you are). This bar sashays down the golden middle path of spice: the chili is mild, letting the cacao into your senses first, then slowly spreading its warmth across the palate in a smooth, long-lasting, well blended finish.
And despite the low cacao percentage, coming in at just 62%, it’s still strong enough, thanks to the chili peppers. Granted, I’d love an even higher percentage!
TCM: What is the one burning—haha pun intended—question you have about chocolate?
Michael: A burning question would be whether people have a genetic disposition towards chocolate bitterness like some have aversions to cilantro.
Birgitte: Interesting question! I’ll need to consult my friends in the sensory sciences. My educated guess on this, however, is no, because cilantro has a specific set of biochemical compounds that certain people do not respond well to, while others absolutely love the herb. I’m one of the latter class—I could wear an entire dress made of cilantro, I love the scent and taste so much. Roasted cacao beans, on the other hand, that’s a process rather than a biochemical compound, and is just one of the many steps involved in making chocolate.
TCM: If there is one thing you had the power to change about the chocolate industry, what would it be?
Michael: If I would change anything, it would be to stop wasting cocoa on crap chocolate.
Birgitte: Hear, hear Michael! (Heard that, Nestlé?)
The Cacao Muse would like to thank Michael Woudenberg for taking part in our Holiday Tour, and for not walking off the set when we had an industrial grade leaf blower interrupt the conversation. These things, of course, happen, and until Congress bans leaf blowers throughout the known universe, online interviews about chocolate—especially when future collabs are not being announced—will always run the risk of being so crudely disrupted.
Please give Michael and Mirzam a big round of applause and online love—share, like, comment, cross-post, restack, and if you happen to be flying through Dubai, stop in and visit our friends at Mirzam.
And of course you can fly into Polymathic Being any time of day or night, and check out the oceans of freedives Michael has done on topics that span the range of humanity’s interests.
COMING UP! DAY 4 of the TCM HOLIDAY TOUR
I don’t know about you, but after the drama of the Chocolate Mafia cats, the oxygen-depleting stress of vicarious skydiving and freediving, and the teeth-grating noise of industrial grade leaf blowers interrupting an otherwise perfectly produced on-Substack interview, I’m ready for a spa day. With a cup of honey & chamomile tea, in a therapeutic garden created just for us artists.
I’ve got just the right person to call.
Wikipedia, accessed online on December 2, 2023 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polymath
If you haven’t read Day Two, you’ll have missed the reference to Moser Roth. We strongly recommend to read Day Two before Day Three. After all, it makes chronological sense…
Which is the way it should be. A chocolate maker based in Dubai shouldn’t have to go all the way to Latin America when they’ve got perfect good cacao in Madagascar, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Which, incidentally, is precisely where Mirzam sources their cacao.