The Rugged Terrain of Chocolate (plus rivers of Booze)

Chocolate and I. We define inseparability.

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My relationship with the chocolate show goes back many years when an equivalently obsessed chocoholic-by-life-and-dentist-by-profession took me to this enchanting world. Many years and two reviews later (here and here), I was back in the pinching cold, itching to be the first four people ready to eat the day away.

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Unlike last year and the year before however, the chocolate show lacked two key elements: the fashion component was entirely missing, courtesy of the intolerably cruel Sandy storm which consequently meant that the French chocolatiers did not make it down to New York. Desolé!

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While salt was a prevalent theme last year, this year the adulterous nature of chocolate was everywhere, so much so that it was hard to delineate chocolate from its numerous affairs with ginger, pepper, chili, salt, sesame, coconut, figs, wasabi, and so much more.

Two things that particularly stood out were the juxtaposition of textures, and the absolutely almost mandatory inclusion of booze in everything!

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There were not one, not two, but three stations of alcohol only drinks, mostly wines and related liquors, all naturally doused in chocolate or desserty in their very nature. My favorite was the Almond Roca wine, which tasted of the chocolate nutty toffee mix that I devoured gleefully in my childhood. Given that wines couldn’t legally be sold at the event (oh America…), two Muscat wines found themselves shipped to me, both light, sweet and punchy in flavor, and electrically charming in quirky packaging.

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But what kicked a stronger punch was the boozey ice cream. I combined figs and tequila with chocolate whiskey brownie, resulting in an adult version of an intoxicating and highly potent punch of freeze. Having a penchant for unique and oxymoronic ice cream flavors, the inclusion of alcohol elevated these to a sensual high, despite detracting from the indulgence essence of what ice cream should be.

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Salt of the Earth Bakery, after a successful debut last year, continued their reign on being the namesake for salt in brownies and cookies. And with a larger variety and an evidently more successful force this year, the tasty morsels were to die for. From coffee to ultra-spicy, the succulent textures and pow-inducing tastes made this a recurrent favorite.

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The new find was surprisingly made up of one of my worst ever snacks on this side of the Atlantic, the cringe inducing pretzel. But two thumbs up to Fretzels, inspired by the founders very own name (Jill Frechtman), for converting pretzels into a decadent, sweet and visually applaudworthy delight, and expectedly exploding with texture. From Fractured Fretzels which were covered in miniature chocolate pieces and candy, to the colorful and flavored coated pretzels, with everything from purple hued sugar plum to earthy colored caramel apple pie,  Fretzels takes the prize for most dramatic and successful food makeover.

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Éclat chocolates, a dream child of Christopher Curtin, offered a misleadingly ordinary looking display with a variety of nostalgic tastes that drew me like a bee to pollen. First was their selection of mendiants, chocolate medallions if you like. The one which drew me into my own world was one called Tanzania, my birthplace and once-upon-a-time home, made of intense, dark chocolate. It that took me to my parents’ farms that were a destination of adventurous rides through a lush country from the bustling city of Dar es Salaam. And my favorite, which I inhaled faster than air, was the Aleppo Pink Peppercorn, named after Syria’s Aleppo valley, with enough spice to give wasabi a run for its punch. The second offering by Éclat transported me to my European endeavors. Here was hot chocolate on a stick, a remarkable concept that I even gobble up (via sipping of course) at the Christmas Markets in Vienna and Paris. An enchanting discovery, this allows you to dip the high quality chocolate into a glass of steaming milk, and slurp as it melts. Heaven.

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Prestat continued on a commercial route, with hot pink and golden packaged truffles and bars, adding more lines and flavors akin to a beauty product at a supermarket. They did however match the beauty with intriguing tastes, especially the trio of truffles: praline truffles, sea salt and champagne, which were my favorite in that descending order. These were all like an amusement park in my mouth, owing to their flavors and surprisingly crackly textures underneath a pillow of cacao dusted fluff.

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Given the memory of hot chocolate on a stick, there was no stopping me from sipping away on my favorite beverage, the eternally thick, dark and rich hot chocolate. Especially when it was being made afresh on a stovetop, luring me with embracing aromas.

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And what’s more, to merge the bridge between crackling melting chocolate and syrupy hot chocolate was a fudge station, probably one of the most popular of the event, judging by the swarms of human arms and cameras eying and gaping at the plethora of varieties by Magnolia’s Fudge. I was evidently charmed by the peanut butter one and coconut infused one.

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The journey continued as I ate with my eyes; the textures of LAC’s nutty and pluckably placed chocolates, often interlaced with crystallized citrus, or the artsy paintings that were brought to life on MarieBelle’s artistic chocolates, with Francois Payard bridging the gap in between with both design, color and texture.

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And the textural topography of chocolate continued its rugged course, as I saw sesame seeds, caramel, pine nuts, pistachios, burnt orange, toasty coconut, cacao nibs and so much more encased in truffles, chocolate dips, cupcakes, and a plethora of cravings that I just did not have the gastronomic space to fulfill, except for within my mandatory camera memories.

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And ironically, towards the end, I found raw licorice roots amidst a variety of teas, which I grabbed and chewed in memory of both and Indian and Dutch tradition. Bringing back memories mommy’s delicious remedies for sore throats and of tired afternoons soaked in tea and drenched with stroopwaffels in HOlland, I was transported into my world of imagination based on my cultural heritage. Truly, food unites us all.

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The obvious lack of mannequins, though shocking, was replaced by the live creation of other structures, included a baker with exposed cake, and miniatures including a Buddha and our very own president, too. While not replacing the memories of the chocolate fashion show, these were still a short and welcome visual break from the oodles of consumables.

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Serena Palumbo, my now annual comrade at the show, greeted me graciously and cheerfully amidst her demonstration, and was as usual a breeze of fresh air amidst the chocolatey heaviness of the show. Plus, she hosted several other demonstrations with her wit and charm, making them a delight to absorb and engage in, and a way for me to happily rest my heavying bags of chocolate!

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Although not the best of chocolate shows I’ve been to, I nevertheless returned partially tipsy and feeling rather hiked out, having consumed rocks and rivers everything in between, and their equivalents in textures of chocolate. I think the only thing left would be to inhale chocolate gas.

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Chocolate Gas.
An innovation for next year perhaps?

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