Brushing your teeth without yawning. Checking the crawling time in a meeting. Turning a warm pillow around to sleep on the colder side. Quirks and dramatized habits, we have them all.
For me, eating dessert is one of these. Especially if it contains chocolate, the epitome of my devotion to all things sweet.
Let us forget the consequential workout and miles of running that I do to recuperate.
And related to this is my annual accomplishment of attending the Chocolate Show. For more on this glorious yearly event, the official website has enough trivia and paraphernalia that are captivating enough to lure one in next year, and thus does not need to be exaggerated further!
For 2010 in New York (versus former years in Paris, and yesteryears in New York, too), the list of vendors was surprisingly short, squished onto one page in a decent sized font. My expectations initially plummeted, which, as discussed earlier in a Parisian review of managing expectations, is both a good and a bad thing. Yet, I was remarkably surprised that despite fewer vendors, the choices per vendor were immense, and the relatively small floor space took double digit hours to cover.
Variety robed itself in different forms; from a plethora of alcoholic treats, to the staple I Love Peanut Butter with a full sized Disney-like character posing for shutterbugs. There was the recurrent bubbly presence of Sweetriot‘s contageously addictive tiny treats in peculiar flavors, offered by charming hosts, and Swedish brand Fika Choklad was also present, creating chocolate sculptures as a live attraction. Evidently, besides a high consumption quotient, there was a lot for the eyes to digest, too.
Having tactfully bitten, gloriously tasted, lustfully touched, preciously licked and shamefully chewed down chocolate that probably matched half my weight, I quite obviously began to concoct a list of my favorites, a difficult task. (Consider the competition, like the following photograph capturing gingerbread and licorice chocolate in stamped spheres!). And yes, the list phenomenon is growing and growing and growing.
Comptoir du Cacao
Comptoir du Cacao created possibly the best praline truffles I have tasted, and having swept chocolate off shelves in Brussels, Antwerp and Paris, this was quite an accomplishment. And one that deservedly won two awards at the Paris Chocolate show, as touted by friendly pastry chefs. I have never tasted such freshness and richness in a kaleidoscope of flavors all effortlessly wrapped into one, tasteful bite – the soft rawness of coconut, the melting buttercreamy texture of chocolate, the delectable crackle of the almond, the gritty crunch of sugar granules, the gooey contrast of salty caramel – making it akin to a gastronomic orchestra of sorts.
With contemporary packaging devoid of dripping chocolate and organic claims that seemed to be a popular vibe this season, there was something innately glamorous about the metallic embossed box with the naughty words Toffee Taboo, courtesy of event producer Bob Sendall’s chocolate line. Psychologically, all things forbidden gain an alluring pedestal on one’s wishlist. In this case, temptation arrived in the form of solid barks of chocolate drizzled with white chocolate and embellished with glistening toffee wrapped nuts. Packing a powerful punch, crunch and oxymoronic dance for the taste buds, this one was a winner.
Gnosis can be described as a chocolate line having the rawness and appeal that is equivalent to the Lush of the cosmetics world. Touted as the world’s most nutritious chocolate, and with artwork that did not overkill with swoops of chocolate and overused melting ripples, Gnosis instead displayed ingredients in their earthy state, and concealed chocolate in brick-like bar wrappers with matter-of-factly art in poignant colors. It was one of the most effective grassroots approaches I have seen for packaging and display, because of which I did not mind the plethora of ‘environment-friendly’, ‘machine-free’, ‘hand-made’, ‘vegan’ and related claims and symbols. Upon tasting the varieties, it was amazing how something so nutritiously competent could taste so enriching! It was then that I appreciated the organic rawness and machine-free making of the delectable bites. My favorites were The Mayan heat and Pomegranate Acai – while the former was a dark chocolate that boggled the tastebuds with a frightfully spicy undertone, the latter was a sweeter version with the freshness of pomegranate and a tranquil, tea-like taste.
No Chewing Allowed
With one signature product, I marveled the guts of this brand. When one imagines truffles, images of decadence, magnified mountains of smooth, tender chocolate dusted with cocoa sand with velvety images in a mushy ambiance all come to mind. And here, No Chewing Allowed broke all stereotypes to come up with a naughty, refreshing story; a child’s face with his mouth smothered in chocolate! It truly persuaded one to be a kid again, to fundamentally enjoy the truffles instead of treating them like a showpiece, and yet retaining the aspect of savoring what you eat by banning the use of teeth. The result? Pure chocolate that melted in the mouth for ooh-evoking reactions living up to the juxtaposed tagline of traditional French truffles. This one won the vote for wit.
Gotta Eat Sweets
An antithesis to the No Chewing Allowed brand, here was a seemingly fun titled brand with a grammatically butchered name. I expected fun-ville, but Gotta Eat Sweets in fact offered truly gourmet and tastefully evocative treats. Yet the clash did not disappoint. My favorite was the truffipop, a successful marriage of a brownie and a truffle. Pyramid shaped treats, these were soft and cakey, blanketed in nuts, chocolate chips, coconut, coffee beans, and many other ingredient artifacts. Whilst hazelnut was clearly the tastiest, it made me reminisce Ferrero Rocher. Other unique combinations flirted with my taste buds quite well; caramel sea salt was a delectable blend of creamy chocolate, non-sweet caramel tinted with salt. Mint was a perfect blend of a bitter, dark chocolate with an undertaste of minty freshness, evoking a mysterious liking akin to the chocolate equivalent of the Twilight movie series in filmdom. Lick. The white chocolate truffipops were avoided due to my dislike for white chocolate, but the flavors were indeed enticing, including passion fruit coconut and green tea pistachio. Sans preservatives and trans-fat free claims boosted this brand’s taste due to the promise of maintaining friendship with the arteries.
From the depths of Ecuador arrived a form of coffee that I certainly did not mind, despite having expressed my distaste for it earlier. Pacari offered cocoa beans of exorbitant sizes dusted with cocoa and ginger, which made the perfect snack-sized treat, wine companion, tea accompaniment, or memory inducing snack. With dust that did not choke, and a ginger undertaste that left several either seeking or guessing, Pacari succeeded in creating the right level of intrigue. The friendly chocolatier was kind enough to give me samples aplenty as I stood in line waiting to purchase one of the last bags of ginger coated chocolate beans, allowing me to nibble the effects of chocolate vodka away, accentuated by the delectable crunch of these rock sized treats. The dreamy companionship of coffee and chocolate never tasted this good together.
The namesake of one of my favorite fragrances, Antidote was immediately attractive. Another Ecuadorian find, this dark chocolate was as dark as it gets whilst trying to retain exotic flavor. Whilst certainly bitter, it promised many health claims, almost too many, which were a momentary detriment, making me feel like I was at a health insurance office. Yet upon tasting the ginger chocolate (yes, ginger is my new-found weakness) and coconut almond chocolates, feeling the darkness melt into my mouth without the saturated sweetness of sugar, it was love at first lick. And a love that lasted!
William Dean Chocolates
The rapid sellout of all of William Dean chocolates spoke volumes of their artistic splendor and unmatched taste. Touting awards and celebrity favorites, the showpiece-like chocolates entranced with the hand crafted artwork and the unique unfolding box packaging that showed off the chocolate assets as best as possible. Ornate designs in evidently hand crafted colors and shapes demanded one to first ogle at the chocolate pieces, fall in love with them, and ironically feel bad for consuming them!
I am admittedly a health freak, despite not seeming like one from my food explorations; but it is inevitable after discovering so much sugar of the world. So although the sugar free world is alluring, it arrives with a compromise on taste and aftertaste. Yet, Guy Roux embodied the impeccable quality to mask the sugar-free-ness with marvelous, creamy and milky chocolate taste. It is a rare feat to accomplish in today’s crowded healthy space, and that too in a French gourmet line. But the Sans Sucre line successfully educated, enticed and entranced eager nibblers. Guy Roux has worked with a nutritionist to formulate this decadent line, and from the taste of the milk chocolate (a relieving break from the bitter dark that was a hot trend), especially with whole hazelnuts mixed right in, the taste is formidable. Truly guilt-free indulgence at its tasty best.
Despite a rain forest green gigantic backdrop and an all natural, simple positioning for dark chocolate, I admittedly almost passed this brand at first sight. But as luck may have it, one bit of Nibmor‘s dark chocolate with almonds and a look at their funky packaging, complete with Alice’s words twisted into ‘Eat Me’ and ‘Recycle Me’, the youthful and bubbly dedication zapped me. The website catapults the fun with a twist on the word ‘Mor’ and a glossary explaining essentials of good health and nature to those who have yet to catch on the ‘green’ boat. Despite a small selection, the effort into driving growth from a niche setup is commendable, and consequently delectable.
Photo Courtesy: Nibmor
And there were many many more that were definitely up to the mark on quality, taste, variety, design, and so much more, making the choice exceptionally difficult. And for those who I may have missed here, I definitely bought enough chocolates and samplings to relish for days on end! I definitely missed some absentees from the list, like Newtree, famous for their Belgian varieties that have now infiltrated supermarkets too, or Fairytale Brownies whose website alone makes me salivate thinking of the gooey center and crisp outlines of their cookies and brownies. However, several chocolatiers opted for sending in a top chef or renowned culinary artist to give a forty-five minute demonstration. From Momofuku to Gramercy Tavern, from the Dessert Truck to Dylan’s Candy Bar, and from Knipschildt to Buddakan, many signature hotspots made their presence felt.
And this is where time became a hurdle. With so much to taste and so many vendors to meet and so much media to network with, it was evident that having a chocolate booth on the premise was a smarter strategy, as many, like me, missed several demonstrations. Yet, of the ones I saw, I enjoyed quite a few.
Having missed the first part of her strawberry excursion, I was able to make it for the second half when she was answering questions with a zealous joy for cooking. The Next Food Star finalist was extremely candid with her cooking style, making the most difficult of cooking tactics and kitchen secrets seem effortless. The berries, raspberries and pouting strawberry were a fresh change from the slabs and chunks of dark chocolate, acting both as a palette cleanser and eye soother. Serena was superb to chat with, and her spontaneity in posing for shutterbugs was unmatched!
I was lucky to sit smack on the stage for this one, very close to the Top Chef Judge’s container of liquid nitrogen. His demonstration on creating a four star dessert at home left the crowds amazed, especially with the cool and calm way in which he went about the seemingly tough preparation. A busy concoction of solidified gelatin sheets, dark chocolate mousse, liquid nitrogen frozen ice cream with chocolate strands, and much more, was served amidst glamorous vapors on a frozen plate. Offbeat and witty, it was a fun show, with the dish providing a welcome break from chocolatiers that were otherwise focusing on the heat of melting chocolate!
A delightful person with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that poked fun of dessert and cooking stereotypes, Mazeaud ensured to not overly advertise the Barry Callebaut booth. His variations on a dark chocolate mousse speckled with yesterday’s brownies both enlightened on ideas of how to use leftover desserts to concoct a new meal, and demonstrated the essence of having the right texture in mousse. Super friendly to chat with, it was no wonder that he was chosen to give multiple demonstrations over the length of the show.
The euphoria of the chocolate show was further accentuated by an extension of its Parisian roots – fashion. Chocolate fashion is a mantra, which I will explore successively, for it deserves a pedestal of its own. For now, this culminates my obsession and chocolate devotion (thanks to my favorite ice cream chain Coldstone Creamery for coming up with a creation with such a respectable name!)
Ironically I was introduced to the chocolate show by a comrade of food who is professionally a dentist. Which is why I did not feel too bad for buttering my teeth with chocolate in all textures, sizes and flavors. This time I took the trip with a twin who balances chocolate addiction with fashion quite well. A trip to this living wonderland should be a staple for every life, and for addicts like me, a ritual for every year.
See you there next year.