Voyeuresque, another might think.
One would normally associate adultery with sin, or lip-biting epics like The Scarlett Letter, or recent renditions like the enigmatic Unfaithful. Yet, when dissolved in the world of chocolate, adultery takes on a new, daring, yet forgivably luscious path.
For in this year’s expose of all things chocolate, I realized that chocolate was starting to mate with flavors and beings that one would not traditionally associate it with. And depending on how one personifies the beloved cocoa, the hunk or vixen that led the temptation pack was salt. Following suit was a prowl of pepper, sesame seeds, chili, mango, alongside familiar lovers like cinnamon and ginger.
Adultery isn’t the typical ode to a new year, but why not.
While most start the New Year making resolutions, I take it to reminisce the poignant stances of the year that passed. And then I promise to either repeat them, or overpower them with even stronger experiences.
A year ago I chronicled one of my unlanguishing obsessions. The annual chocolate show was and still remains a staple in my life, and I will continue to document its legacy by utilizing all sensorial elements available.
Sight for visualizing, eating and capturing photographic memories
Taste for intentions of saturating the buds with endless forms of chocolate
Scent for inhalation that coaxes with a whiff of pepper from chocolatey burnt caramel
Sound for assessing the crunch of a of a salty praline in caramelized brownie
Touch for sensing that I really do coexist with the gradually melting indulgence of all time
After biting nibbling, touching, swooning and lusting over all things chocolate for over 10 hours, an applaudable feat, I began concocting a list of favorites.
All hands down for one of the finest juxtaposition of ironic, oxymoronic and alluring ingredients I have ever seen. While I enjoyed Fika Choklad’s sculptures last year, not forgetting the Tolkein-like dragon sneering at charmed eaters passing by, this year I gave in to devoting all my senses to the consuming the brand’s offerings. I tried virtually all that the Swedish brand had to offer, from the scentsational blend of goat cheese with dark chocolate to a whiskey infused concoction that made my eyes blink twice in astonishment of strong taste. The chocolatier had everything from bars to truffles to sinfully labeled treats. Other favorites to flirt with were the red gingerbread and the ruby licorice combinations, evoking just the rights oohs and aahs at perfectly climaxed intervals, making the taste buds plead for more.
A peppered bar which came just close enough to making me cough in delight, to one caked in pink Himalayan salt, were toppers for taste. The packaging too, was commendable – sleek and slender black boxes with deep blue or red titles that exuded voyeuristic and sexy simplicity. And I was one of many mortals devouring the treats under the glare of a decorative skull.
Salt of the Earth Bakery
Salt in sweet dishes has been a gradually growing trend in gourmet chocolateries, but never have I tasted such a skillful and tasty marriage of the seemingly opposite soulmates: cocoa and salt. Salt of the Earth Bakery, which opened just a few weeks before the show, had devoted its entire collection to salty chocolate. And it succeeded in taking my taste buds through a triple somersault on a gastronomic roller coaster. The gooey brownies were neither too sweet, nor sickeningly gooey, yet they managed to melt in my mouth with salt sprinkling like snowflakes on a lovely winter day, packing just the right punch. Likewise for the humungous soft baked chocolate cookies, which can make a fitting addition to my favorite cookies of all time. Gleaming with glamorous salt particles, the seemingly hand cut chocolate chips were blanketed in thick cookie dough, simply too good to look at and even better to gobble up. Here was a true winner of the chocolate-salt affair!
Comptoir du Cacao
Hopefully a staple to the show and applauded last year for the best pralines on earth, Comptoir du Cacao did not let me down this year. With a foothold as French praline masters, the chocolatier deserved every one of the many awards it won. As aforementioned, these were by far the best pralines and truffles that I ever tasted, even compared to those nibbled in Belgium, the United Kingdom, and homely crannies of Europe and the US. The delectable crunch that united with a multi textured gritty sensation of coconut and hazelnut all blended delectably with velvety chocolate. Momentarily, I believed that dreams do come true.
While I initially found the brand’s marketing to be rather plain and less in-your-face, Pure Dark proved that you do not need glamorous packaging to sell great taste. Texture was the seller of this natural variety, with bars akin to jeweled planks, studded with caramelized nuts, whole raw almond centerpieces, gleaming fruit slices as symmetrical decor, and whole pieces of pepper for accents, all making the bar looking simultaneously sturdy and gritty enough to exfoliate the mouth! Deceptively enough, these mingled together into a charming orchestra of juxtaposed tastes. But the winner was the dark chocolate salt medallions, layered with specks of gigantic sea salt granules which grew slowly but addictively on a lusty mind. Akin to a mystery that envelopes one in its attractive clutches, Pure Dark was luring, and rewarding.
Pink pink and more pink! The evidently French haute couture brand looked more fitting to be on Paris fashion week, with its alluring salesfolks and punchy packaging, and a name evoking luxe exotica: Christophe Roussel. While the ladies fingers looked cute, the name Pop Finger was mildly freaky; only because a closer glance reminded me too much of the wicked witch’s stern and bumpy finger that beckoned of chaos beneath the calm. Yet, probably one of the sole reasons I enjoyed this brand was the collection of praline fingers in cute boxes called Electro’Choc. Delectably crunchy with an orchestra comprising of crackling nut and interlaced with silky chocolate, it arrived dressed in hues of pink like a gorgeous damsel’s inviting arms. Oh la la!
Apparently mainstream in Harrods and the haute streets of the Queen’s land, it was a first for me to taste Prestat’s simple yet meltingly seductive chocolate. Bright pink seemed to be a trend, and an inviting one at that! The passionate pink packaging was embellished with flowing golden swirls alongside a royal stamp made me devour the packaging before nibbling into the smooth bar itself. While not as adulterous as aforementioned European beauties (sticking to its British sensibilities perhaps!), Prestat merits a mention due to its solid clutch on traditional, uncluttered roots – a pure milk chocolate bar, a pure milk chocolate truffle, and a forgotten scandal with cinnamon which resulted in a delightfully tasty offspring!
Peanut Butter & Co
How can you avoid these guys? With a big monkey prancing about the floors (reminiscent of a Halloween costume hangover) to the homely Americano feel of their booth with picnic boxes, cute reusable shopping bags, and a plethora of jars with old-school dipper spoons for tasting, Peanut Butter & Co definitely makes it into my list of bests. My favorites include the aptly labeled Dark Chocolate Dreams which puts up a tough fight with the likes of Nutella, alongside unique combinations of honey and peanut butter personified as The Bee’s Knees, or a favorite of spicy peanut butter, drizzled with paprika and spices to really Turn on the Heat!
Several other brands gave these favorites a run for their taste. Nibmor continued its green rainforest and vegan roots pledge with delicious dark chocolate. Davis Chocolate swept the cake for freebies, handing out a fantastic jar (which I wish had been packaged as a magical vial) of antioxdant ridden nibs. Divine chocolate was cute with its plethora of tattoos and gold edged packaged bars. Gnosis, a favorite last year, was rather unchanged, but still had an inventive, grassroots approach to the story behind each of its bars. While pomegranate was a favorite last year, the zero-g bar was eye candy this time around. And of course, No Chewing Allowed was as deliciously meltful as ever.
And who gave the best demonstrations? So much is déjà vu from last year, perhaps because I was lured back to see some of these presenters, or perhaps because they are truly charming and witty after all.
What more can I say about Serena Palumbo, a chef with infectious laughter, impeccable cooking skills and an approachably friendly attitude? She recognized me right off the stage, and even acknowledged so amidst her lineup of fans waiting to pose for the shutterbugs. That is what truly crafts a refined chef – one who creates the time to spend quality moments with friends and fans alike, talking about everything from chocolate sourcing to fame management (she independently handles her internet presence!) to my infamous plaid pants. To top that, her dark chocolate panna cotta left me licking the plate for more!
Johnny’s fan following was surely admirable, as there were lines of fans waiting to find a seat after the previous demonstration ended, only to realize nobody was getting up, fixated by the sight of this mysterious guy who, as the MC pointed out, had “girlfriend” as one of the most googled terms after his name. The best part really was the candid Q&A round where he gave a brief take on ‘lessons from life’, with an evident knack for addictive and honest story telling. My favorite lesson: taste your food as you cook, for it tastes different to each person. His play with liquid nitrogen continued from last year, including a hand dip into the smokey, cold chemical! His concoction was once again a semi frozen, an architectural wonder that encapsulated several types of greenery. Creativity at the peak of curiosity!
Whisked into this by a friend who is both a dentist and a fan of his humor, I was slightly surprised by Zac Young‘s whimsical style, and even more so by how much I enjoyed it! It takes quite some skill to talk about chocolate and jelly and precision with gourmet crafmanship alongside sharing tips and tricks and evoking laughter through tongue-and-cheek humor all at once! If that wasn’t enough to make us all laugh and gasp, the chocolate peanut butter and jelly cheesecake was high on peanut butter and low on jelly, just how I liked it. A densely packed hour of tasty fun!
And thus concluded an evening of true double entendres and love affairs. Yet, unlike what morals may suggest, I was content for chocolate of having been so promiscuous. It most positively led to an entertaining orchestra of gastronomic proportions. Unlike a few diluted former years, this one will be etched as a year of the chocolate show that will not languish from memory. I will wait anxiously to see what the next show unleashes on its eager eaters.
Until next year, enjoy the tales of adultery that hit your television, your books, your lives, and your overflowing chocolate flavored shelves!