Seattle chocolate extravaganza

It’s a tough life, this chocolate gig. This weekend, I’m off to Seattle to judge not one, but two, chocolate contests.

Seattle Luxury Chocolate Salon
Taking place from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 14, the Seattle Luxury Chocolate Salon features a selection of chocolate bars and confections from (mostly) the Pacific Northwest. This event used to be in July, so I’m glad to see it moved to a more sensible time of year. I think it paid off for the organizers, because this event is sold out!

This will be my second year judging, and I’m looking forward to learning more about new-to-me companies. I’m also pleased to be leading a chocolate-tasting workshop at 3:30 p.m. If you’re attending, please say hi!

The Chocolopolis Serious Chocolate Contest
I’m a huge fan of Chocolopolis; in fact, it’s often the first place I stop when I’m Seattle. On Sunday, May 15, they’re hosting the Serious Chocolate Contest, which challenges arm-chair pastry chefs and chocolate bakers (their words, not mine—though I’m happy to borrow) to use bean-to-bar chocolate in creative ways.

The deadline for applications is 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 14. Apply now!

Raincity Chronicles: Recipe For…

For the uninitiated, RainCity Chronicles is a regular gathering of awesome people who tell and listen to stories. It’s an entertaining and often touching look at topics you might not otherwise consider, told from perspectives you didn’t know existed.

This month’s event is called Recipe For… and it will go something like this: take one part storytelling, one part super-duper Vancouver people, one part cool venue, and you have a recipe for success. (Oh, I did not just do that. Wait. Yes, I did.)

I’m excited and terrified to be speaking at Raincity Chronicles next week. Won’t you come and watch me make an ass of myself? I don’t promise to talk about my famous Eating Pants (yes, they really do exist) but I promise that it will be fun. Besides, fellow Foodist Mark Busse and the always-lovely Annika Reinhardt will also be speaking. Put the three of us in a room, and at least one of us is good for a laugh.

Details:
Wednesday, May 11
Firehall Arts Centre
Doors 7:00 p.m., show 7:30 p.m.
Tickets $10 advance, $12 at the door
More information
Buy tickets here

Chocolate-tasting class at Kafka’s Coffee and Tea

Chocolate 201Spring has sprung! It means spring cleaning, gardening and maybe (please, pretty please?) the opportunity to trade our winter coats for lighter jackets. We can only hope.

For chocolatiers, this is a hectic time of making chocolate-shaped bunnies, eggs and chicks. And for me, it means it’s time to get out from behind my little desk and teach a class or two.

Chocolate tasting at Kafka’s Coffee & Tea

Once again, I’ll be teaching at Kafka’s Coffee & Tea. Learn about where chocolate comes from, how it’s made, and the wacky personalities behind the products. For those who haven’t taken a chocolate-tasting class before, this is a great introduction to the world of fine chocolate. And if you’ve already attended one of my classes, you’ll know that one of the best ways to improve your palate is to practice. Lots.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011
7:30-8:30 p.m.
Kafka’s Coffee & Tea (2525 Main Street, Vancouver)
$15 plus HST and service fees.

Purchase tickets in advance: http://chocolate-tasting.eventbrite.com/

The last session sold out, so don’t dawdle!

Here’s what people have said about previous sessions:

“[I] enjoyed learning about the background information on chocolate making and chocolatiers! I’ll be more discerning and appreciative of chocolate now that I am better informed.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed the event – hard to say anything bad about an event where you get to taste chocolate! I especially enjoyed the anecdotes about all the various chocolate manufacturers – it is great to know a thing or two about the way your food is made and the people who make it.”

Dining Out for Life: Thursday, March 24

Dining Out for LifeI don’t know about you, but I have a tough time making decisions. I spend most of my day herding cats and correcting other people’s grammar, and when dinnertime rolls around, the last thing I want to do is make a decision. Cook dinner or eat out? Wine? Which one?

Well, thanks to Dining Out for Life, on Thursday, March 24, it’ll be a no-brainer.

Dining Out for Life (not to be confused with the very similarly named Dine Out Vancouver) is an annual fundraiser that benefits two local agencies who support people living with HIV/AIDS. One is A Loving Spoonful, an organization that I have volunteered with for the past three years, and the other is Friends for Life. A Loving Spoonful provides food for individuals and families who are living with HIV/AIDS, so that they don’t have to choose between food and medication. And Friends for Life provides alternative therapies—for example yoga, massage therapy, acupuncture—for those living with terminal illnesses. Both create community for a group of people who are otherwise marginalized and isolated.
Dining Out for Life

On March 24, it’s easy to help. Dine at one of the participating restaurants (more than 230 of them!) and 25% of your food bill will go directly to A Loving Spoonful and Friends for Life. Even better, during the entire month of March, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery will donate $1 from each bottle of wine.

So I know what I’ll be doing on Thursday, March 24: dining out at a participating restaurant, and drinking Sumac Ridge wine. Giving has never been easier.

Mast Brothers Stumptown Coffee bar

I’ve tasted chocolate that had distinct coffee notes, and I’ve also tasted coffee that tasted chocolatey. If you stop to think about it, that makes some sense. Chocolate and coffee are both tropical fruits that are fermented, dried and roasted. (Chocolate goes through a number of other steps beyond roasting, but I won’t go into those right now.)

The combination of coffee and chocolate is nothing new. Every time I’ve been in a certain coffee shop (you know, that coffee shop), I hear someone say Um, hi? Can I get a double-shot no-whip extra-hot double-pump cafe mocha?

Kidding aside, there are other examples of coffee-chocolate collaborations. After all, Soma Chocolate teamed up with 49th Parallel to create the Epic Espresso Bar. And I love the combination of sipping chocolate and rich espresso in the sinfully decadent bicerin. And, of course, there’s the pastry chef’s trick of adding a bit of coffee or espresso to chocolate recipes; a little bit brings out the base cocoa notes without actually tasting like coffee.

And then there’s the Mast Brothers Stumptown Coffee bar. This love child of Mast Brothers (the hipsters of the chocolate-making world) and Stumptown Coffee (Portland’s darlings of coffee) is wrapped up in beautiful steampunk-y printed paper, and the inside is just as lovely as the outside.

Other coffee-chocolate bars I’ve tried taste like a hybrid of the two: not quite chocolate and not quite coffee. This bar, on the other hand, tastes like two distinct flavours that enhance each other. The chocolate is deep, dark and spicy; there are definite nutty notes that are enhanced by the crushed coffee beans on top. And the coffee itself is delicate, never overpowering.

But at heart, I’m a texture girl. And let me tell you, the crunch of the coffee beans with the crisp snap of the chocolate is dangerously addictive. And for someone who is developing a disappointing sensitivity to caffeine (hello, insomnia!), let’s just say that this chocolate bar is best enjoyed in the morning.

Chocolate for breakfast? Don’t mind if I do.

Theo Chef Sessions limited edition confections

The idea of limited edition is kind of like eating seasonally. Something that’s limited edition is less likely to be taken for granted, though you run the risk of turning it into something precious. Or, worse, a marketing scheme.

Thankfully, in the case of limited edition things that are actually kick-ass and that, when they become available you need to snap one up immediately, there’s the Theo Chef Sessions limited edition confection collection. (Say that five times fast.) Featuring collaborations with some of the top chefs from Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, this might be the only opportunity you’ll have to try things like carrot caramel, pine resin ganache or candied beet pate de fruit.

Theo Chef Sessions limited edition confections

Standouts in the collection were the Chris Cosentino (Incanto) agro dolce brittle, a crispy crunchy brittle with pine nuts, capers and currants. Your brain expects sweet and it gets salty and savoury. I wanted more of the Maria Hines (Tilth) tamarind lime chili caramel, with its juicy, complex flavour profile. And, featuring the most traditional flavours of the bunch, the creation from Jerry Traumfeld (Poppy) didn’t disappoint with the huckleberry pate de fruit and cinnamon basil white ganache.

This limited edition (whee!) collection is only available for Valentine’s Day, so get ’em while you can.

Disclosure: The lovely team at Theo Chocolate sent me a box of these, gratis.

Lost and found: Nacional cacao in Peru

January was a busy month for the science of chocolate.

First, The New York Times reported that the rare, thought-to-be-extinct Nacional strain of cacao had been found in Peru. Amid much excitement, Maranon Chocolate was hailed as hero in the chocolate world. (I’ll note, apologetically, that Canada’s Globe & Mail took a whole two weeks to report the same story.)

Then, Clay Gordon posted this analysis of the situation on The Chocolate Life, which goes into a lot of detail about genetics, chocolate production and the taste of the chocolate itself.

The big commercial deal about this chocolate is that you can buy the roasted beans, enrobed in their own chocolate. You can get them from Moonstruck Chocolate in Portland (where they’ve given it the precious name Fortunato No. 4, which only begs the question of what happened to Fortunato 1, 2 and 3), or from Christophe Morel Chocolatier in Montreal.

A big deal has been made of the exclusivity of the chocolate. And on that topic, I’ll pull out the most interesting detail of Clay Gordon’s post on The Chocolate Life, and that’s that large Swiss chocolate maker Felchlin is actually processing the Nacional beans into chocolate. Nothing wrong with that, but it certainly dulls the romantic glow that some have tried to cast on the situation.

But how does it taste? The chocolate is quite good. The enrobed cacao bean has a nice nuttiness, floral notes and a long finish. Is it the world’s most fantastically amazing chocolate, or remotely close to “profound,” as the Globe & Mail describes? Um, no.

Sure is a nice story, though.