By Valerie Beck, Chocolate Broker, Distributor, Speaker, Muse
The Good Food Awards are the Oscars of US-made artisan food, recognizing sustainability, social impact, and deliciousness, and the 8th annual awards celebration last night in San Francisco was a celebration of good food indeed, including amazing craft chocolate and spectacular confections!
There were 199 winners in 15 categories, and I’m outrageously proud of and impressed by those craft chocolate makers and confectioners with whom I have the honor to work or represent, who were recognized onstage:
Months prior to the awards, I encouraged clients and contacts to enter from around the country, including some who hadn’t entered before, such as Xocolatl, first time entrant and already a winner!
I was also thrilled to be invited help behind the scenes last September in San Francisco, coordinating the judging process at the blind tasting – I didn’t want to be a judge because I wouldn’t want anyone to imagine that I chose my clients and contacts to win, even if subconsciously – and it was inspiring to see so much enthusiasm and so much wonderful sustainable food!
Scroll for scenes, including of the fabulous afterparty at AirBnB headquarters where we were able to sample exquisiteness from winners in all categories, from cheese and bread, to fish and charcuterie, to beer and spirits, pickles and pantry, and of course chocolate and confections!
“Your power to choose the direction of your life allows you to reinvent yourself, to change your future, and to powerfully influence the rest of creation.” —Stephen Covey
Magic at hand: Chocolate Naive, reinvented inside and out, comes from the innovating and iconoclastic mind of Domantas Uzpalis, my Chocolate Uplift 2017 Chocolate Maker of the Year!
Domantas uses custom technology, proprietary processes, creative concepts, and unique flavor profiles involving housemade inclusions, to create the exquisite taste, outrageously smooth and seamless texture, and mind-expanding experience of this one-of-a-kind brand, making it my best-in-show when he previewed his newly reimagined line at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January 2017! Domantas combines a kind heart and a scientific mind, both enlivened with keen humor, and his chocolate blends simplicity and sophistication, reinvented with authentic precision.
Chocolate Naive is made in Vilnius, Lithuania, and perhaps like that historically fascinating and contemporary cutting-edge city just a 1.5 hour flight from Stockholm or a 2.5 hour flight from Paris, the chocolate is simple yet sophisticated, elegant while whimsical, worldly yet naive.
2017 Chocolate Uplift Chocolate Maker of the Year…
…Domantas Uzpalis, founder of Chocolate Naive!
For example, Chocolate Naive’s angelic Kefir chocolate bar, part of the brand’s Forager collection, is silky and delicious. I included it in my June Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription boxes to rapturous welcome by subscribers, as it brings a refreshing yet gentle tang from Domantas’s housemade kefir, which he blends into his exquisite craft chocolate, in this case on Bolivia cacao. The kefir isn’t layered upon the chocolate, or sandwiched between chocolate, it’s *in* the chocolate, for a marvelously smooth journey. (If you’re wondering what is kefir, click to learn more!) The bar is a probiotic paradise, in a dance of double fermentation, as both kefir and chocolate are fermented foods!
As are all of the bars in my subscription boxes and at my speaking engagements, where Kefir has also been a huge hit, it’s also sustainable, child-slavery-free (yes, you read that correctly, and if you’ve been following, you know that raising awareness of and eradicating child slave labor in cacao and chocolate is a mission of mine through my #chocolatefreedomproject; click for a Fortune Magazine video and article on child slave labor in Big Chocolate), soy-free, small-batch, and scrumptious. And the Kefir bar seems particularly well suited for breakfast! Click for the unboxing video!
Then in December 2017 I selected Chocolate Naive’s Spices chocolate bar, part of the Equator collection, with its bold and warm intensity, for my subscription boxes, and it too was a massive success. It contains a special house blend of cinnamon, ancho pepper, and vanilla, adding winter warmth and sultry spice to the luscious chocolate into which it is seamlessly mixed, all with signature saturated flavor, again evoking simplicity and sophistication simultaneously. (There’s no December unboxing video yet; I’m looking for a new videographer for my unboxing videos — can you help??)
And then there’s the Tahini bar with housemade tahini, the Porcini bar with locally foraged mushrooms, the Peanut Butter bar with housemade peanut butter – you get the idea! And the idea is big.
Chocolate Naive was founded in 2010, and reinvented inside and out for the recent relaunch. New Naive presents exquisite chocolate bars made from new recipes, eliminating soy lecithin, and based on just cacao and sugar — all you need! Click to see why I don’t want soy lecithin in my chocolate; short answer: because it’s an industrial slurry processed with hexane and acetone, with effects on and implications for flavor, texture, and health.
Indeed, the craft chocolate movement generally involves a reimagining of 20th century corporate business models that were based on maximum profit extraction and conformity of product, at the expense of personal, public, or environmental health and justice. Instead, in the craft mindset, elements such as real flavor, direct trade, individuality within community, social justice, delicious healthfulness, and sustainable production are paramount.
I have enormous respect for Domantas for reworking and redefining his recipes and techniques — no easy process — and for creating a new line that showcases his precision and purity with increased fidelity. He makes difficult look easy, and taste amazing. That’s power.
And Domantas didn’t stop there: after reinventing Chocolate Naive, he did it again! In mid 2017 he launched his Nano_Lot collection, limited edition chocolate bars made from micro batches of exclusive cacao. The depth and uniqueness of flavor achieved in the nano_lot bars continues the Naive project of extending our conception of what chocolate tastes like and what the texture feels like. We expect bean-to-bar chocolate to tell us a story, to engage us with a certain complexity, moving into new universes compared with one-note industrial chocolate. Here, the multi-dimensionality of the stories that Domantas tells with his nano_lots goes deep, and invites pause and repose, with eyes closed — or jumping, dancing, and cavorting, eyes open!
The nano_lot package inserts explain fascinating details of the scientific or geologic elements and processes behind these magnificent bars, such as cacao fermentation notes, chocolate flavor profiles, and history of the unique cacao farms from which Domantas sourced these limited-quantity highest-quality cacaos.
Domantas told me that with such small batches of cacao, he has just one chance to get it right. And he succeeds! What would you say to a Chocolate Uplift Travel Club trip to Vilnius in 2018, to see and learn more for ourselves, as Domantas spins cacao into chocolate?
Meanwhile, why the delightful logo of the man riding an impossible old fashioned penny-farthing bicycle with a missing back wheel, making it a sort of unicycle, possibly uphill, or perhaps off a cliff of naivete as the drawing seems to teeter at the top of the text? Domantas charmingly told me that the logo and business name represent his perspective that to think he can make first-class chocolate in Lithuania, he must be a fool, or naive. We know he is a genius, and leader.
“Chocolate is as luxuriant as my most vivid dream and as humble as my simple reality.”
My Chocolate Uplift box customers say:
“Perfection of smoothness like I never tasted, with a completely rare and different flavor!”
“Wonderful and delicious inside and out.”
“The Kefir bar!!!! Oh my!!!!!!”
In gratitude and delight, here’s to Chocolate Naive’s deliciously deceptive saturated simplicity, and to dear Domantas Uzpalis, Chocolate Uplift 2017 Chocolate Maker of the Year!
Scroll for more Naive, and “keep eating real chocolate!”
Your friend in chocolate,
Founder Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours and Chocolate Uplift
Sustainable Craft Chocolate & Cacao Distribution
wholesale, retail, subscription box, tours www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com
Uplift Through Chocolate!
Chocolate Naive Spices bar in my December 2017 Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription boxes
I sampled the Kefir bar to my audience when I spoke at the 2017 Northwest Chocolate Festival on Chocolate Health Benefits: Body, Mind, Soul
Lights, camera, action: behind the scenes while taping the unboxing video featuring Naive’s Kefir bar
Chocolate Naive Kefir bar in my June 2017 Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription boxes
… across from Widener Library, one of many favorite Harvard spots where I spent a lot of time back when!
Aztec revivalism: Mexican hot chocolate at L.A.Burdick’s in Harvard Sq, an old favorite sip at an old favorite cafe!
New and old: thoroughly exquisute Castronovo Chocolate at #cardullos, a super special #harvardsquare shop I’ve been visiting since freshman year when I would buy the chocolate bars that were available then! What a treat to connect with the new owner of this classic shop, over new chocolate, an ancient delicacy! And yes I took off my scarf and took this picture; standard operating procedure! : )
Brunch recap, at amazing #aldenandharlow in #harvardsquare: loved this fabulous, inventive, and warm cinnamon roll, with berries, pistachios, and white chocolate – plus the cleverly named “ubiquitous kale salad” which was creatively freshened with creamy pistachio dressing, and all the other delicious not-shown food we ate! – while catching up with a very dear friend from college! The restaurant is in the same location as beloved former Casablanca cafe, next to the Brattle Theater which still shows classic and independent films on its single screen; so much fun to go back to school and to old places and old-spaces-turned-new!
Taza Chocolate factory tour – from bean to bar!
Scrumptious Taza souvenir – not shown: all my many other scrumptious Taza souvenirs!
Some of the smaller stone grinders at Taza Chocolate in Somerville, outside of Boston, home of stone-ground sustainable slavery-free soy-free chocolate!
Chocolate love at Taza HQ
Macaron Cafe now available at Gourmet Boutique in Boston, former chocolate tour stop
Chequessett Chocolate available at Beacon Hill Chocolates, down the hill from where I lived during law school
Chocolate scouting in Boston’s Copley Square; chocolate tour guests used to pose on the steps of the Boston Public Library in between chocolate stops!
Or the Columbia Records tape of the month club? (A junior high school favorite!)
Are you into the contemporary subscription services, for makeup, or dog toys, or other items?
It’s fun to receive something new that you love, and to take a journey to a new adventure through this new discovery, isn’t it!
I’ve wanted to start a chocolate of the month club for quite some time, and even did for a short time back in 2007 while the 1.0 version of the original chocolate tours I founded in 2005 was running.
The timing has finally proved right, and I recently launched the Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription box, which gives you 4 top-notch chocolate bars per month, always sustainable and child-slavery-free, soy-free, small-batch, and scrumptious! I’ve met and connected with so many innovative chocolate makers over the years, as the chocolate revolution moves forward, and it’s a blast to connect you to their delicious artistry through the box!
In addition to selecting these special and sometimes hard-to-find bars for you, and choosing the packaging and monthly theme, I donate a meal to the children of CREER Africa for every box sold, as the kids are reintegrated into health and life after being trafficked onto the child labor cacao farms in Ivory Coast that supply big chocolate brands. This one-to-one give came about when I asked the CREER founder what she needed for the kids, such as books, toys, or shoes. She said that the rescue center needs food, rice for the kids. So that’s what we give.
The boxes also contain a friendship bracelet from Peru, to honor the heritage of cacao, and to say an extra thanks from me to you.
You can receive boxes quarterly, monthly, or one-and-done, for yourself or a gift, for a journey through chocolate.
Click for my latest unboxing video to see what was inside the March 2017 box and hear me share some backstories about the chocolate, cacao, or chocolate makers. Thank you, and keep eating real chocolate!
Onward and upward!
Your friend in chocolate,
Founder/CEO Chocolate Uplift and Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours
By Valerie Beck, “Chocolate Muse,” and CEO/Founder of Chocolate Uplift and Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours
How do you like your drinking chocolate?
The Mayans liked their drinking chocolate hot, the Aztecs liked it cold, Montezuma liked it in golden goblets before visiting his harem, George Washington liked it with cream, Marie Antoinette liked it with orange blossom, the Marquis de Sade liked it as more suited to the seductive arts than Champagne, and I like it raw thanks to my chocolate beverage pick of 2016: Drink Cacoco!
Let me be clear: I’m not generally a fan of raw chocolate due to its often muddy flavors – roasting can bring out and clarifies flavors.
Yet I love raw cacao, on my grapefruit at breakfast for example, for its delicious and often nutty flavor depending on the cacao, as well as its lively and invigorating properties and nutrients.
Cacao is a superfood, rich in magnesium, iron, antioxidants, fiber, potassium, more. It lowers heart disease and stroke risk, and lowers blood pressure, while boosting brain function, blood flow, and of course mood!
Drink Cacoco takes raw cacao to a new level – or back to its pre-industrial glory – by retaining its liveliness and blending in herbs the way some of the historical celebrities above did, while on a mission to provide sustainable and nutrient-dense drinking chocolate that honors and protects the rainforest.
Drink Cacoco founders Erick Koon, Liam Blackmon, and Tony Portugal experimented with superfoods like cacao, and have created an outrageously smooth blended drinking chocolate that you mix with water – shaken, not stirred as Erick reminded me (I tried it both ways and it really is better shaken!) – for an incredibly flavorful yet light beverage, all natural with no industrial chemicals or “nasties,” that leaves you feeling uplifted and alive.
The highly-regarded Ecuador cacao is organic and ethically sourced (no child labor in this supply chain of course!), and the cool origami-style packaging uses no glue and is compostable, all in alignment with the founders’ mission to “revive the world through chocolate.”
Sounds like my own mission of “Uplift Through Chocolate” and my #chocolatefreedomproject, doesn’t it! It’s said that “great minds think alike” – and drink chocolate alike? 🙂
Erick sent me the Midnight Mystic and the Fire Walker blends, both of which I adore, after I met him through the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle. To be more precise, I met him when we were both chocolate scouting around town after the festival!
Cheers to my chocolate beverage pick of 2016, delicious Drink Cacoco!
Click for my 2016 chocolate bar and chocolate bonbon picks, and see my instagram for daily chocolate as we move forward into a delicious and courageous 2017, exploring our themes of taste, health, sustainability, justice for people and planet, and uplift! Your friend in chocolate,
Founder/CEO Chocolate Uplift and Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours
Chocolate services to the trade and the public: Brokering, Consulting, Speaking, Subscriptions, Tours
I first encountered Chocolatasm on Instagram. The business is run by chef and chocolatier Paul John Kearins, an Englishman in Blue Ridge, Georgia, and it was chocolate love at first chocolate sight.
I was intrigued by Paul’s unique flavor combinations like the blueberry sesame confection (in my photo above), and also by the pristine and well-organized kitchen in which he takes enticing snapshots of his chocolate artistry.
I had to learn more, and reached out to Paul, who proved as kind, generous, and humorous as he is artistic, accomplished, and professional.
When I tasted Paul’s creations, it was even deeper love at first taste, due to unique and thoroughly successful flavor combinations, plus superlative chocolate!
Paul has started collaborating with marvelous Mackenzie Rivers of map chocolate of Oregon (see my photo above), in that he uses custom bean-to-bar chocolate by map as the couverture for his bonbons, instead of using an often very delicious yet more common or commercial type of chefs chocolate.
This partnership gives his chocolates exciting new dimensions, because his brilliant flavor combinations get to dance with truly unique chocolate.
Moreover, map chocolate is made with traceable cacao, free of child slave labor in the supply chain. And it contains no soy lecithin, so the taste is more immediate, the texture is richer without slickness, there are no solvents present like hexane or acetone, and the health benefits are uncompromised!
All of this is critically important to Paul of course, who selects his chocolate with great care, and matches it to his flavor combinations with delicious thoughtfulness.
As an example, Chocolatasm’s smoked pear truffle in Peru 45% milk chocolate (photo above) plunges you into layers of rich flavor. The milk chocolate adds a wonderful tang, while graciously sharing the stage with smoked pear. A sommelier client and I selected this bonbon for a Port pairing because the deep flavors of the truffle absolutely sang with a vintage port.
I asked Paul how he thinks up flavor ideas, and he described how he has always had access to a rich cache of olfactory memory. He can remember smells and flavors from the past, and can perceive in his mind how to combine them in new ways.
Paul was born in London, worked as a chef and chocolatier there and in Amsterdam, and now lives and creates in the US, 90 miles north of Atlanta in a town located within the gorgeous wooded mountain landscape of the Chattahoochee Forest.
Paul’s history and memories provide such a benefit for us, the chocolate lovers, who get to enjoy Chocolatasm delights such as strawberry balsamic truffles with black pepper, or cranberry cabernet chocolates.
I look forward to writing another photo-filled blog post about Chocolatasm after I visit Paul’s beautifully situated kitchen this spring!
But first, there’s more…
As enthusiastic as I am about Chocolatasm’s bonbons, the chocolate bars are also exciting and innovative!
For example: dark chocolate from Honduran cacao with Ethiopian coffee and lemon, or a white chocolate with muscovado sugar and lime that turns people who think they don’t like white chocolate into people who realize they’d simply never tried the right or real white chocolate!
Could the bars be part of a forthcoming Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription box?
In the meantime, here’s to Chocolatasm, my 2016 bonbon love, where craft couverture meets endless imagination, international perspectives, and top chef professionalism, for new journeys into deep deliciousness.
Whether you call chocolates “bonbons,” “truffles,” or “chocolates,” Chocolatasm adds a new word of love to the chocolate lexicon!
by Valerie Beck, Founder/CEO Chocolate Uplift and Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours, and “chocolate muse”
Do you believe in love at first sight?
How about love at first taste?
I’ve experienced both – including in chocolate!
I love it when I read a chocolate bar label that lists a cacao origin, and clean ingredients such as just cacao and sugar.
The cacao origin – such as Ecuador, Guatemala, Belize, Madagascar, etc. – tells me where the cocoa beans came from that made the chocolate, just as a wine labels tells you what vineyard in California or Chile or France grew the grapes.
If the bar doesn’t list a cacao origin, as most commercial big brand chocolate bars do not, where is this mystery cacao from? No mystery: most likely the commercial cacao came from Ivory Coast, where around 70% of the world’s cacao comes from, and where 2.1 million children work in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms instead of going to school. Hence, my #chocolatefreedomproject.
By contrast, when chocolate makers purchase cacao for quality instead of quantity, and pay sometimes 5 times the price of bulk cacao, they are proud to list the cacao origin on their label, and to encourage us to get to know that origin and their particular artistry using those particular cocoa beans.
I love reading a clean label, with no soy lecithin, vanillin, unpronounceables, abbreviations, or dissimulations, such as added “flavors” which whether natural or artificial could be derived from anything and could be processed with unlisted solvents.
And love at first taste!
Isn’t it magical when something tastes so amazing that it seems to stir memories of past and future, while focusing your attention deeply into the present moment, so that all else falls away?
If you want to see hundreds of chocolate items I loved in 2016 – from so much artistry and scrumptiousness I got to sample at trade shows, festivals, competitions, shops, cafes, and my office – please see my Chocolate Uplift instagram of daily chocolate! Applause and gratitude to all of the amazing chocolate makers, entrepreneurs, and professionals who contribute such amazing artistry and are part of the chocolate revolution!
I selected 3 favorites from so many fabulous favorites of 2016, because they tell the story of love at first sight and first taste so precisely; one chocolate bar, one chocolate bonbon, one chocolate beverage. Here’s the first:
Violet Sky Chocolate impresses me with bold flavors, even when there are no flavors added and the cacao sings solo. When I tasted my first piece of a Violet Sky chocolate bar, I was standing up and had to sit down to experience the power of the chocolate without falling over, and to reflect upon the taste as it opened and developed!
Indeed, Violet Sky Founder and chocolate maker Hans Westerink told me he chose the name Violet Sky because when you eat his chocolate, he wants you to slow down and notice the beauty that surrounds us.
Hans is soft-spoken, empathic, and philosophic, and clearly has fun thinking about and experimenting with unique culinary ideas and tactics. The cacao he selects sings a beautiful song, which Hans crafts, amplifies, and directs in the Violet Sky manufactory in sweet South Bend, Indiana, around 2 hours from Chicago. He lets his chocolate express art and nature, and creativity and purity, sometimes turned to high volume!
For example, his rye barrel aged Haiti 77% chocolate bar with blueberry salt has deep complexity under an initial bold burst. He ages the cacao in a rye barrel from a local distillery, roasts the cacao in a coffee roaster, and the magic of his bean-to-bar chocolate continues underway.
I’ve seen people at one of my tastings fight over who got to take home the rest of one of his maple vanilla bars. Don’t like maple? Don’t worry: the bar tastes like the best pancake brunch in chocolate bar form! And real maple, as we have here, tastes really amazing.
When I shared Violet Sky’s brandy barrel aged Belize red wine salt chocolate bar with a non chocolate lover, she instantly converted into a chocolate lover! And ate the rest of the bar! That’s the power of real chocolate.
I selected Violet Sky for the very first run of my Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription boxes, in November 2016, to enthusiastic feedback. Each box includes 4 chocolate bars, curated by me, and the bars are always sustainable and child-slavery-free, soy-free, small-batch, and scrumptious. Click for my unboxing video featuring a Violet Sky bar!
There was so much deliciousness from so many makers in 2016! Truly, more than ever! How to choose a winner among winners? Delicious and sustainable origins, clean ingredients, and uniquely and distinctively bold and vibrant interpretations make Violet Sky Chocolate my Chocolate Bar Love of 2016!
I’ll share details of my visit to Hans’s magic chocolate manufactory later (sneak peek photo above!) [update: click to see the excursion to Violet Sky on which I took some top Kendall College students!], and I’ll also share the other 2 chocolate loves of 2016 I’m excited to describe for you:
A note on my Chocolate Freedom Project this Labor Day, which brings awareness of and alternatives to child labor on Ivory Coast cacao farms where Big Chocolate buys cocoa beans. Solutions that we can implement as customers include choosing fair trade and direct trade chocolate, which is better for foodie, farmer, family, and field.
Solutions that I recommend to my country clients and cacao farmer clients as a chocolate consultant include making chocolate in-country from sustainably grown cacao, instead of exporting all the cacao.
We’re back, in secret beta pre-launch, and I’m excited!
I founded the original chocolate tours in Chicago in 2005, from an idea I started in Paris before that at age 19 while studying abroad and enjoying fine French chocolate.
After 2005, I grew the tour business across the US, and closed the doors of the business around 8 years later.
Then I went on a journey; really two journeys: I went even closer to the source of cacao by working with cacao growing nations, bean-to-bar chocolate makers, and others along the chocolate supply chain, as a volunteer, broker, and consultant. In addition, I deepened my inner journey through meditation.
Meditation and cacao!
Now, the timing is right to reopen the tour business I love so much, with a new name, and some new elements.
Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours provides “Uplift Through Chocolate” to customers, vendors, social justice partners, and team members, with elegance, ethics, and enthusiasm. And we do it with delicious chocolate and pastry, through an entertaining and enlightening experience!
Beta schedule for August 2016:
*Wednesdays 2 pm, Geneva IL route
*Thursdays 2 pm, Chicago Loop route
*Fridays 2 pm, Chicago Gold Coast route
*Saturdays 2 pm, NYC Hell’s Kitchen route
Buy a ticket for $50 at paypal.me/chocolateuplift, specifying your chosen day and location, and receive details. Plus: experience delicious innovations and surprises on the tours during beta season.
I’m incredibly excited to invite you on this journey!