The first time I had French pastries in France was as a 19-year-old Harvard College senior studying abroad in Paris.
That trip put me on a mission to spread fine chocolate and pastry, led to my founding of the original Chocolate Tours in Chicago and beyond, and – after closing the chocolate tours earlier this year – still continues to inspire me as I speak and consult about chocolate.
Chef Peter Rios has opened a little bit of Paris in Chicago, with his new Alliance Patisserie. Pastry followers worldwide may know Chef Peter as the owner of Alliance Bakery, also in Chicago, known for innovative specialty cakes and more, or may know him through one of his many incarnations as pastry chef superstar.
Chef Peter told me it has always been his dream to open a shop focusing on French pastry, ever since he graduated from Kendall College and later studied with pastry giants such as the great Pierre Herme in Paris.
His dream came true, and Alliance Patisserie now helps the dreams of others come true, whether by sharing some of the best macarons or classic French pastries outside of Paris, or by serving as the romantic site of a marriage proposal, which I was thrilled and honored to facilitate for a lovely couple after a chocolate tasting I led for them in the shop!
Sweet Travel: Our 2015 Chocolate Uplift Travel Club Destinations
by Valerie Beck, chocolate expert, culinary travel pioneer, and founder of the one and only Chocolate Uplift Travel Club
Happy new year!
Have you made your 2015 travel plans yet?
Let’s make them sweeter: travel with me to one or more of the below destinations, where I’ll open my address book of friends and contacts I’ve made throughout my chocolatey career, and will take you behind the scenes to visit top chocolatiers and chefs. We’ll experience the local culture the way the local style-setters do, and we’ll enjoy the best in food, fashion, art, and of course chocolate.
A few of the trips have 2 packages to choose from: all-inclusive, or a la carte. The double-package trips are Miami in January, LA in March, DC in April, Charleston and Savannah over Memorial Day weekend, Boston in May, and NYC over Veteran’s Day weekend.
And, you can vote on where you think our Labor Day and Columbus Day trips should go!
Scroll down for dates and destinations, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to book or with questions, and here’s to sweet travel!
2015 Chocolate Uplift Travel Club Destinations
Miami Chocolate Festival, Miami, Florida. Friday 1/23 – Sunday 1/25: Miami Chocolate Festival at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Package 1: $2,000 includes hotel, meals, excursions, Chocolate Festival, meet-and-greets with select chocolatiers at the Festival. Package 2: $100 includes meet-and-greets at the Festival.
Florence Sweet & Chic, Florence, Italy. Wednesday 2/11 – Tuesday 2/17: Florence Artisanal Chocolate Festival, and Ferragamo Fashion & Shoes. Encompasses Valentine’s Day and President’s Day. Package: $3,200 includes hotel, meals, excursions, Festival, meet-and-greets at the Festival, tour of the Salvatore Ferragamo headquarters and museum.
SOBEWFF: Celebrity Chefs on the Beach, Miami, Florida. Friday 2/20 – Sunday 2/22. South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Package: $3,000 includes hotel, meals, excursions.
Turner and Truffles, Los Angeles, California. Friday 3/20 – Sunday 3/22. J.M.W. Turner exhibit at the Getty Museum, and our own Beverly Hills Bakery Tour created by Valerie Beck. Package 1: $2,200 includes hotel, meals, excursions, private tour of Turner exhibit, Beverly Hills Bakery Tour. Package 2: $120 includes private tour of Turner exhibit, and Beverly Hills Bakery Tour.
Cherry Blossoms and Chocolate, Washington, DC. Friday 4/10 – Sunday 4/12. National Cherry Blossom Festival, and Chef’s Dinner. Package 1: $2,350 includes hotel, meals, excursions, private Chef’s Dinner and chocolate tasting with a celebrity pastry chef. Package 2: $150 includes Chef’s Dinner and chocolate tasting.
Cacao Origin Trip, Quito and other points in Ecuador, South America. Friday 5/1 – Tuesday 5/5. Cocoa Farms and Capitol City of Enchanting Ecuador. Fly to Quito through Miami or Houston. Package: $2,500 includes hotels, meals, excursions, private tours of cocoa farms, meet-and-greets with cocoa farm owners and chocolate makers.
Sweet Home Chicago, Chicago, Illinois. Friday 5/15 – Sunday 5/17. National Restaurant Association Show additional activities including the original Chicago Chocolate Tour created by Valerie Beck. Book your own Show and hotel arrangements. Package: $150 includes private Chef’s Dinner, and Chicago Chocolate Tour.
Memorial Day Weekend in the Sweet South, Charleston, North Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. Friday 5/22 – Monday 5/25. Two sweet and chic cities. Package 1: $3,000 includes hotels, meals, excursions, private tastings with pastry chefs and chocolatiers. Package 2: $200 includes private tastings with pastry chefs and chocolatiers.
Boston Sweet, Boston, Massachusetts. Friday 5/29 – Sunday 5/31. Sweet springtime, including the original Boston Chocolate Walking Tour created by Valerie Beck. Package 1: $2,750 includes hotel, meals, excursions, private tasting of the original Boston Cream Pie, Chocolate Tour. Package 2: $200 includes private tasting of the original Boston Cream Pie, Chocolate Tour.
Sweet Labor Day Weekend, destination tbd, cast your vote! Friday 9/4 – Monday 9/7.
Sweet Columbus Day Weekend, destination tbd, cast your vote! Friday 10/9 – Monday 10/12.
Eurochocolate: Italy Sweet and Chic, Perugia, Pisa, and Rome, Italy. Friday 10/6 – Friday 10/23. Eurochocolate Festival in Perugia, Italian cashmere, artisan chocolate of Pisa and Chocolate Valley, Roman chocolate and gelato. Package: $6,300 includes hotels, meals, excursions, Festival, private tour of an artisan chocolate manufactory, private tour of a cashmere manufactory, meet-and-greets, Rome’s oldest chocolate shop, Roman gelato tour, Italian fashion visits.
The Big Truffle: NYC Veteran’s Day Weekend, New York, New York. Friday 11/6 – Tuesday 11/10. Chocolate, art, fashion, and a parade, in New York City, including our own New York Pastry Paradise Tour created by Valerie Beck. Package 1: $3,300 includes hotel, meals, excursions, private tour of a chocolate manufactory, Pastry Paradise Tour, fashion and style excursion, museum visit with VIP status, Veteran’s Day parade viewing. Package 2: $300 includes chocolate manufactory tour, New York Pastry Paradise Tour, fashion and style excursion, museum visit.
Art Basel Miami Beach, Miami, Florida. Friday 12/4 – Sunday 12/6. Art Basel Miami Beach Festival, including our own sweet and chic excursions. Package: $2,800 includes hotel, meals, excursions, art festival, gallery parties, our own chocolate brunch, our own macaron tasting.
9 of the Most Luxurious Hot Chocolates in the World
by Valerie Beck – chocolate expert, speaker, and consultant, and creator of the original chocolate tours
I hope you’re enjoying a scrumptious holiday season!
Few things are as delicious or comforting as hot chocolate on a winter day. (Thought I love it in warm weather too!) What makes hot chocolate luxurious? The richness of the chocolate, the creaminess of the preparation, and the elegance of the setting can all play a role.
Below are some of my favorite luxurious hot chocolates that I’ve enjoyed recently, from sweet home Chicago, and around the world. I look forward to hearing some of your favorites, and sampling with you if you join my Travel Club!
Hot chocolate luxury, in alphabetical order:
1. Bar Antonini – Gran Caffe Esperia in Rome
Gran Caffe Esperia, part of the Bar Antonini group, is a classic Roman cafe on the banks of the Tiber River. Their hot chocolate is so thick you could practically stand up a spoon in it. It comes with a dish of whipped cream on the side, and you can cut your hot chocolate with as much or as little cream as you like. This hot chocolate is not just for winter. Sitting at an outdoor table in the spring, and sipping this marvelous concoction as Rome drifted past, was a luxurious way to enjoy la dolce vita – the sweet life!
Rome awaits our Travel Club in October 2015, along with the town of Perugia, two hours north and home to the largest chocolate festival in the world, Eurochocolate. Contact me at email@example.com if you’re interested in sweet travel!
2. Capogiro Gelato Artisans in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is the most underrated city in America. Those in the know, know that Philly is a foodie city, that Capogiro makes some of the best gelato on the planet, and that their rich and luscious hot chocolate makes them a winter as well as a summer destination.
When I first expanded Chicago Chocolate Tours and opened Philadelphia Chocolate Tours several years ago, the city was hit with a blizzard, which was unusual for that part of the country. Being a Chicagoan used to extremes of weather, it didn’t occur to me to cancel anything due to snow, and Capogiro’s hot chocolate warmed the hardy souls who came out on those snowy tours! The Italian-style hot chocolate is served with a pitcher of additional molten chocolate, and a side of housemade whipped cream topped with cocoa powder. If you add a dollop of Capogiro’s incredible gelato, made with milk from hormone-free cows, you’ve got a hot chocolate affogato. (You’re welcome!)
Taste for yourself the last weekend in April, with our Travel Club!
3. Casa Gangotena in Quito, Ecuador
Cacao is native to South America, and I tasted some fabulous chocolate in Ecuador, including cocoa beans from small family cacao farms, and from larger innovative cacao estates. The hot chocolate at Casa Gangotena, South America’s #1 rated hotel, was so exquisite that from the first sip I took, time seemed to stop, and the sounds of the lovely afternoon tea around me seemed to cease. This hot chocolate was prepared with water, not milk, and I can almost taste the delicate and fruity flavors of the cacao again as I write this. Highest-quality cocoa beans are the foundation of chocolate luxury, and enjoying this particular beverage in the spectacular setting of Casa Gangotena added to the glamour.
Travel Club alert: let me know if you’d like to visit Ecuador in May 2015, for visits to cocoa farms and more from our home base of Casa Gangotena!
4. Firecakes Donuts in Chicago
I love the fresh, light doughnuts at Firecakes, and I love their new Valrhona hot chocolate, with housemade marshmallows. Its luxury comes from its top quality ingredients and its richness: it’s basically ganache (chocolate mixed with cream) that you drink! The hardest part is choosing which doughnut to pair with your hot chocolate. (Hint: triple Valrhona chocolate cake.)
5. Graham’s 318 in Geneva, IL
Do opposites attract? Fire and ice go together beautifully in the irresistible frozen hot chocolate at Graham’s 318, the coffeehouse location of Graham’s Fine Chocolates. Both are in gorgeous Geneva, Illinois, an elegant town on the Fox River, one hour west of Chicago. The frozen hot chocolate was always a hit on the chocolate tours that I opened there a few years ago. Luxury can be a delicious frozen version of hot chocolate, by the fireplace at Graham’s 318, on a getaway out of the city.
6. Hendrickx Belgian Bread Crafter in Chicago
The hot chocolate at Hendrickx is available only in the winter, so is it a good thing that Chicago winters last so long? You can decide that for yourself, but what’s certain is that the ganache hot chocolate by Chef Renaud at Hendrickx is rich, thick, and pure in flavor. When I created Chicago Chocolate Tours and then a Hot Chocolate Tour route, the hot chocolate at Hendrickx was an instant crowd favorite. Lately I’ve taken to dipping a different Hendrickx pastry into the hot chocolate. Their lovely new caneles (French cake-like pastry with a custard-enhanced center and caramelized crust) work magnificently for luxurious dipping!
7. Katherine Anne Confections in Chicago
I love what I call “Aztec Revivalism” at Katherine Anne Confections: the molten Mexican hot chocolate is spiced with chili peppers, similar to how the Aztecs flavored their chocolate 2,500 years ago. Owner Katherine Duncan is an innovator who makes her amazing ganache-based hot chocolate in multiple flavors including bourbon caramel hazelnut. Her housemade marshamallows also come in a variety of flavors; enjoy the luxury of mixing and matching!
8. Mast Brothers Chocolate in New York
Revolutionary-era Americans like George and Martha Washington and Thomas Jefferson brewed their chocolate, similar to the way we brew coffee or tea. Benjamin Franklin was such a chocolate lover he sold blocks of brewable chocolate out of his print shop in Philadelphia. (When I created Philadelphia Chocolate Tours, it was fun adding a stop outside of his print shop!) It’s exciting to see versions of brewed chocolate making a comeback. After touring the Mast Brothers chocolate manufactory in Brooklyn, I headed a few doors down to their brew cafe, where I chatted some more with Rick Mast and his team and sampled their delicious drinking chocolate, brewed with cocoa beans and water. It was smooth and flavorful, with the luxury of simplicity.
Save the date of Veteran’s Day weekend, when our Travel Club goes back to NYC.
9. NoMI in Chicago
Pastry Chef Meg Pralus’s rich, molten hot chocolate is the centerpiece of her creative Hot Chocolate Bar at NoMI at the elegant Park Hyatt Chicago: choose toppings such as whipped cream, cinnamon, dark chocolate, white chocolate, or candied orange peel – or all of the above in my case! Housemade marshmallows are also on the buffet, and you can have your hot chocolate spiked or “virgin.” The luxury of embellishment!
I wish you a merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a sweet new year!