I’m excited to speak to the Batavia Women in Business group, outside of Chicago, on the “ABCs of Sweet Success,” and excited about the corresponding article in The Chicago Tribune about my speaking engagements and rebranding to Chocolate Uplift!
Click here for info on booking me for a Chocolate Wellness talk or business talk, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chocolate is naturally healthy, unless we add junk to it. Chocolate is made from the cacao bean, which is the seed of the fruit of the cacao tree. Cacao is a superfood, because of it is rich in nutrients and benefits. For example:
Cacao has more antioxidants than blueberries, green tea, or red wine.
Cacao is the highest source of plant-based iron.
Cacao is one of the highest sources of magnesium.
Cacao has more calcium than milk.
Cacao is a natural mood booster.
Of course, to receive these benefits, you want to eat artisan chocolate, not commercial chocolate. This is because commercial chocolate has been processed which removes nutrients, and because commercial chocolate usually contains added negatives such as pesticides, artificial ingredients, soy lecithin, and high amounts of sugar. In addition, commercial chocolate is often farmed in ways that harm the workers; abominations such as child slave labor are common on West African cocoa farms, which produce the bulk of the world’s commercial chocolate.
How can you make sure you’re eating chocolate that aligns with your health wishes and your moral code? Read the label! For example, you can look for chocolate bars with just 2 ingredients: cacao and sugar (plus any inclusions such as fruit or nuts). You can also look for chocolate bars with the country or estate of origin on the label, such as South American or other non-West African countries.
We go into more detail in my seminars, such as talking about:
the #1 ingredient to avoid in chocolate,
when to eat chocolate so that you maximize your health benefits,
how to incorporate raw cocoa beans into delicious meals and snacks, and
Click for info on and tickets for my next Chocolate Wellness seminar open to the public, at Kendall College in Chicago, on Saturday, February 7, at 11 am. Samples are included in all of my speaking engagements! Click here.
Or book a private seminar for your corporate, association, or other group. Again, samples are included! Click for details.
You can contact me at email@example.com anytime for more info.
And, here’s a sneak preview of my new still-under-construction site, which will also house info on my Chocolate Wellness seminars. The site is a mock-up and will ultimately be brought under the Chocolate Uplift domain, but here you go for now!
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!
By Valerie Beck, founder of Chicago Chocolate Tours – rebranding to Chocolate Uplift chocolate services
Have you ever had dessert for dinner?
How about 7 desserts for dinner?
I’m excited to tell you about an evening of pastry paradise at top-rated NoMI restaurant at the elegant Park Hyatt Chicago last month. Star pastry chef Meg Galus generously invited 6 of her pastry chef pals from other Chicago restaurants to join her in creating exquisite dinner courses made of scrumptious desserts! The event – part of the Park Hyatt Masters of Food and Wine series – was called “Dessert Degustation,” and it was magnificent. Thank you to NoMI and Chef Meg for the invitation!
Here are the delicious details:
I brought my mother (chocolate mania runs in our family!), and joined around 20 other dessert lovers at NoMI. After a delightful appetizer reception with savory hors-d’oevres and a lovely cider, Chef Meg greeted us warmly. She is incredibly talented, hard-working, and innovative. I loved chatting with her at the chocolate pop-up she’d created at the Park Hyatt for Mother’s Day, and was excited to see what she’d been up to recently.
I’ll admit that when I saw the elegantly printed Dessert Degustation menu, I was surprised at the lack of chocolate. I’ve always said that dessert without chocolate isn’t dessert – it’s salad! For example, what does my family do with perfectly good apple pie at the holidays? We pour chocolate sauce on it, naturally! Chef Meg mentioned too that she was surprised at the general absence of chocolate when the other chefs told her in advance what they were going to create. Her plan was to let the other chefs send in their ideas first, and then she would fill in any gaps. The gap was chocolate (I know: still shocking!) and she filled it in magnificently.
Of course, each dessert was delicious, chocolate or no. The chefs were amazing, and thoughtful, and creative, and it was a pleasure to hear each of them describe their dessert-as-dinner creations. Plus, each dessert was paired with wine, and the sommelier was there to answer any questions about the beautifully-matched choices.
My 3 favorite desserts of the evening, in order of presentation, were:
1. Grapefruit Meringata by Amanda Rockman of Nico Osteria
This course consisted of grapefruit sorbet, white chocolate, basil, and Turkish delight. It was light and airy, with just the right balance of sweet and tart. Is white chocolate really chocolate? That’s a topic for a separate blog post (short answer: yes, if it’s premium white chocolate made from real cocoa butter as this was; no if it’s commercial white chocolate made from an oil and chemical concoction). This dessert-as-dinner course was so refreshing it could have been dessert-as-breakfast!
2. Chocolate Mont Blanc Tart by Meg Galus of NoMI
Chef Meg’s dessert was the delicious and gorgeous grand finale, and provided the first milk or dark chocolate all evening. It was worth the wait! Her dessert was composed of milk chocolate cremeux, chestnut-rum mousseline, and Tahitian vanilla, topped with edible gold leaf. The chocolate-chestnut combination was pure autumnal genius, and the dessert was rich, flavorful, and satisfying. Did I finish each of the desserts that evening? No, because when tasting professionally I’ll often have just one bite to taste, and one more bite to develop. Then, if I want to eat more of the item personally instead of professionally, I may do so. Did I eat this particular dessert personally after tasting it professionally? Absolutely!
3. Chocolate Pumpkin Nut Macaron by Toni Roberts of The Wit
What comes after the grand finale? The thoughtful take-home dessert! This mega-sized macaron-shaped dessert was filled with a pumpkin caramel hazelnut center, coated in chocolate, and presented on a bed of gold-leafed crushed peanuts. I sliced it open to a cross-section and plated it so that you can see all of the elements. Did I then eat the entire fun and delicious super-cookie? One guess!
At the end of the evening, we also received a delightful chocolate-themed mug filled with Chef Meg’s housemade hot chocolate mix and marshmallows. When I sampled a bit of the mix dry, it was so delicious and luxurious that I could have eaten the entire bag dry, without adding water! (I like my hot chocolate with water, though you could certainly have blended this mix with milk, almond milk, etc.) My mother loved the hot chocolate – and the rest of the Dessert Degustation – too, and commented that the evening provided something for everyone.
There’s something for you too, because the Park Hyatt, NoMI, and Chef Meg are always creating something new and delicious. Check out their schedule of Masters events here, and for details on their Sugar and Spice holiday chocolate pop-up click here.
See you next time, and keep eating – and drinking – chocolate!
The title of this post refers to one of my nicknames, because I’ve studied chocolate all my life. Meanwhile, I’m a new “Professor of Business” and I love that too! Here’s what happened:
As the creator of Chicago Chocolate Tours and Chocolate Uplift which provide a variety of chocolate services from tours and travel to consulting and importing, I’ve always enjoyed speaking about chocolate and business to universities, schools, corporate groups, women’s clubs, and of course tour groups. My mission is Uplift Through Chocolate, which means basically I’ll talk about fine and fairtrade chocolate to anyone who will listen!
My speaking engagements about chocolate and business began in Chicago not long after I started Chicago Chocolate Tours in 2005, and followed me to Boston, Philadelphia, and beyond when I opened chocolate tours in additional locations. Popular topics that I speak on include Chocolate Wellness, Eat Chocolate Be Skinny, and ABCs of Business Success. I also love sharing chocolate and business stories on television.
Recently, I began thinking that in addition to giving one-off talks, I wanted to teach whole semesters. I love academic, culinary, and business environments, and love giving back through knowledge, and working with students.
So when I found myself sitting next to the Provost of Kendall College at an Ecuadorian dinner to which I was invited by my chocolate consulting client the Ecuador Trade Commission, I was fascinated as she described the new and innovative programs at Kendall. The college is known for star culinary grads like Rick Bayless and Jose Garces, and has added international business programs. I told her I would love to be part of it if there were a place for my contributions. After going through the interview process, I became the newest Adjunct Professor at Kendall College, and started teaching this Fall!
That means I’m a part-time professor, which is perfect because I can share my knowledge and practical experience with students, while still being an entrepreneur and continuing to develop my businesses.
I’m thrilled to have created and to be teaching a new class at Kendall, called Growth Strategies and Franchise Management. The course is about scaling a business, and opening in multiple locations. I’m impressed with my students, who are creating new franchise concepts as their class project.
I’ve created an Entrepreneur Speaker Series as part of the course, to bring in guest speakers to share their stories and add value. Kendall’s leadership has been kind enough to open the speaker series to the full Kendall community plus interested members of the public, so you’re invited! Click for dates and speakers, and let me know if you’ll be my guest. And, we post inspiring business quotes using hashtag #growthquote; join the social media gathering at @kendallcollege and @chichoctours.
Finally, naturally I’ve added a chocolate component to the course: at the start of each class, we sample chocolate or pastry that I’ve brought, and we discuss how the owner of that particular business is growing the enterprise, such as for instance through opening multiple locations, or by selling wholesale to grocery stores or specialty markets. My students are keeping a chart of such growth strategies, and are creating a list of factors to assess scalability and growth viability. Our chocolate tastings support the educational process, through real-world examples of business challenges and successes.