Sweet Speaker, Sweet Soho

Sweet Speaker, Sweet Soho

by professional speaker and chocolate expert Valerie Beck

Louvre cake at Mariebelle NYC
Louvre cake at Mariebelle NYC

I love speaking about the history and health benefits of chocolate, and about entrepreneurship. Getting me to stop talking about my passion topics would be the hard part!

I also love “chocolate scouting:” visiting old chocolate friends and searching out new ones, in any given neighborhood.

So when I was invited to speak to a women’s initiative group at a law firm in New Jersey, with time the next day to explore a favorite neighborhood in New York, I hopped onto a flight and off I went!

Ready for takeoff, after a stop at the airport spa
Ready for takeoff, after a stop at the airport spa

Thank you to my sister law school alumna Chris Osvald-Mruz of Lowenstein Sandler for inviting me to speak to her group of partners, clients, and contacts, after we sat next to each other at a reunion dinner in Cambridge to celebrate 60 years of women graduates of Harvard Law School.

She asked for my “Eat Chocolate, Be Skinny” talk, plus remarks on how I transitioned from law to entrepreneurship, founding the original chocolate tours years ago and now working on speaking and consulting projects. I’m always happy to create a custom talk, especially for such a special client.

With Chris and Mary of the Lowenstein firm after speaking to 70 women at their STRIDES women's initiative
With Chris and Mary of the Lowenstein firm after speaking to 70 women at their STRIDES women’s initiative

What a treat it was to talk with her ultra-professional and ultra-engaged group on how to interpret chocolate bar labels and choose the right kind of chocolate for maximum health benefits, how to choose ethical chocolate, and how to use the ABCs of Attitude, Belief, and Commitment in any transition, career, or project. We also sampled raw cocoa beans (pure health!), and delicious and satisfying bean-to-bar chocolate that I brought from Askinosie.

Plus, I was thrilled to be able to include delicious chocolates by another friend, Elyissia Wassung of 2 Chicks With Chocolate, who is located in New Jersey not far from the law firm and who set up such an enticing display that I was impressed with the audience for being able to stick to savory food and my chocolate samples during my talk, before diving into her creations later during the Chocolate Hour!

Jewelry box or chocolate box? Exquisite chocolate truffles by 2 Chicks with Chocolate at my speaking engagement
Jewelry box or chocolate box? Exquisite chocolate truffles by 2 Chicks with Chocolate

At the end of the night, I gave away one of my Sweet & Chic sets in a prize drawing.

One of my Chocolate Uplift "Sweet & Chic" gift sets, available at my speaking engagements or on my website
One of my Chocolate Uplift “Sweet & Chic” gift sets, in “think pink” with scarf, pouch, and chocolate, available at my speaking engagements or on my website

The evening was elegant and energized, filled with food, fun, networking, and of course chocolate, and I was honored to be part of it!

"White chocolate" architecture in sweet Soho NYC
“White chocolate” architecture in sweet Soho NYC

The next day, I zipped across the river to Manhattan in an Uberx, for a day visiting old friends and new in “sweet Soho.”

Pastry parade at Dominique Ansel
Pastry parade at Dominique Ansel

Among the many stops I made in this delicious New York City neighborhood was the famous bakery of Dominique Ansel, creator of the Cronut – a croissant-doughnut pastry with deliciously layered dough and ever-changing flavors. Cronuts sell out practically by dawn of course, but there’s no shortage of classic and whimsical French pastry on hand any time of day, including some of the best macarons and canneles anywhere.

I enjoyed hearing Chef Dominique speak at the Fancy Food Show in New York last year. He was very humble, and spoke of growing up poor in France, saving money as a boy for a beautiful shirt, and then hanging it in his closet to save it for a special occasion. When that occasion finally came, years later, he found that he had outgrown the shirt! He learned to seize the moment, and do it now.

After visiting Laduree and other lovely locations, it was time for some chic with my sweet, so I popped into one of my favorite boutiques anywhere, M Missoni. I held a book signing event there a few years ago, wear the brand and the parent brand Missoni regularly and with relish, and was delighted to see the Soho team!

From sweet to chic, at M Missoni
Sweet and chic, at M Missoni

A trip to sweet Soho wouldn’t be as glamorous without a stop inside the gilded cocoa room at Mariebelle, where I had lunch – yes, actual savory food! 🙂 – followed by an exquisite chocolate mousse cake and spicy Aztec hot chocolate.

Aztec revivalism in French splendor at Mariebelle
Aztec revivalism in French splendor at Mariebelle

Then, it was back to sweet home Chicago, where the excitement of the trip didn’t end, as a stunning bouquet of flowers from my dear and thoughtful client greeted me at home the next day.

Thank you!
Thank you!

It’s a joy to work with great people, doing what I love, and spreading chocolate education and enjoyment. That’s Uplift Through Chocolate!

Have chocolate, will travel
Have chocolate, will travel

For more information on my speaking engagements, click my old site or my new rebranding site – in beta but live:

www.chicagochocolatetours.com/speaking/

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com/

“Keep eating real chocolate!”

Your sweet speaker,

Valerie

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

9 of the Most Luxurious Hot Chocolates in the World

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

Hot chocolate ideas
At-home hot chocolate ideas

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:

At Gran Esperia in Rome
La dolce vita at Bar Antonini – Caffe Gran Esperia in Rome

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 chocolateuplift@gmail.com if you’re interested in sweet travel!

Hot chocolate at Capogiro Gelato Artisans
Hot chocolate at Capogiro Gelato Artisans

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!

Rich drinking-chocolate at Casa Gangotena in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador
Afternoon tea is really afternoon hot chocolate at Casa Gangotena in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador

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!

Firecakes hot chocolate
Doughnuts and hot chocolate at Firecakes

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.)

Frozen hot chocolate minis at Graham's 318
Frozen hot chocolate minis at Graham’s 318

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.

Dipping a canele into the ganache hot chocolate at Hendrickx
Dipping a canele into the ganache hot chocolate at Hendrickx

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!

Mexican hot chocolate with salted caramel-cinnamon marshmallows at Katherine Anne Confections
Mexican hot chocolate with salted caramel-cinnamon marshmallows at Katherine Anne Confections

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!

Brewed chocolate at Mast Brothers in Brooklyn
Brewed chocolate at Mast Brothers in Brooklyn

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.

Hot chocolate bar at NoMI Chicago
Hot chocolate bar at NoMI Chicago

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!

With Katherine Duncan of Katherine Anne Confections
With Katherine Duncan of Katherine Anne Confections

I wish you a merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a sweet new year!

Your friend in chocolate,

~ Valerie

chocolateuplift@gmail.com