My most recent trip to New York City – which I think of as not the Big Apple but the Big Truffle because of the abundance of chocolate deliciousness – was quick but scrumptious.
I was in town for the annual Fancy Food Show this summer (click here for my blog post on the 3 main trends I tracked there!), and in between Show visits, I took the opportunity to visit some of my favorite chocolate spots and other venues, while also scouting some new ones.
Since my time on this short trip was quite limited, I focused mainly on Manhattan’s much-transformed Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, one of my favorites in NYC, because its central location west of the Theatre District and Times Square, and along the Hudson River, makes it easy to get downtown or uptown; it’s filled with wonderful bakeries and restaurants; and the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center is within walking distance.This once-gritty neighborhood was the setting of the original Law & Order TV shows (that sound effect!). Today the neighborhood is part “gayborhood,” part chocolate and pastry paradise, and all delight.
by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert and Chocolate Broker
New York City – the “Big Apple” – turns into what I call the “Big Truffle” every summer during the Fancy Food Show. Chefs, brands, and chocolate makers from across the country and around the world set up displays, so that retailers, the media, and brokers can come see and sample what’s new.
As a chocolate consultant and broker, who never misses a chance to visit friends, clients, and my favorite shops and museums in NYC, the Fancy Food Show is a joy every year.
The trends I focused on at the Show this year were craft chocolate (small-batch chocolate made from fair trade or direct trade cacao), fine chocolate (made with premium ingredients for chefs and consumers), and fine pastry and dessert (made with premium ingredients).
While in NYC I also received a special delivery of a new Dutch chocolate brand not yet sold in the States, attended a mini college reunion for classmates who live in or near New York or who like me were traveling there, and did some chocolate scouting (click here for the separate blog post on the heavenly chocolate and pastry I scouted) – scroll on for Fancy Food Show deliciousness!
Starting with standouts in craft chocolate:
Some favorites in the fine chocolate category, also organic of course:
Some fine pastry and dessert hits:
I love placing great artisan brands into great upscale stores, and am already looking forward to the next Fancy Food Show.
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
Some people call New York City the Big Apple. I call it the Big Truffle, because of its enormous number of top quality chocolate shops and bakeries!
I usually visit New York a couple of times a year, generally in summer for the Fancy Food Show, and in November for Veteran’s Day weekend. It’s always a treat visiting old friends and meeting new ones, and tasting what everyone has been up to.
Before I started my chocolate services business 9 years ago, I was a corporate lawyer (and of course already a chocolate maniac). While employed at a large law firm in Chicago, I once spent a winter in the New York office, doing aircraft leveraged lease deals (don’t ask). I worked more or less around the clock, and what kept me more or less sane was sneaking out of the conference room for a Teuscher Champagne Truffle. Now when I visit NYC, it’s all chocolate all the time – well, not quite: I always make time for New York’s amazing art, architecture, and fashion, so that the overall theme is “sweet and chic!”
I love New York, and my most recent trip this past Veteran’s Day weekend was inspirational. Here are 3 chocolatey NYC neighborhoods I visited, and the shops that make these areas sweet:
1. Chelsea / Greeley Square
Walking from the Eventi Hotel in Chelsea toward Midtown, I let the Chocolate Fairies of Sweet Serendipity lead me to the Broadway Bites outdoor foodstalls market. Once I discovered it, I couldn’t stay away! Favorites at B’way Bites:
Sigmund Pretzels not only makes delicious, buttery, soft pretzels in creative flavors such as pumpkin seed, they also make creative cookies, such as the Wancko Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookie, which contains a pretzel. Yes, soft pretzel bites are IN the chocolate chip cookie! Delectable.
Macaron Parlour‘s pastry chefs make exquisite macarons with lovely texture. Their combination of pumpkin and chocolate – a pumpkin macaron with chocolate pumpkin ganache – plus the hand-drawn pumpkin illustration on each cookie, won me over instantly. (What’s the difference between a macaron and a macaroon? I wrote a brief post about it; click here!)
Breads Bakery had a sign in front of their Broadway Bites foodstall announcing that they make the best chocolate babka in New York according to New York Magazine. Their chocolate babka was $5 a slice, and it was worth it. Dense yet light, flavorful and not sweet, and ultra-chocolatey, I was tempted to buy a few loaves and throw a chocolate babka party in my hotel suite. I’m serious!
2. Midtown / Fifth Avenue
Michel Cluizel is a longtime favorite of mine, because this family-owned brand believes in chocolate sustainability, fair trade, and traditional French fine-chocolate magic, with no soy lecithin. (For my post on why I don’t want soy lecithin in my chocolate, click here.) Their Fifth Avenue store carries their charming macarolats, macaron-shaped chocolate bonbons with fillings such as raspberry, and also carries an abundance of their incredible chocolates, macarons, and more. They have a chocolate-making facility and museum in New Jersey, 30 minutes from Philadelphia, that we’re invited to visit next time – join me!
Jacques Torres goes by the nickname “Mr. Chocolate,” and his Rockefeller Center store reflects his sense of fun and his love of quality. Once, after chatting with the man himself at a chocolate show in New York a few years ago, I saw that he noticed a scrap of paper on the floor near his booth. He bent down, picked it up, and threw it away, showing in that tiny motion that he has the humility of the great.
Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery has transformed whimsy into a Michelin star. I love Chef Keller’s transformation at Bouchon of well-known commercial candy bar and dessert concepts, into exquisite upscale versions made with premium ingredients. For example, the “Oh Oh” dessert in the photo was a heavenly chocolate-coated swirl of cream and cake. We visited his Beverly Hills Bouchon on the Beverly Hills Bakery Tour that I whipped up for one day only, last spring. Let’s do it again – cross-country Bouchon!
3. Brooklyn / Williamsburg
Getting off the train in Brooklyn, I turned right instead of left, and found myself at Woops bakery. Thank you, Chocolate Fairies of Sweet Serendipity, for leading me to this gem. Not only were the macarons well-textured and tasty, but the alfajores were nicely not-too-sweet, the decor was refreshing, and the staff were helpful with directions. I know Manhattan but was a relative newbie in Brooklyn and clearly lost – yet found!
Among the pioneers of the bean-to-bar chocolate revolution are chocolate-making brothers Rick and Michael Mast of Mast Brothers. I’ve been a fan of their chocolate bars since they began making them in 2007, so what a treat it was to go behind the scenes at their Brooklyn manufactory, where I saw the care that goes into each stage of operations (cocoa beans are sorted by hand, sea salt is sprinkled by hand onto finished chocolate bars), and where I tasted their chocolate in flowing form, straight out of the grinder, where fairtrade cocoa beans are mixed for 3 days with sugar and nothing else. I also felt the love that everyone at Mast Brothers has for the art of chocolate. Their brewed chocolate drinks at their drinking-chocolate shop a couple of doors down were also phenomenal, as were their chocolate chip cookies, bonbons, and of course chocolate bars.
My mission has always been Uplift Through Chocolate, and it was exciting to experience and taste chocolate love in many innovative forms on my latest trip to New York. For more photos, see #NYCNovember2014 on twitter or Instagram, where I post as @chocolateuplift.
Save the date of next Veteran’s Day weekend, and join me for another set of sweet and chic adventures in the Big Truffle – email me at email@example.com to get on the list.