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.
Picture chocolate, pastry, fashion, jewelry, and more, under one roof.
Picture that roof over my favorite building in Chicago, the Chicago Cultural Center (which was the main branch of the Chicago Public Library when I was a little girl).
That was the scene for the April edition of Dose Market, a dynamic marketplace that showcases chefs, designers, and makers of all stripes. The market was co-sponsored in April 2015 by the Lake FX conference for artists and entrepreneurs, which added an extra touch of excitement.
Add the fact that among the makers showcased were longtime chocolate friends, and soon-to-be-made chocolate friends, and of course I attended. I attended, I chocolate scouted, and I enjoyed.
What exactly is chocolate scouting? That’s my term for exploring the world and finding delicious chocolate and pastry. It’s something I’ve always done: on any trip to a new city, even as a child, I always wanted to find the best chocolate. That hasn’t changed, and I chocolate scout where I live and where I travel, for business and for pleasure.
Dose Market at the Chicago Cultural Center featured some exquisite and creative chocolate and pastry offerings from old friends…
Washington, DC, is particularly sweet in spring, when cherry blossoms bloom, and chocolate innovation springs forth, as I re-discover every year on my springtime trip to our US capital.
DC’s cherry blossom trees were originally a gift from Japan, facilitated by author and traveler Eliza Scidmore, who fell in love with the sweet blossoms in Japan and enlisted the wife of President Taft to help coordinate the trees with Japan in 1910 and 1912.
Today, the city blooms beautifully in spring not only at the “usual” sites such as the Tidal Basin with its spectacular views of the monuments, but also in special and strollable corners of the city such as Stanton Park, and restaurant-rich Dupont Circle.
As for chocolate, we chocolate lovers know it is a gift as well. Chocolate comes from cacao, which is the seed of the fruit of the cocoa tree. The Aztecs believed cacao was the fruit of the gods. At beloved Co Co Sala chocolate lounge and boutique, the chocolate is heavenly indeed.
Chocolate blends nature and art, and it’s perhaps that juxtaposition of natural forms and artistic vision that has drawn me to the Alexander Calder mobile at the National Gallery of Art in DC, ever since I first experienced it on a DC visit at age 8 and wanted to bring it home with me. The glorious 76-foot work wouldn’t quite fit on the airplane, and I’ve visited it on my trips to DC ever since.
Back to our regularly scheduled chocolate, it’s always a treat to see another longtime friend in DC, Jane Morris of J Chocolatier, who creates unique and flavorful artisan chocolate bars, such as my new favorite from her, the fig/walnut/pepper chocolate bar, which she sells from her adorable weekends-only perch atop a charming boutique on Barracks Row.
In addition to visiting old friends, I always love making new ones, and was thrilled by DC’s newest doughnut shop, District Doughnut, where the goods are pastry-inspired, fresh, light, not too sweet, and absolutely delicious and delightful.
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.
Macarons have become a popular treat in the US, and perhaps this popularity is at the root of some confusion over what constitutes a macaron with 1 o, versus a macaroon with 2 o’s.
They are indeed 2 different cookies, though both almond-based:
Macaroons (2 o’s) originated in Italy, and are light yet dense cookies covered in coconut and often dipped in chocolate – the best part, right! They’re usually made from egg whites, sugar, and ground almonds.
Macarons (1 o), on the other hand, were popularized in France. They are delicate, meringue-based sandwich cookies made from almond flour, and are usually filled with jam, buttercream, or ganache. They are made in many colors and flavors, including chocolate of course.
Both cookies can be creative and delicious, yet macarons are definitely having a moment. I’ve started a hashtag to differentiate macarons on twitter and instagram: #macaronsnotmacaroons.
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!