A Chicagoan in LA: No Car, Much Chocolate

Hello and happy new year!

I’m commuting between Los Angeles and Chicago this winter, to teach a class at UCLA Extension on International Business Law, to promote craft chocolate like local LA small-batch wonder Letterpress Chocolate, and to thaw out from Chicago winters!

I don’t drive, and LA is a very car-focused city as you know, so this adds a layer of adventure!

You can check out my new blog about it all, called A Chicagoan in LA: Valerie Beck Car-free in the City of the Freeway, at https://achicagoaninla.blogspot.com/.

Coming soon: details of my visit to Letterpress Chocolate’s new retail and production space!

Meanwhile, I hope your 2019 is off to a delicious start!

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Chocolate & Harvard Autumn 2017

harvard yard
Time travel: “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” #antoinedesaintexupery
I’m enjoying stepping back in time in Harvard Yard, where I – and so many before me and after me – spent so much time, and moving forward in time with the relatively new colorful chairs sprinkled about, which encourage people to linger in the Yard and take their time! Of course, we used to sit on the Widener Library steps for community time, and on the Henry Moore sculpture outside Lamont Library, sometimes while eating chocolate, naturally. Such time was very important indeed!
#HarvardAutumn2017

What a happy visit to home sweet Harvard, plus Boston and Cambridge sweet spots!
Itinerary:

  • give a talk at my alma mater Harvard Law School – on alternative careers for lawyers – and connect with students,
  • scout awesome chocolate nearby,
  • chat with great local retailers, including some we used to visit on my chocolate tours in Boston,
  • visit the Taza Chocolate factory,
  • see fabulous old friends and new, and
  • visit beautiful old favorite spaces and new!

I always feel so happy to be back among these red bricks where I went to college and law school!

Scroll for the story through photos, and “keep eating chocolate!”

Valerie

Valerie Beck

Founder/CEO Chocolate Uplift

Craft Chocolate & Cacao Distribution

Wholesale & Retail, Subscription Box & Tours

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

mdw to bos
Somewhere over the sunrise: Chicago to Boston!
mdw to bos with violet sky
“Truth never damages a cause that is just.” #Gandhi In the air with Violet Sky Chocolate: this is the lovely brandy barrel aged Monte Grande Guatemala 72% chocolate, from cacao aged in a honey brandy barrel before being refined into chocolate, which I pulled from my bag to make in-flight trail mix! Here’s to truthful, transparent chocolate!
home sweet harvard
Happy landing at home sweet Harvard, my undergrad and law school alma mater!
sweet speaker at alma mater harvard law
Sweet talk: what a treat to speak to students at my alma mater #harvardlawschool on alternative careers for lawyers, at a leadership conference organized by the Harvard Women’s Law Association and Ms. JD!
ūüŹõ
My message to these high-achieving super-professional students: follow your passions and goals, not someone else’s. And if your passion is BigLaw, have a back-up passion, because today only 19% of equity partners are women, and they are paid 80% of what the men receive.
‚ĀČÔłŹ
Entrepreneurship is an exciting alternative, and has been a meaningful and delicious one for me!
It was fun and an honor to share war stories from my law firm days, and origin stories of my original chocolate tours business, to chat afterward with such wonderful and thoughtful students about what is on their minds, and to share Chocotenango chocolate bars which were enormously popular!
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Harvard Law School – love the addition of picnic tables for community and outdoor studying

 

charles river
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” #Thoreau
I’ve passed every season here, multiple times, and it’s always fresh to be back, to be forward!
#HarvardAutumn2017
homemade trail mix
I always travel with homemade chocolate trail mix – glamour mix!
home
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” #Emerson
And every night! From home sweet Harvard, back to sweet home Chicago!

Haiti is Here

by Valerie Beck, chocolate consultant

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Grown in Haiti: Haitian Chocolate Project kickstarter launches Thursday 1/28

Update – click for the kickstarter campaign:

https:// http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/272592294/the-haitian-chocolate-project-bar-one

What would you say to delicious bean-to-bar chocolate made from gentle cacao grown on the lush yet historically impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti, where cacao farmers are working to raise their families and communities out of poverty?

Fund the new Haitian Chocolate Project kickstarter campaign, launching Thursday, January 28, 2016, and you’re funding new fermentation boxes to make this good cacao better, and to further farmers’ abilities to lift their families and communities out of poverty by getting their cacao to the US market.

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Sensational San Francisco, where I’ll lead a custom chocolate adventure for top funders

Kickstarter rewards include Bisou Chocolate made with these gentle Haitian cocoa beans, and also my new chocolate tasting video, and a trip through San Francisco’s top chocolate shops, kitchens, and bakeries led by yours truly with the Haitian Chocolate Project founders.

2016-01-27 08.43.39
Beautiful Bisou Chocolate, making new chocolate bars from Haitian cacao for you

I’m thrilled to be an advisor to this project, and the kickstarter link is coming soon!

Update – here’s the link:

https:// http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/272592294/the-haitian-chocolate-project-bar-one

Delicious thanks!

Your friend in chocolate,
Valerie

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In San Francisco, where I sampled our first batch of lovely Haitian cacao.  Onward and upward!

Valerie Beck
CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift
www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com
www.chocolateuplift.com
social media @chocolateuplift

Best New Chocolate I Ate (Or Drank) in 2015

by Valerie Beck, chocolate expert

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Past, present, future: chocolate links us to happy memories, gives us an enjoyable present moment, and opens doors to happy adventures to come

Do you remember the first time you tasted chocolate?

I remember being 4 years old and letting my mom know that non-chocolate milk just wasn’t working for me.

debeauve et gallais
Debauve et Gallais, the Paris chocolate shop where at age 19 I tasted the bonbon that changed my life

 

And I remember being 19 and tasting my first piece of truly fine chocolate, in Paris, and knowing that this was going to change my life.

Tasting new chocolate can connect us to happy memories, and open the door to new adventures.

Below are a very few of my favorite chocolate creations that I tasted for the first time in 2015, narrowed down with enormous difficulty to:

* one chocolate bar,
* one hot chocolate, and
* one chocolate truffle.

I could have done the top 10 of each, and added pastries and confections and done the top 10 of each of those, and would still have had an outrageously difficult time narrowing it down from all of the amazing chocolate I’ve had the pleasure of tasting this year, in many different cities.

 

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Will (and do) travel for chocolate

Indeed, at one single event, World of Chocolate earlier this month, I tasted over 27 new chocolate creations as a judge!

The craft chocolate revolution continues, and talented and hard working chocolate makers, chocolatiers, and chefs continue to innovate, which means a lot of fabulous chocolate to taste and enjoy.

But this is a brief post on New Year’s Eve, typed on my phone, and so I’m sharing just a few favorite items here.

For more chocolate that I loved in 2015, see my instagram!

Meanwhile, here we go:

 

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Sensational Sirene Chocolate: 2 bars in 1, each with just 2 ingredients (cacao and sugar) so you can compare flavors

 

Chocolate Bar: Sirene Chocolate

Crafted from just two ingredients – cacao and sugar – Sirene Chocolate epitomizes the purity of bean-to-bar chocolate.

Smooth texture and fabulous flavor, depending on the cacao origin, fermentation, roasting process, and grinding time, reveal the story that each cacao origin can tell, and reveal the artistry of chocolate maker Taylor Kennedy, from his chocolate kitchen in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

I sampled Sirene for the first time this past year, at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, and was instantly impressed. I then sampled Sirene to a group at one of my Chocolate Wellness talks, in Chicago, and it is no exaggeration to say that “the crowd went wild.” After the group tasted the fleur de sel chocolate bar by Sirene, they asked for seconds, and bought out the rest of my stock.

When one audience member’s bars accidentally came home with me in my bag, I offered to drop them off to her the next day, but she preferred to come to my place and get them that same night. I would have done the same thing!

 

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Cacao + sugar + water = some of the richest and most delicious drinking chocolate anywhere, by Undone Chocolate of Washington, DC

 

Hot Chocolate: Undone Chocolate

This is a personal mini list, so here’s my personal view on hot chocolate: it should be rich, chocolatey, and simultaneously comforting and exciting.

If it’s also single-origin, and made with just two ingredients (cacao and sugar), and tastes amazing in a vegan version made with water instead of milk (the traditional or ancient way to make chocolate is of course with water, not dairy), then it is truly special.

The hot chocolate by Undone Chocolate is all of those things. I already loved Undone’s chocolate bars when I visited owner Adam Kavalier and team member Merrill Dagg at Undone’s kitchen in Washington, DC, this year. What a treat to see their chocolate-making equipment in action, with sacks and sacks of Dominican Republic cacao awaiting their turn to shine.

When Adam sent me home with a tin of Undone hot chocolate mix I was grateful, and as soon as I tried it I was ecstatic.

The flavor and texture are rich and luscious with water – no milk required – so that the hot chocolate tastes not like milk but like chocolate. Call me a purist because that for me is what hot chocolate should be.

 

spicy passion
Spicy Passion truffle by Batch PDX: passion fruit and Oregon pepper ganache enrobed in white chocolate – sweet with heat

Truffles: Batch PDX

When I bit into a French truffle in Paris at age 19, I knew it was something exquisite.

When I bit into a Batch PDX truffle earlier this year (see my June 2015 blog post), I knew it had the same level of precision, flavor, and magic that had captivated me in Paris, only this time the truffles were made in Portland, Oregon.

Chocolatier Jeremy Karp sees himself as a craftsman, and indeed crafts bonbons of beauty and balance.

I also see him as an artist, because he sculpts with flavors and textures, telling a story of contrast and compatibility with spice and passion fruit, for example, enrobed in white chocolate for additional magic.

These glimpses of magical chocolate experiences energize me for amazing chocolate experiences in the new year and beyond.

I wish you a delicious new year and more, as you “keep eating real chocolate!”

Your friend in chocolate,
Valerie

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Celebrating my 2015 birthday – December 10 – at Miss Ricky’s in Chicago, with chocolate cake topped with a chocolate knife bonbon filled with chocolate caramel!

 

Valerie Beck
CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift
Chocolate Consultant and Broker, Sweet Speaker
www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com
chocolateuplift@gmail.com
social media @chocolateuplift

“Uplift Through Chocolate!”

Chocolate and Cherry Blossoms

Chocolate and Cherry Blossoms

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.

snickers cake at the partisan
Housemade “snickers” cake at The Partisan
Cherry blossoms in Stanton Park
Cherry blossoms in Stanton Park

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.

Dupont Circle
Dupont Circle
Firehook Bakery, Dupont Circle
Firehook Bakery, 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.

Co Co Sala roasted peanut chocolate bar
Co Co Sala roasted peanut chocolate bar with chocolate pearls
White chocolate "Valrhona Blonde Perles" at Co Co Sala
White chocolate “Valrhona Blonde Perles” at Co Co Sala

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.

Saying hello to my old friend, the Calder sculpture at the National Gallery
Saying hello to my old friend, the Calder at the National Gallery

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.

The fig/walnut/pepper bar by J Chocolatier
The fig/walnut/pepper bar by J Chocolatier

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.

Light-as-air doughnuts at District Doughnut
Light-as-air doughnuts at District Doughnut
With owner Greg of District Doughnut
With owner Greg Menna of District Doughnut

Here’s to sweet travel!

Your friend in chocolate

Valerie

Valerie Beck

Chocolate Expert, Speaker, and Consultant

Visit www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com to book a speaking engagement or for more info.

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

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! ūüôā – 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 Рin beta but live:

www.chicagochocolatetours.com/speaking/

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com/

“Keep eating real chocolate!”

Your sweet speaker,

Valerie

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Chocolate Wellness: Why Should You Eat Real Chocolate, and How To Identify It

Chocolate Wellness: Why You Should Eat Real Chocolate, and How To Identify It

by Valerie Beck, chocolate educator and speaker www.chicagochocolatetours.com/speaking

Which will go into the "sometimes," "always," or "never" piles? Find out - and sample the "always" pile - at one of my Chocolate Wellness seminars.
Which items will go into the “sometimes,” “always,” or “never” piles? Find out – and sample the “always” pile – at one of my Chocolate Wellness seminars. Book a seminar. #eatchocolatebeskinny

Is chocolate health food, or junk food?

That depends on the chocolate!

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.

Sample raw organic cocoa beans at my Chocolate Wellness seminars. You can also sample them fresh from the tree on my Chocolate Travel Club origin trip to Ecuador.
Sample raw organic cocoa beans at my Chocolate Wellness seminars. You can also sample them fresh from the tree on my Chocolate Uplift Travel Club origin trip to Ecuador.

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
  • much more.

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 chocolateuplift@gmail.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!

Meanwhile, keep eating (real) chocolate!

Eat chocolate and smile
Eat chocolate and smile

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Sweet Travel: Our 2015 Chocolate Uplift Travel Club Destinations

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

Here's to sweet takeoffs and landings in 2015 and beyond!
Here’s to sweet takeoffs and landings in 2015 and beyond!

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 chocolateuplift@gmail.com to book or with questions, and here’s to sweet travel!

2015 Chocolate Uplift Travel Club Destinations

At a previous Miami Chocolate Festival: brigadeiros (Brazilian truffles) by Samba Gourmet
At a previous Miami Chocolate Festival: brigadeiros (Brazilian truffles) by Samba Gourmet

Miami Chocolate Festival, Miami, Florida. Friday 1/23 РSunday 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 chocolates
At Migone Chocolates in Florence

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.

View from my room at the Surfcomber Hotel, Miami Beach
View from my room at the Surfcomber Hotel, Miami Beach

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.

On last year's Beverly Hills Bakery Tour
At Le Mervetty on last year’s Beverly Hills Bakery Tour

Turner and Truffles, Los Angeles, California. Friday 3/20 ‚Äď 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.

At our private tasting with Chef Santosh at Co.Co.Sala last year in DC
At our private tasting with Chef Santosh at Co.Co.Sala last year in DC

Cherry Blossoms and Chocolate, Washington, DC. Friday 4/10 ‚Äď Sunday 4/12. National Cherry Blossom Festival, and Chef‚Äôs Dinner. Package 1: $2,350 includes hotel, meals, excursions, private Chef‚Äôs Dinner and chocolate tasting with a celebrity pastry chef. Package 2: $150 includes Chef‚Äôs Dinner and chocolate tasting.

About to sample fresh cacao in Ecuador
About to sample fresh cacao in Ecuador

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
Sweet home Chicago

Sweet Home Chicago, Chicago, Illinois. Friday 5/15 РSunday 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.

Sweet Savannah (photo: Visit Savannah)
Sweet Savannah (photo: Visit Savannah)

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.

Presentation of the original Boston Cream Pie
Presentation of the original Boston Cream Pie, on a previous Boston trip

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 ‚Äď Monday 9/7.

Sweet Columbus Day Weekend, destination tbd, cast your vote! Friday 10/9 ‚Äď Monday 10/12.

Rome
Rome

Eurochocolate: Italy Sweet and Chic, Perugia, Pisa, and Rome, Italy. Friday 10/6 РFriday 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.

Behind the scenes at Mast Brothers Chocolate
Behind the scenes at Mast Brothers Chocolate

The Big Truffle: NYC Veteran’s Day Weekend, New York, New York. Friday 11/6 РTuesday 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.

Grilled chocolate croissants for brunch (photo: Cao Chocolates)
Grilled chocolate croissants for brunch (photo: Cao Chocolates)

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.

Cheers from Miami!
Cheers from Miami!

See you soon – onward and upward!

~ 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 Рthe 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

3 Chocolatey NYC Neighborhoods

3 Chocolatey NYC Neighborhoods

By Valerie Beck, traveling chocolate expert 

Veteran's Day meets pre Christmas at Rockefeller Center NYC
Veteran’s Day meets pre-Christmas at Rockefeller Center in NYC

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

Broadway Bites at Greeley Square Park
Broadway Bites at Greeley Square Park

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's chocolate chip pretzel cookie
The pretzel is in the cookie

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.

Chocolate Pumpkin Macaron by Macaron Parlour
Chocolate Pumpkin genius

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!)

Award-winning and award-deserving chocolate babka
Award-winning and award-deserving chocolate babka

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!

View from my suite at the Eventi Hotel. #empirestateofmind
View from my suite at the Eventi Hotel #empirestateofmind

2. Midtown / Fifth Avenue

Marvelousness at Michel Cluizel
Marvelousness at Michel Cluizel

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!

"Love Potion Number 9"
“Love Potion Number 9”

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.

Elegant whimsy, outrageous deliciousness, and a Michelin star
Elegant whimsy, outrageous deliciousness, and a Michelin star

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!

Midtown means Saks, which means 10022 Shoe, which means Ferragamo #sweetandchic
Midtown means Saks, which means 10022 Shoe, which means Ferragamo #sweetandchic

3. Brooklyn / Williamsburg

Skyscraper of macarons
Skyscraper of macarons

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 Рyet found!

Bean-to-bar behind the scenes
Bean-to-bar behind the scenes

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.

Flatiron Building NYC #onwardandupward
Flatiron Building NYC #onwardandupward

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.

With Rick Mast
With Rick Mast

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 chocolateuplift@gmail.com to get on the list.

“Keep eating chocolate, and eat real chocolate!”

~ Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie