Visiting the Chocolate Show in November was perfect timing for snapping up specialty treats and discovering great finds for holiday gift buying. Raw chocolate was a hot trend, along with eco-conscious and fair trade practices among dedicated crafters like Divine Chocolate, whose cocoa farmers in Ghana own 45% of the company, and Pacari Chocolate which offers sustainability programs to their growers in Ecuador.
With more than 50 exhibitors on hand, the show can be overwhelming. But after several passes through the halls, and countless samples—of truffles, fondue, ganache, espresso beans, peanut butter bars, dipped marshmallows, semifreddo, single-origin bars from Ghana, Ecuador, and Venezuela, and almost-too-pretty to eat singles from France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Japan, Italy, and good old NYC, to name just a few!—some favorites emerged, both for the quality of their product and the charm and enthusiasm of the chocolate makers and their crews. Here are my own Best of Show picks, all offering excellent options for holiday treats:
Sendall Chocolates: Bob Sendall, a bigwig in the culinary world as a chef, event producer, and cookbook co-author, has been working his magic for more than 20 years. Throughout that time, Sendall has kept busy catering to the Heinz family, teaching at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute and, in 2009, planning dinner for President Obama’s G-20 Summit. He also concocted his own special candy treat that he bestowed on friends, family, and guests, never intending to make it part of his business. But seven years ago, his “Toffee Taboo” hit the market and it is not to be missed.
“It was a fluke,” Sendall claims. But the toffee’s success isn’t—this stuff is addictive. (I actually circled back for enough samples to choke a hippo on my rounds—don’t tell Bob!) Available in milk, dark, and holiday versions (the addition of dried cherries gives it a seasonal spark), Toffee Taboo is a chunky bark of Belgian chocolate with a cascade of toffee-encrusted almonds and cashews and a drizzle of white chocolate over the top. You can find it at Barney’s in NYC or online at allingoodtasteproductions.com.
Xocolatti: A brand-new chocolatier based in Scarsdale, NY, Xocolatti impressed me with their gorgeous candy crafting and packaging, unique flavors, and family-business warmth. Available online only at the moment (www.xocolatti.com), they’re hoping to open a shop in NYC soon. Xocolatti’s product line includes truffles, crafted from single-origin chocolate and fresh ingredients like caramel, sake, champagne, pistachio, passion fruit, and Antiguan coffee; and “Xoco Slate,” lovely sheets of delicate handmade bark with flavors like Carmelized Hazelnut, Almond Nougatine, Mango Paprika, Mixed Nut Saffron Chikki, and Rose Hip Pistachio. Scrumptious!
Co Co. Sala: Co Co. Sala is a “chocolate lounge & boutique” in Washington, DC, so jot it down in your travel notebook for the next time you’re road-tripping to the nation’s capitol. It offers both a bistro-style restaurant and a chocolate boutique. Meeting the hip, funny, enthusiastic owners and chocolatier, I think it’s a safe bet that the place is well worth a visit. The sight of chocolate-covered bacon (whole strips, mind you!) lovingly packaged in a clear tube for gift-giving made me laugh out loud. Owner Bharet Malhotra offered a sample and explained that it landed on their chocolate menu by popular demand after customers first tasted it crumbled on top of the lounge’s mac & cheese dish.
Their artisanal chocolates are beautiful and offer a range of flavor combinations “from the familiar to the global and exotic,” including pb&j, goji berry, banana ginger, rosemary caramel, chipotle, and pear caramel. I’m a sucker for packaging, and Co Co.’s is modern and artsy-cool. Gorgeous, delicious, and fun—what combination could be better? Web address is www.cocosala.com.
No Chewing Allowed: There’s something relentlessly irresistible about the French. Is it the accent? The attitude? That wacky French Paradox I keep trying valiantly to prove with each glass of pinot? Perhaps it is simply the truffles. Powdered French truffles are such a unique culinary treasure—a moment of pure bliss when the nugget of smooth chocolate emerges from its light dust of bittersweet pixie dust inside your mouth.
No Chewing Allowed has been crafting these exquisite gems in France since 1934. It was a delight to see their playful logo over their exhibit table, fun to be teased by the charming vendor who noticed how many times I reappeared at his table with my notebook and camera, and a real treat to sample their truly first-rate truffles while they kept watch with stern reminders of “no chewing allowed!” I couldn’t resist buying a tin to bring to my Thanksgiving hosts, and was happy to discover that No Chewing Allowed will be included in a handful of holiday markets in the city through December. More info, and online ordering, available at www.nochewingallowed.com.
Many more of the chocolatiers deserve mention, and a full list of exhibitors and their websites can be found at the Chocolate Show site: newyork.salon-du-chocolat.com. Keep an eye out for an upcoming spotlight on Jersey-based 2 Chicks with Chocolate, a mother-daughter team with a great backstory and a product line that’s both fancy and fun. If the exhibit sounds like your cup of cocoa, plan ahead for next year’s Salon du Chocolat’s Chocolate Show in New York … or, if you can’t wait (and need a good excuse to travel), book ahead for the next round of exhibits in Marseille, Paris, or Cairo. That would be a bon voyage indeed!
Deanna Quinones is the Jersey Bites Regional Editor for Morris County. A freelance writer, blogger, and unrepentant chocolate addict, Deanna spent 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area where life was good and the burritos even better. She recently returned to the Garden State and now resides in Morristown, where she and her Texas-born/Jersey-raised/California-found husband are raising two wild and wonderful kids. An experienced book marketer, award-winning greeting card writer, and entertainment writing dabbler, Deanna can be reached at [email protected] (photo credit Pete Genovese/The Star-Ledger)