People say “I love chocolate” all the time. I say (and demonstrate through worshipful consumption) how much I “love” chocolate all the time, practically defining my personality by it. There are cat people, there are electronic gadget people, there are craft people; I am a chocolate person. And so were the many hundreds of others who gathered at the Metropolitan Pavilion last month for the gorgeous, glorious, gastronomically glamorous 14th Annual New York Chocolate Show.
Food events like this are, above all, overwhelming. With more than 65 exhibitors filling the room, live demonstrations happening in various corners, and a Pantone fan deck–worth of color and design vying for your attention from signage, packaging, book jackets, and displays at every turn, it is enough to cause vertigo. Happily there is plenty of curative chocolate on hand to restore you as quickly as it did Harry Potter after a bout with the Dementors.
The key to navigating the Chocolate Show, I’ve found, is to seek out the passion. Everything tastes good, everything looks lovely, but when you find the exhibitor (whether the chocolatier him or herself or an enthusiastic brand ambassador) whose honest excitement about and true dedication to their product—their art—are as boldly on display as their edible wares, that’s where you strike gold.
Most of my favorites from last year were there again, including Washington, DC-based Co Co. Sala with their artsy aesthetic and luscious, beautifully crafted artisanal chocolates; and No Chewing Allowed (sold at select NYC holiday shops for the season) sampling their outrageously delectable French truffles with gently repeated admonishments of their no chewing rule. These vendors bring both the quality and the fun, which double their value for my money.
I added another favorite to my list when I stopped by the Fika Choklad booth, which I had noticed last year but hadn’t the chance to explore. I did not make that mistake again. Locking eyes with the marketing associate attending their exquisite display, I made my standard pitch (“Tell me about what you’ve got here”) and was rewarded with an experience equivalent to being the new kid in school and having the most popular girl in class walk up and take your hand and promise to be your new best friend. We looked, we talked, we laughed, we tasted—a set of chocolates swirled and mysteriously flavored to evoke the Four Elements, glossy smooth domes filled with ganache and goat cheese (weirdly wonderful) and salty caramel, bumpy shells rich with gingerbread and fiery Scotch whisky.
Then she introduced me to the chocolatier, Swedish-born Håkan Mårtensson, known as something of a rock star in the chocolate world but a charming, modest craftsman who seems less concerned with all the awards and acclaim heaping on his shoulders than about carving that perfect bit of detail into his latest astonishing chocolate sculpture. Please visit the gallery on their website for a visual sample of his work: fikanyc.com. It looks spectacular and it tastes even better. There are three Fika café locations in NYC where coffee, pastry, breakfast and lunch, and Håkan’s spectacular chocolates are sold. Go. Trust me.
Along with repeat exhibitors and established veterans like Guittard, Valrhona, and Jacques Torres, the Chocolate Show also offers an excellent debut opportunity for brand-new companies. Among these, a few stood out with their waves of excitement and genuine delight in bringing their creations to the public:
Chocolate for the Spirit is the inspired (and inspiring) creation of Julie Bolejack, a former insurance industry bigwig who went on retreat in Sedona, Arizona, was given a ‘vision’ of her future, and came home with a seed for change planted deep in her soul. Turned out that seed was a cacao bean and, in a few short years, Julie established Chocolate for the Spirit and started winning awards and devoted fans from the start. The chocolate is truly scrumptious—the Beauty Bark combines chocolate with dried fruits, nuts, a delicate hint of spice, and a touch of pink Himalayan salt, garnished with edible gold; the Dark Chocolate Almond ButterCrunch Gourmet Toffee I sampled was insane; and the Mayan Spirit Bars, in dark or milk versions, are beautifully packaged in a metallic paper envelope, molded with Mayan-style artwork, and flavored with cinnamon, chipotle, and chili. Awesome! Visit Chocolate for the Spirit’s website to order online. They’re currently offering a Holiday Chocolate Spirit Club that includes a 3-month gift delivery (December, January, February) of one pound (or more) each month of artisan bonbons, toffee, bark, cocoa, and bars.
Salt of the Earth Bakery may have truly been the newest new kid on the block at the Show; they’d only been in business for six weeks at that point. The response to their samples—hunks of brownie and thickly studded chocolate chip cookies, everything flavored with different, unique sea salts—was unmistakably joyous. They could barely keep the sample plates filled and nearly everyone who bustled up through the throng to grab a bite simply had to stop, savor, and nod in approval.
Their OMG Brownie absolutely lives up to its name, with an oozing layer of caramel and some extra-fancy Fleur de Sel specialty salt accents: you eat it, you say it—works every time! Salt of the Earth doesn’t have its own storefront yet but products are selling at various retailers around NYC. Check their website for more locations coming soon, or email them to suggest a new location near you.
I hesitate to even tell you about Jazz Brownies because it’s almost a cruel tease. I’m not sure how you can get your hands on these except to contact the baker directly and place a personalized order. You probably have to rendezvous with her in the city to pick it up and it’s probably way more trouble than most people would go to for a box of brownies but if you’re a devotee of chocolate, of jazz, of art in an edible form, it might just be a little detour into indulgence you’d be happy to make. Chef and food stylist Maria Luisa Rodriguez handcrafts these bite-sized gems from dark Callebaut chocolate and blends them into four amazing flavors: Orange Zest, Coconut Black Pepper, Sesame, and Spicy Dulce de Leche. She stays up late into the night, listening to jazz while she bakes small batches and boxes them into beautiful half-pound assortments. Maria Luisa describes her work as “an ode to the diverse rhythms of the jazz experience” and a “captivating riff on the savory rhythms of chocolate.” They are spectacular. Visit her professional website at www.chefmarialuisa.com.
Antidote (offering a cure to all these harder-to-get brands I’ve just described, perhaps!) is a wonderful company that produces gorgeous products (both visually and edibly) with a mission that’s as pure as its ingredients. Combining raw pesticide-free cacao from Ecuador with high quality, organic, nutritious ingredients, Antidote chocolate is natural and beneficial to your health, and was developed by charismatic founder Red Thalhammer to “melt souls, nurture bodies, and enrich minds with love, care, and positive energy.” As they celebrate their first birthday, Antidote has just launched an online shop and continues to expand their offerings in Whole Foods Markets and other leading natural food venues across the country. Look for their distinctive graphic design packaging (also created by the talented Red) and enjoy unique flavor combinations in their line of bars named after Greek goddesses and Aztec gods, including Mango & Juniper (Hybris), Rose Salt & Lemon (Hebe), and Almond & Fennel (Artemis).
If you still want more, visit the Chocolate Show’s site for a full list of exhibitors and their contact information: www.chocolateshow.com. For a sneak peek at some of the outrageously cool chocolate fashions that were part of the fun, visit NYC, Style and a Little Cannoli blog for a great photo collection. As for me, I’m counting the days to next year’s Chocolate Show—and its many flavors of love—already.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. (photo credit Pete Genovese/The Star-Ledger)