I wish I could say I’m writing about my visit to Willy Wonka’s above-referenced chamber, but the edibly appointed event my colleague Julie Gallagher and I attended last night in midtown Manhattan was certainly exquisite in its own right.
More than a dozen fine chocolate companies gathered at the Helen Mills Event Center for Food Fete Chocolat. The companies varied from the large to the artisan. Some brands carried a message, while others encouraged indulgence.
All of them, however, were deeply committed to their craft, and possessed a keen understanding of the market which, being chocolate, encompasses history, global trade, artistry and good taste, among the more obvious qualities.
Three companies in particular stood out, and are ones we wanted to discuss in a bit more detail:
Mars Chocolate North America: The chocolate giant could have overwhelmed the space with its huge portfolio of products, but instead focused on its American Heritage line of products based on recipes popular in the 18th century. We learned that chocolate was a beverage before it was a confection, and was flavored with nutmeg, chili pepper orange and vanilla. Products from the line include sticks, blocks and the finely grated drinking chocolate. What’s more, these products are sold only at historic sites like Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello and The Smithsonian. Mars regularly travels to the locations an offers education and demonstrations of early chocolate-making techniques.
Gnosis: This company sells raw chocolate embellished with herbs, antioxidants and other special ingredients. The bars are not only raw, they’re organic, vegan, kosher and sustainable. Vanessa Barg, the founder, is a certified holistic health counselor that now “speaks to her patients through chocolate,” as she put it. The bars are geared towards specific functions. For instance, a popular sample was Aphrodisia, infused with horny goat weed and 5 other herbal aphrodisiacs. Another was embellished with pomegranate Acai. Gnosis (as in DiaGnosis) also offers spreads, truffles and trail mixes.
Kallari: This isn’t so much a company as it is a movement devoted to nurturing the Kallari Cooperative in Ecuador. The native growers live among age-old, wild-growing cacao groves in the Amazon. Their chocolate bars, “Sustainable pleasure for palate and planet”, are made there as well by the Kichwa cacao growers. The truly curious are invited to visit and stay with the families in a “Rainforest Chocolate Tour where participants will learn about the art, science and culture of chocolate-making literally from the ground up.
Of course, the other exhibitors offered fine products and compelling narratives as well: Amano Artisan Chocolate, Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier, The Madison Chocolatiers West, Chuao Chocolatier, Hotel Chocolat, Sun Chips, Divine Chocolate, Truffly Made, Lindt and Valrhona, as well as the artisans represented by the Fine Chocolate Industry Association.
[Photo credit: Food Fete]