Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Northwest Chocolate Festival

Chocolate isn't just any food. In fact, I think it is safe to say that it transcends the term "food." What other substance is not just a nutrient, but can brighten somebody's entire day, act as an aphrodisiac, be considered part of a balanced breakfast, and make already awesome beer even awesomer? Ok, so maybe bacon, but this article is about chocolate.

I bring this up because Josh, Alyssa, and I had the pleasure of attending the Meet the Maker Opening Reception to the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, WA. While only offering a small dose of what festival-goers were in for over the weekend, I was exposed to more chocolate-centric food, beverage, knowledge, and scantily-clad models than I knew existed.

I'll get to the latter parts in a moment, but as a somewhat respected online food and beverage journalist, the highlight of this experience for me was to talk with chocolate makers and hear both their story and approach to making chocolate. Had you replaced their enthusiasm with "beer" or "wine" instead of "chocolate", you would hear very familiar stories. Their passion for what most people take for granted as a simple dessert is unrivaled and it shows in the truly artistic creations they sell. They're also willing to go to ridiculous time-intensive extremes to make what might only ever amount to one bite, but you can taste that. To the many chocolate makers we met, kudos.

We also got to taste chocolate! There were far too many chocolate companies to highlight, so I'll talk about a couple of my favorites.

Theo Chocolate is the only chocolate maker at the event whose offerings I've had before and they certainly didn't disappoint. Perhaps the most well-known chocolate maker in Seattle, Theo offers a little bit of everything ranging from classic chocolate flavors to coconut curry chocolate bars. Their commitment to sustainability is rivaled only to the length of their public tour waiting list. I actually had the opportunity to try the coconut curry bar and, well, it tasted like coconut curry and chocolate! The curry flavors were very subtle and the coconut/chocolate combo smoothed out the spice to where it all made sense when melted in your mouth. I've never had anything from Theo I didn't at least enjoy, so definitely hit them up on your next Seattle trip.

Ykchaua Chocolates (pronounced ick-chow-ah) is the ancient Mayan patron god of cocoa merchants. It's also a damn good part-time candy making operation out of Seattle's Ballard neighborhood that really left an impression with everyone. They also had a curry-inspired offering, but what stood out to me was a cayenne-infused chocolate. I'm all about the spice and have had spicy chocolates before, but they all end up tasting like chocolate in addition to spice if that makes any sense. Not Ykchuau's. The chocolate and spice flow as one and your entire tongue gets to partake in the experience. Very well balanced and not spicy enough to where it would only put off the most sensitive of palates.

Snake & Butterfly out of Santa Clara, CA brought with them their best selling offering and with good reason. Remember my bacon comment up top? Now that I'm this far in the article, I'm going to pretend like I thought of that ahead of time and will point you what people really want; chocolate-covered bacon caramels. Go ahead and imagine exactly what that'd taste like, now up the saltiness a little bit and reduce the smokiness a tad. Viola!

At this point you're either still with me or have skimmed to this part because I'm going to elaborate on that scantily-clad models part. Also in attendance were models from La Figa: Visions of Food and Form. I'll leave the explaining up to their web site
La Figa: Visions of Food and Form is a book featuring a spectacular collection of sensual photography – models wearing nothing but the edible creations of James Beard award-winning chef Tiberio Simone. Using the human body as his canvas, and natural fresh ingredients as his paint, Simone’s elegant and tasteful nude images are the culmination of a five year collaboration with photographer Matt Freedman.

Overall this was an incredibly fun night and I can only imagine how the festival itself went. We only experienced a small portion of what they had to offer, but will definitely block out an entire weekend for next year's event. Thank you to everybody who helped organize the festival as well as the chocolate makers for bringing their best offerings.


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