getting fresh: 'True Confections' of a candy editor
For my birthday last week, a friend gave me the newly published novel “True Confections” by Katharine Weber, about “a family-run candy factory that’s trying to stay alive after 85 years in the business.” (A recent review in the Chicago Tribune called the book “spiteful” and delightful;” it also explained how the author visited the ALL CANDY EXPO in Chicago to research the industry for her story of “love, betrayal and chocolate."
What a great gift! I love it when someone presents you with something that actually relates to what you do or love … like the Coldstone Creamery chocolates from Turin a colleague left on my desk, or the “Tennis Fanatic” keychain two girlfriends got me or the beautiful journal yet another person bought for the occasion.
Equally thoughtful and appropriate are the cards certain people have picked out for me over the years, including a personal favorite that I’ve received more than once featuring a photo of two women and some dialogue about never ending a sentence with a proposition. (Writer’s humor.)
I’m reminded of how much I love greeting cards not just at Christmastime (when I send out upwards of 50 holiday greetings via snail mail), but every other month, when I make the trek to Hallmark, one of my most beloved gift stores. As a Hallmark Crown Rewards member, I get points for my purchases and am rewarded with gift certificates worth $2 and $5 at a time, sometimes more, as well as discounts on merchandise throughout the year.
This incentive is one of many reasons I shop Hallmark, whose world headquarters are based in Kansas City, where my brother and his family live. (The city’s Crowne Center is named for the company.) Between its musical cards (the sound quality is amazing); humorous Shoebox Greetings line; Keepsake ornaments; collectible mugs and magnets; and recently introduced 99-cent card section, Hallmark has something for everyone, literally …
Hallmark offers another item that goes hand-in-hand with cards (and flowers, for that matter): candy. The specialty retailers often displays confectionery offerings near the register for impulse purchase, especially around the holidays. Hallmark even offers cards containing popular branded candies. The company also carries its own line of boxed and single-serve Gillham & Grand brand chocolates (named for two streets at its KC headquarters). On my last trip to the Hallmark located in Skokie, Ill., I happened upon several candy-themed cards in the Valentine’s Day section (several of which I purchased) as well as a puzzle featuring colorful photos of M&M’S brand chocolate candies.
Borders is another store for shoppers seeking something unique, be it in the form of a truly humorous birthday greeting or a talking gift bag that begs to be opened and closed again and again, or the aforementioned diary my friend gave me. Candy’s also a part of the product mix at Borders, where one can purchase everything from MIKE AND IKE’S to Lindt Lindor Truffles.
Of course, Borders is best-known for its books. In fact, “True Confections” (which the Tribune’s Cultural Critic calls “a nifty insider's guide to the candy biz”) came with a thoughtful gift receipt from said store, but I won’t be cashing in on it. After reading the novel, I just might write my own confectionery confessional … in my new journal, of course.
Thank you to everyone who made my birthday special.
Editor’s Note: Shout-out to my colleague, Marina Mayer, who is celebrating her dirty thirty today. Welcome to the club, 3M!
Joe Blommer dies at 67
Blommer Chocolate Co.’s president and ceo, Joe Blommer, passed away last Wednesday at his home in River Hill, Wis., succumbing to brain cancer. In a career spanning more than 35 years, Blommer helped lead the family-owned and -operated company through a period of sustained growth and change. Today, Blommer Chocolate is North America’s largest cocoa bean processor and ingredient chocolate products company.
Blommer first joined the company founded by his father and uncles after graduating from Georgetown University with an economics degree in 1964. He left Blommer Chocolate after several years to pursue an investment sales career at Smith Barney in Milwaukee, eventually returning in 1976.
Blommer spearheaded the construction of the company’s East Greenville, Pa., plant in 1980, the first “greenfield” chocolate factory to be built in the United States in many years. The new facility proved to be a significant and successful investment, bringing high-tech manufacturing closer to Blommer Chocolate’s largest customers.
Along with his brother Henry Blommer, he helped the company navigate through a takeover attempt by Cargill, Inc. in 1992 and a subsequent return to sole family control in 1995. Under his leadership, the company delivered an enviable record of sustained, profitable growth, becoming one of the largest cocoa processors in the world.
“My dad was such a special man,” says Rick Blommer, vice president. “He loved his job. He loved making chocolate. Everyone who knew him, both in our company and in our industry, held him in such high regard. He had an incredibly entrepreneurial mind. He could see his way through any problem we faced and always seemed to know the right thing to do. All of us at Blommer will miss him.”
For more information, visit www.blommer.com.
Chicago's French Pastry School ratchets up chocolate fundraiser
The 5th Annual “For the Love of Chocolate” Gala at The French Pastry School at City Colleges of Chicago, which takes place Feb. 6, will feature some new chocolate experiences for attendees participating in the winter fundraiser.
This year, participants can try out the decadent Chocolate Bar or simply celebrity watch while imbibing at the Voodoo Lounge. There also will be plenty of chocolate-themed events and edibles occurring in the Cocoa Sutra, Cocoa Lounge and Cocoa Cuisine areas.
In addition, some of Chicago’s most celebrated chefs will join For The Love of Chocolate Foundation’s major fundraising event aimed at providing scholarships to future qualified students. James Beard Award winner Chef Paul Bartolotta of the Bartolotta Group restaurants in Milwaukee and the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas will be one of the talents donating time and showcasing his specialty cuisine at the event.
Other chefs stepping up to help the foundation include Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and XOCO restaurant, and recent winner of Bravo TV’s Top Chef Masters; Christophe David, executive chef of NoMi and recent semi-finalist for a James Beard Award; Kai Lermen, executive chef at The Peninsula; and Art Smith, executive chef and co-owner of Table Fifty-Two, and former personal chef to Oprah Winfrey.
"It's an honor to be a part of this event and help support For the Love of Chocolate Foundation," Smith says. "This is our third year collaborating with the foundation and The French Pastry School, and it's such a pleasure to work with them and support the great pastry talent of the future."
Pastry chefs contributing desserts, candies, sculptures and chocolate in a variety of forms will be Chef Cheryl Brookhouzen of the Chicago Marriott Hotel; Courtney Clark of Cake Nouveau; Meg Galus of Tru Restaurant; Joe Trummer of Sara Lee Corp.; Jimmy MacMillan of The University Club of Chicago; and Norm Miller of Normy’s Confections, among others.
Also, Dobla, one of the world’s leading producers of chocolate products, is one of the many sponsors involved in the event. “The opportunity to have all of these renowned chefs working with us for this event and to support the foundation is truly a great thing,” says Jacquy Pfeiffer, the school’s academic dean of student affairs.
For more information, visit www.fortheloveofchocolatefoundation.org.
R&D hire, staff promotions at Blommer
Chicago-based Blommer Chocolate Co. has hired Shane Benedict as its corporate director of research and development. Benedict will be located in East Greenville, Pa., and have company-wide responsibility for R &D as well as quality assurance functions.
The company also recently promoted two of its own: Marlene Stauffer has been appointed to the position of director, quality assurance & regulatory compliance. In her new expanded role, Stauffer will provide corporate guidance and recommendations to senior management, quality assurance, and research and development teams on regulatory issues affecting food-related industries.
In addition, Chris Milligan has been promoted to operations manager, East Greenville, Pa. Milligan will assume additional management responsibility for sanitation and plant quality assurance functions.
For more information, visit www.blommer.com.
sweet of the week: Norman Love Confections
Fort Myers, Fla.-based Norman Love Confections has introduced 10 new handcrafted white, milk and dark chocolate flavors and truffles: 70% Dark Complexite, Champagne, Caramel Apple, Vanilla Latte, Rum Raisin, Malted Milkshake Truffle, Cherry Cordial Truffle, Almond Marzipan, Butter Pecan and Strawberry Banana. The offerings were inspired by foods and beverages that evoke feelings of comfort or represent contemporary takes on traditional favorites. The suggested retail prices are $13 for a 5-piece box; $22 for a 10-piece box; $32 for a 15-piece box; $48.50 for a 25-piece box; and $95 for a 50-piece box.
For more information, call 1-239-561-7215 or visit www.normanloveconfections.com.