“Extra, extra!” exclaimed a paperboy at the front entrance as he handed newspaper programs — the Gateau Gazette — to entering guests. To his left sat a moonshiner making bootleg gin in her bathtub. Behind him stood a colossal horn protruding from a vintage gramophone. A few steps farther, attendees could “grab a prop” and “strike a pose” in a photo booth complete with bottles of gin, gangster hats, feathery scarves, glitzy headpieces, mustaches, long cigarettes and machine guns — not that most of them needed the help. They were already dressed the part.
So much of the crowd embraced this year’s roaring 1920’s theme at the 9thannual For the Love of Chocolate Gala, one could easily confuse Chicago’s Union League Club for the Great Gatsby’s mansion in the midst of a grand old party.
The decade really came roaring back to life, transforming the place into a sophisticated speakeasy setting.
More than 800 people, many dressed up as gangsters and flappers, gathered at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22. Together, supporters raised more than $180,000, up at least $70,000 from last year. Proceeds will help fund student scholarships for The French Pastry School’s L’Art de la Patisserie and L’Art du Gateau programs.
The gala did glitz and glam last year with its red carpet theme, and they wanted to continue the concept, but take it back in time, says Franco Pacini, president of For the Love of Chocolate and director at The French Pastry School.
“So many great candies started in the twenties. I just love the era. There’s just so much you can do with the theme,” he explains.
To kick the evening off, a four-course dinner was presented by Chef Michael Garbin of the Union League Club.
Next up, a decorated dessert-dance party.
Desserts and drinks in hand, the dressed-up crowd mingled amongst a multitude of treats from dozens of Chicago’s favorite chefs. Each table running along the peripheryof the two party floors was thoughtfully adorned with pastries, chocolates, or savory hors d'oeuvres. Guests sampled away until midnight.
On the second floor they danced the night away as Deborah Rivera, owner of Ambrosia Bakery owner for the last 25 years, stood by sharing a top pick of hers. She attended as a guest in the past and made her debut as a sponsor this year. Coconut macaroons with roasted almonds and sea salt lay across the black clothed table. Try one and the iconic Girl Scout Samoa will no longer do you justice.
Rivera explains that sweets are a great tool for bringing people together, despite dietary differences.
“Sugar is the bridge for people who are vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, etc. Sugar is an intimate connection between humanity. I don’t mean to sound too deep, but it’s true,” she exclaims.
The marble steps that led up to the fifth floor and and another grand room with yet another dance floor in the center. It featured more savory samples than a few floors below, but still some sweets, including Amy’s Candy Bar.
It’s not just the name of a candy bar; it’s the name of Amy Hansen’s candy shop that’s been up and running for more than two years now. A graduate of Chicago’s French Pastry School, Hansen made her third appearance at the gala.
“I’m constantly trying to think of new ways to bring new audiences to the shop. For now it’s the bar,” she says.
Covered in a layer of milk chocolate ganache, the 2.4-oz. bar includes a layer of sea salt caramel and four forms of hazelnut. She calls it the “OMG” candy bar and says she’s glad to finally have one to go with the name of her store.
“I’ve been trying out different kinds of candy bars for the past few years. Now two and a half years later I’ve got one,” Hansen says.
Business has been on the upswing at Amy’s Candy Bar since it opened and one of the biggest trends right now is marshmallows, Hansen explains. “We make our own and dip them in chocolate. It seems to be a good seller.”
Kate Milasus, pastry chef at ZED restaurant, is taking on the trend too.
“House-made marshmallows taste a lot better than store-bought,” she says. Coming in cubes, the top layer of the bite-size bits are marshmallow with a raspberry bottom.
As if the moveable feast and dessert dance party weren’t dazzling enough, the Great Gateau Cake show featured a showcase of cakes from decorators around Chicago. Each one brought decorative elements from the 1920’s.
What’s more, the night featured an appearance from Emmy-nominated TV host, Rochelle Vayo; era appropriate dancing from Alliance Dance Company; burlesque interludes from Eva Grandeur and singing from The Bettys.
This marked the 9thyear of celebrating in the name of chocolate and the second year celebrating at the Union League Club. For the Love of Chocolate Scholarship Foundation has provided more than $470,000 in scholarships to more than 110 students of pastry arts since 2006.