Chocolate Road Stops: London & Amsterdam
All across Europe people are flocking to chocolate shows to discover what “fine chocolate” really means.
The London Chocolate Show 2014
Last year we reported from the Paris Salon du Chocolat, an amazing exposition in the world of confection and chocolate. This October we travelled to London to cover The Chocolate Show, a young spin-off of its esteemed Paris parent.
Sylvie Douce and François Jeantet, founders and organizers of the Paris Salon, along with London show director Kate Johns, put a lot of time and energy into making the London event – now in its second year – every bit as successful. By all indications, it has a very bright future.
The event was held at Olympia West, the well-known and amply sized London exposition center. It wrapped up an even larger celebration known throughout the United Kingdom as Chocolate Week. Now in its tenth year, Chocolate Week draws on hotels, restaurants, chocolatiers, patissiers, chefs — or anyone — to celebrate chocolate with product rollouts, meals, demonstrations, recipes, drinks, you name it.
If the London general public had seen and tasted too much chocolate by week’s end, it was not apparent; attendance at The Chocolate Show over three days and four evenings was impressive. “Not only were the number of visitors good, but the exhibitors were impressed with the quality of the visitors,” said Kate Johns. “We felt that this year’s London event was a huge success.”
Containing many of the same elements as its famed Paris counterpart, there was a stylish opening night, complete with a whimsical fashion show to showcase the collaborative efforts of chocolatiers and fashion designers. There was even a little Downton Abbey. Caroline McCall, costume designer for the show — as popular in the UK as the United States — required 60 kilograms of Lindt Excellence Diamonds to create a 1920’s gown she called “Deco Diamond.”
Meanwhile, the main floor teemed with chocolatiers from around the world. England was, of course, well represented by companies of all sizes, including Lauden, Duffy’s, Rococo, Demarquette, Fifth Dimension, Hotel Chocolat, House of Dorchester and others. From Europe and beyond there were Nihant and Deremiens from Belgium, Marou from Vietnam, Pacari from Ecuador, Akeeson’s from Madagascar and Venchi from Italy, to name a few.
While many of the confections were traditional, some were not. London chocolatier Paul Young anticipates a growing trend in sourcing local seasonal fruits and vegetables. His chocolate seasoned with slow roasted garlic is just one example of experimentation in that arena. Aneesh Popat explained his water-processed ganache, telling us that two of his truffles have fewer calories than an apple while Sweet Virtues offered chocolate truffles that are “nutrient-rich and guilt-free.”
Like everyone else, we tasted our way around the hall sampling the diverse and creative array of flavors, styles, terroirs, methods and presentations. One particularly creative display included fully functional hammers, wrenches, nuts, bolts and screws — all made of chocolate.
“Men buy chocolate and roses for women,” Giovanna Schettini of ChocoPassion UK explained. “We’re trying to make chocolate for men too!”
Throughout the show, there were packed audiences at all of the demonstrations — chefs, pastry chefs and chocolatiers alike showing how to make every kind of confection imaginable. Books about chocolate were being signed by their authors in the bookstore, while tastings, slide presentations and discussions provided interesting activity at every turn. The children who flocked to the York Cocoa House to paint with chocolate and make lollipops left with big smiles on their faces.
One tasting was particularly interesting. The audience joined a panel of experts to blind taste experimental flavors in chocolates that had also been made by them. The feedback – which ran the gamut from complimentary to puzzled – was responded to later by the person who had made the chocolate. It was fascinating to learn the behind-the-scene problems, compromises and dilemmas faced by the chocolate maker in making each one.
Perhaps the most important event of the Show was the 2014 International Chocolate Awards. The goal of the independent organization is to recognize excellence in fine chocolate making. But the higher aim is to support farmers who grow the quality cacao such confections require. Founded in 2012, the Awards have grown to include chocolatiers and confectioners around the globe. On stage to present this year’s final awards were Maricel Presilla, Martin Christy and Monica Meschini, founding members of the organization. There were numerous recognitions given in a diversity of categories. Many recipients were in the audience and happily came on stage to accept the highly coveted award.
Origin Chocolate: Amsterdam 2014
The following week, another chocolate event – Origin Chocolate – was held in Amsterdam. The brainchild of Caroline Lubbers and Eric Sauer, it more narrowly focused on sustainability and fine chocolate.
“Eric and I work together, next to our day jobs, with very little sponsorship,” Lubbers explained. “This creates an authentic and passionate atmosphere, without the commercialism of other chocolate events. We want it to be an international knowledge exchange.”
Taking place in the city with the largest cocoa processing volume in the world, Origin Chocolate was held in a lovely old historic building on the grounds of the Royal Tropical Institute. Set within an atmosphere of grand marble staircases and wrought iron, the gathering packed about as much fine chocolate and discussion into one day as any chocolate lover could possibly digest.
Guests were invited to attend an opening night, chocolate-themed dinner held in an old-world, wood-paneled room where white tablecloths and fine wine beautifully completed the scene. The evening’s courses – with, of course, chocolate dessert – were prepared by Chef Chris Naylor of Vermeer, an esteemed local restaurant. Afterward guests were invited to another room where they were given boxes containing a tasting of chocolates made by Dominique Persoone, a chocolatier with posh stores in Antwerp and Brugge. Persoone was there to coach the tasting, regaling guests with great chocolate-themed stories, including a detailed description of the Chocolate Shooter he invented for Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones.
The following day was an array of ongoing presentations and tastings. At every turn, attendees had the chance to sample origin chocolates made by chocolatiers from all over the globe.
Concurrently, stimulating presentations were made on a variety of topics. The difficulties and pleasures of sourcing cacao from remote locations – as diverse as Papua, Indonesia (Marc Argeloo, Original Beans), Madagascar (Brett Beach, Madécasse) and Vietnam (Vincent Mourou and Samuel Maruta, Marou) – were discussed.
Carlos Ignacio Velasco (Cacao Hunters) from Colombia and Niklaus Blumer (Idilio) from Switzerland showed slides of farms and regions where they source and Diego Bedaró (Amma) and Bertil Akesson (Akesson’s) discussed cacao terroirs from Brazil and Madagascar.
Maricel Presilla of Gran Cacao Co. gave an update on the premium chocolate market, while Anna Laven and Susanne van der Kooij from the Royal Tropical Institute discussed cacao production chains. A spirited conversation on the health benefits of chocolate rounded out the day.
At the same time, tastings were being held, affording one the chance to sample chocolate from such places as Lithuania, Hungary, Sao Tome and Principe, and Denmark. Chocolate pairings to suit and challenge tastes included beer, cheese, wine, coffee and rum.
Outside the presentation rooms, the great hall was a hub of noisy activity and conversation. Vendors had tables set up with even more chocolate where stories were being shared and chocolate sampled in great quantity. In a quiet corner artist Laura Reiman painted portraits on canvas using her favorite medium, melted chocolate. Nearby, sponsored by the Choco-Story Museums located in Paris and Brugge, was Chef Mercedes Catalina Mendoza Albarracin from Lima, Peru serving a surprisingly tasty sauce she created using the fresh, white flesh of fresh cocoa pods.
At day’s end, and even after so much chocolate, many agreed to join in a game of Chocolate Jeopardy – hosted by Clay Gordon (thechocolatelife.com), with creative chocolate confections made by Amsterdam chocolatier, Kees Raat.
The basic premise was for everyone to taste a specific sample, then call out the flavor each tasted most dominantly. Perhaps because participants had eaten so much chocolate by then – or because no one actually expects to find piri piri in their ganache – the answers were so diverse that even the emcee and chocolatier seemed amazed.
Amid so much fun, a focus on origin, sustainability and fine chocolate prevailed strongly all day. Samuel Maruta of Marou Chocolate said he considers the event “unique in the world of craft chocolate.” Clay Gordon went even further. Origin Chocolate is “a rarity,” he said “unapologetically focused on fine flavor cocoa and chocolate.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
The London Chocolate Show
The International Chocolate Awards
UPCOMING CHOCOA: Good Cocoa, Better Chocolate
March 5 – 9, 2015
Scheduled to take place in Amsterdam in March 2015, CHOCOA is composed of a trade fair, an industry conference, a consumer festival and a networking chocolate dinner. The five-day event, initiated by The Chocolate Festival Foundation, will take place in the famed Beurs van Berlage, the grand old building in the heart of Amsterdam that served as the site of the world’s first stock exchange.