Hors D’Oeuvre for the Road – Snapshot of the LA Chocolate Salon

One of Red, White & Chocolate’s first stops was the Los Angeles Chocolate Salon on September 26th in Pasadena, California. I hoped it would be a sweet morsel to set my palette and get me ready for the road.  My expectations were high. It’s got to be a glitzy, over-the-top consumer event, right? This is LA after all.  Not so much.

The Pasadena Conference Center is big but tired.  And the booth/table setups were a bit haphazard. I spotted bags of caramel corn, bottles of olive oil and potato salad by New Orleans Bill.  Nice stuff but at a chocolate salon?  My heart sank.

But not to worry — there were luminaries that made it worth the stop:

  • Art Pollard with his award winning Amano Artisan Chocolate and some great new
    Art Pollard
    Art Pollard

    packaging. I’ve since learned that he was part of the first wave of bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the US.  Jessica Ferraro of Bar Cacao led a tasting at this event and we got to experience Amano’s 70% raspberry inclusion bar.  Superb!  Jessica informed us that Art differs from the 2-ingredient chocolate makers.  He adds cocoa butter and vanilla to the cocoa in addition to sugar.  The tasting crowd loved it!

  • My new friends from ChocXO Bean to Bar Chocolate were there.  I had toured their facility a couple of days prior (with lovely Sasha as the tour guide) and am scheduled to interview founder Richard Foley later in Vancouver. I’ll be telling you much more about Chocxo soon.
  • Pacari Premium Organic Chocolate presented an array of their tree-to-bar items, including a raw in 70%, 85% & 100%.  Their relationship with the farmers in Ecuador is inspiring.   
  • Fera’wyn’s Artisan Chocolates made quite a splash winning or showing in so many
    Ecole Chocolat grad David Whittingham of Fera'wyn's Artisan Chocolates.
    Ecole Chocolat grad David Whittingham of Fera’wyn’s Artisan Chocolates.

    categories I won’t try to list them all here. At first, I was drawn in by the beauty of the bonbons and bars. Then I tasted and, just as their namesake, I rejoiced!  David Whittingham is a graduate of Ecole Chocolat (as am I!).  He and his wife and partner Joana work with flavors that reflect what is regionally available at farmer’s markets – such as raspberry-lime Chambord and the medal-winning Limoncello. They use Valrhona, a high quality French chocolate.

  • There was a long, long line for the Sterling Truffle Bar and it never shortened, so I didn’t get to taste.  But the folks in line raved about it and seemed to be drawn by the the colors and designs inside the large bar. The bar is made by Copper Cauldron Candy Co.

Amano Chocolate won Best Organic or Fair Trade Products at the Salon, along with Taza Chocolate and Chocxo Bean to Bar.  Amano and Chocxo shared 2nd place in Best Dark Chocolate.  Fera’wyn’s won oh so many categories. See the full list of categories and winners at LA Chocolate Salon (click on the blue circle on the right, 3/4 down on the page).

In addition to artisan chocolate makers and chocolatiers (and olive oil, caramel corn, etc.), I loved watching Ruth Kennison of The Gourmandise School demonstrate how you can make chocolate from the bean to the bar right in your own home. She let me get into the act when there was no danger of my skewing the results.

Jessica Ferraro of Bar Cacao presented a brief history of craft chocolate and led a tasting of some of the notable chocolate makers (she only works with the notable, by the way). We learned about the various waves of chocolate makers and what each wave brought to the table. Later in our journey, Red, White & Chocolate will dig deep into this history and interview many of those pioneers.

Jessica then led us on a tour of tastes which included:

  • 70% Madagascar from Amano – smooth and mild
  • 72% Madagascar from Dick Taylor – bold and bright (what fun experiencing two distinct tastes from the same region)
  • 75% Ritual bar from Maya Mountain Cacao in Belize – bold, bright, balanced and smooth texture.
  • 72% Dick Taylor Dominican with just cacao and sugar and an inclusion of fleur de sel. We picked up tannins and Jessica said the salt was probably a good decision on the makers’ part and balanced out the flavors.
  • My favorite – Kokoa Kamili of Tanzania from Letterpress. The group thought it was very smooth and balanced. Maybe I’m influenced because I just met David Menkes of Letterpress (more about Letterpress in an upcoming post) and got to smell the roasted Kokoa Kamili bean, taste the nib and then be one of the first to taste the finished bar.  But my taste buds responded to this one.

 

Jessica is one of those influencers of the chocolate world and we’re going to hear more from her as my travels continue.

Unfortunately, I came in at the end of Dr. Lee Scott Theisen’s history of chocolate presentation. Not to worry – I’m going to track him down for an interview sometime during my road trip.

The students from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles were there enforce and I loved their enthusiasm and creativity.

 

“I was inspired by my history, culture and people,” says Garcia.  “First I started with tempered chocolate, using white, milk and dark to create the skull with a mold. That took two days.  The flowers took a week since each was done by hand using molding chocolate. I went to art school before culinary school.  Chocolate is a blend of artistry, creativity and science of chocolate.”

Check out the official LA Chocolate Salon video.

Now, on to Seattle for the Chocolate Makers Unconference and the NW Chocolate Festival. Thanks for riding along!