For me, walking through Taste TV’s International Chocolate Salon in San Francisco was culinary carnage and social bliss. First the carnage: As I diligently sampled chocolate after chocolate, I flashed back to a family-owned chocolate shop I called “my after school job” in high school. The day I started, I asked if I could taste. The owner said, tongue in cheek, it was mandatory. “You’ll get sick of it,” he added.
While others filled cups and napkins with samples, my chocolate chunks and passion fruit-filled bon bons disappeared like a snowman in global warming.
However despite my theobroma high, the bliss came from great conversations with old candy-making friends and interesting new food entrepreneurs I met at the show.
10 Things I Gleaned While Not Eating
- The world wants more chocolate! Every year new companies pop up, and the crowd loves them. The thing is, companies go too. It’s exciting to feel the passion, and exhaustion, of a new candy company as I sample a peanut butter cup from Snake and Butterfly (who incidentally makes maple bacon caramels).
- When accounting for costs, every minute counts. “It’s easy to calculate the time involved with making my chocolate but where I might lose sense of time – and money – is the packaging. Every ribbon tie, every piece of tape takes a few seconds and thus costs me. When making a large number of packages like for an event, my costs can skyrocket.” So when you rip open your box of chocolates, enjoy the full experience like you will the gooey centers.
- Kitchen collaboration rules. I’d heard of at least 3 chocolatiers on the hunt for a large kitchen. It turns out one is working on starting a kitchen and has the line on others who may share. Collaboration is so much better than competition.
- If at first a group dies out, start again. The desire to commune among local chocolatiers is strong and wonderful. Peer groups rock – for sharing resources, general support in victory and commiseration, and trading advice. For a couple of years a group of women – “The Sweet Mafia” – would meet periodically. A new chocolatier is reinvigorating the tradition, which led to various business collaborations in cooperatively buying bulk chocolate and production.
- Fame can’t hurt. No one knew why William Dean‘s line was so long, about a 15 minute wait. Tasting the chocolates answered three questions: They’re good. He’s famous. Their tasting was a veritable flight with a highly personal touch. OK four: They were selling a lot. Was it his feature on the Home Shopping Network? Do tell.
- Inspiration comes from the darndest places. The delightful I-li of Vice Chocolates debuted a chocolate inspired by “The Ring,” decorated with a ring and named after her favorite character.
- Twists are fun especially where danger is involved. It’s fun when you can tell a story like Amano Chocolates with their bon bon made with “the most expensive honey in the world” from Yemen. I pictured kids in the middle of nowhere sticking their arms in buzzing hives to enable me to taste that chocolate in San Francisco coupled with the thought that the honey is probably unavailable at this time.
- Wine and chocolate go together almost as well as vodka and chocolate. Two different vendors had twists on the ol’ Godiva chocolate liqueur. I had to go with the “local” one – made in Petaluma, despite the Motley umlaut in VÄD.
- It’s hard to tell big companies from small. There is much contention in the world as to “artisan” being bandied about. I had no clue (except for a post-chocolate-coma-flashback) that Pure Dark was a Mars company. Yes that Mars. It is now tempting to say “not that there’s anything wrong with it” ala Seinfeld, because I’m an admitted fan of another Mars company, Ethel M. A few months ago the editor of Specialty Food Magazine posed the question of large companies using “artisan.” It’s a toughie.
- Toffee and caramel are all the rage. Which is good, with sugar and butter being my two basic food groups. Cristina of Kika’s Treats is making caramels using palm sugar. Toffee Talk, a San Francisco company, uses red walnuts which lend an extra soft crunch to their English style toffee. Nicole Lee, ex-high techie of San Jose, sampled mini chocolate hearts filled with drippy passion fruit caramel as did Anni from Gateau et Ganache in Palo Alto.