Thursday, November 17, 2011

NYC part 2: The Chocolate Show

 We made a bad call Thursday night.  Which was to take the subway back to the hotel at 12:30 a.m. instead of a taxi.  Mostly because I'd never hailed a cab (pathetic, right?) and we were pinching pennies, wanting to save all our cash for the good stuff.  But it put us to bed at 2 a.m., so you know what that means for Friday morning.  No kids, quiet hotel, AND late night?  We slept in.  But we got over it quickly because it was our vacation and we can do what we wanted.  I have to say, Juli and I had very compatible travel styles.  Either that or she was amazingly accommodating.  Either way, it worked for me.

So we pulled out of the hotel between 10 and 11, grabbed a breakfast sandwich at Pret a Manger, and took the subway down to 18th Street.  On our way down the block to the Metropolitan Pavilion, we stopped for a few fresh reinforcements.  I remember from last time, you need an occasional palate cleanser at the show.

Alrighty, cracking knuckles, stretching shoulders.  Here.  We.  Go.  
 After checking our coats and getting our programs, here's what greeted us around the first corner.  Very clever - the guys from Spices and Tease had little scoops on long sticks and were selling their wares, including flavored salts, sugars, spices and teas (including several chocolate tea blends) by the baggie, tin or 3-tin sets.  In the top left corner, that's a hunk of Hawaiian red salt they were chipping away at. 
 Then we opened our programs, which contained this floor plan - sorry, I scanned it, it's not that legible - descriptions of all the vendors, a schedule of demos and events, and lots of nummy ads.  Also a card redeemable at the Lincoln sponsor booth for a chocolate car.  Which of course we got.
 FYI I am eating a salad for lunch while I write this.  The pictures bring it all back for me, and it was - and is - intense.  Here are a few more sights along the first aisle - "Bittersweet Chocolate Blvd" on the floor plan:

George Duran was there mc'ing some of the demos.  Which, we discovered, were not following the printed schedule very closely. 
 We did catch a little of what these guys from American Heritage Chocolate were doing, which was making chocolate the way they did in the 1700's - rubbing cocoa nibs on this heated lava rock to make chocolate paste which is then combined with ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and more, and added to milk or water for drinking.  I had a sample - totally intense and not like modern chocolate.  Amazing.  You can watch a video that explains it here.

 Here's a shot of the crowds.  And keep in mind, this was the Friday crowd.  True, it was a holiday but Saturday would be much worse.  And some of the booths were already running low or selling out of their goods, so I'm glad we went when we did.  At one booth, I got the very last one of what I was getting.  Sorry I can't say, it's a Christmas gift for someone.  But so glad I got it!
 Backing up...on Thursday night the Chocolate Show has a fashion show and charity silent auction to open the show.  You can go for $150.  Maybe another year.  The fashions are haute couture clothes and accessories made of chocolate by fashion designers, so cool.  The theme this year was Broadway.  They had some of the designs on display in corners of the pavilion.  Can you name the shows?  I was so busy eating, smelling and being jostled I didn't read the cards. 

 And then there was the bookstore!  An enormous square made of long tables like this, with cash registers in the middle and big bouncer guys watching for shoplifting and keeping the stacks straight.  I didn't buy any books (nor did I steal any), but I did get some ideas, and it was thrilling to walk along the piles, and say, "I have that one.  I have that one.  I have that one."  Made me feel like a real insider.
 Chocolate kisses, NY Chocolate Show style.  They're filled with a cherry caramel; we had a sample. 
 That's the thing about the Chocolate Show.  Everyone has samples.  Remembering last time, I brought a package of tiny baggies and two Sharpies - Juli and I took samples and bagged and labeled them.  At least at first.  Juli kept it up longer than I did, knowing Brian and her kids would want a formal tasting session when she returned.  Some tables were too busy to even reach the samples, much less actually inspect the products.  But as the afternoon wore on, you could sometimes stop at a table and talk with the staff, or even the chocolatier herself/himself, and learn about their brand and their specialties. 

 Some booths were bakeries, many getting off the ground hoping to open their own shop.  Some did mail order, some sold through stores like Dean & Deluca.  Some had a slant, like vegan (sorry, the vegan hot chocolate was bland), truffles, or single origin.  Some were industry-related like the spice guys and chocolate fountains.  Palmer's cocoa butter lotion makers even had a booth.  But most vendors were chocolatiers, and many were French.  Since I tasted Jacques Torres chocolate many years ago, it's been my favorite.  And he's French, so in my mind French is good.  But I hadn't really dabbled in a wide range of French chocolate, so I didn't realize just how superior it is. 

 One thing at the show that made me so happy was seeing kids there.  They had a kids' corner where they made chef hats and chocolate crafts, it was cute.  Strollers, not so cute.  But what I'm talking about is older kids.  One of my favorite moments of the whole show was at a tasting table, there were three middle-school-aged boys, and they weren't scarfing the chocolate and acting like idiots.  They were tasting.  And comparing.  And discussing.  And I LOVED it.  Just a few more years and I'm bringing all my girls. 

 So we wandered around most of the show, collecting samples, talking to people, tasting tasting tasting.  Then we went back to buy buy buy - Christmas gifts, things for ourselves and our families.  In most cases we knew just what we wanted and where.  In others, we had to sample some more.  Poor us.

At most booths, if you wanted to taste something they didn't have out, why they'd just open one up and cut it up for you.  People trying to feed me chocolate!  Here, let me get you a piece of this one!  Amazing.  Heaven. 

In the end, Juli and I agreed on the two chocolatiers we liked the best, and not just for their French accents.  They were the ones we bought from, and whose chocolate was just better than the rest - one was Francois Pralus (below - too bad that's the only shot I took of that booth!)  The man himself was there and he totally looked like a French Paul Newman, ooh la la!  At that booth I bought a tube of hazelnut creme (like nutella but thinner and much more hazelnutty) and a box of chocolate pearls, which I can't find on the website - little pea-sized chocolate balls, a mix of dark and milk, with a crunchy wheat center.  They are so small but we couldn't believe the gorgeous chocolate flavor they had!  You can eat them plain or put them on stuff - last night the girls and I had them on ice cream and then just ate a bunch out of the box.  Juli got Brian a stack of single origin squares.
Later, when I read about Pralus, I wasn't surprised to learn he owns his own chocolate plantation and produces his chocolate bean-to-bar.  Seriously, you can taste that difference.  

Our other favorite was Comptoir du Cacao.  At first we were drawn in by their charming packaging, and the ooh's and aah's coming from chocolate tasters at their table.  Then we tasted it ourselves and we basically couldn't get enough.  Their "flaky pralines" won 1st and 2nd prize at the Paris Chocolate Show (when am I going to that one?)  And their white chocolate, not usually my favorite, was out of this world.  I bought some presents here, too.
 I also want to give honorable mention to a few booths I don't have pictures of, but where I shopped and really liked their stuff:
  • Jer's Chocolates had some seriously awesome chocolate-peanut butter bars, and Jer himself was so glowing and smiley I could have spent an hour at his booth.
  • Christophe Roussel had some amazing salted butter caramels - I bought two boxes!  He's also the one that made the chocolate kisses above, and he seemed a little stressed out at the show.  But he was cute and French and some days it's hard to be fabulous.  
  • Aux Anysetiers du Roy makes these totally clever little fondues in a stoneware cup, that you can warm in the microwave or in hot water to melt, making yourself yummo fondue without a sterno, candle, pot or mess.  Just dip what you like.  And they have so many flavors!  It was hard to choose.  They even make egg-shaped ones for Easter, how cute is that?
  • Salt of the Earth Bakery was there, handing out very generous pieces of brownies and cookies, and they were amazing.  We tasted their signature brownie that's in your face on the website and Juli went back and bought two before we left - she said it's the best brownie she's ever eaten.  We also tasted their chocolate-filled cookies and they, too, were amazing.  My whole goal in life now is to go back and taste their mud pie.

On our way out of the show, about 3 1/2 hours later, I stopped at Spices & Tease again.  How could I not get something?  So I got a sampling of flavored sugars - pistachio, strawberry and pomegranate.  I waffled whether to get some onion bacon salt but decided I'd dropped enough cash.  Too bad, now of course I wish I'd gotten it.  Can you imagine that on a baked potato?!

 But I'm not worried.  There's always next year.

Next post: the rest of Friday, including a lot of subway rides, and mac & cheese like you've never had it before!


Lindsay said...

Wow! It looks like you had tons of fun (because, really, who doesn't like chocolate?). I'm a little sad that I had no idea you were in town. It would have been great to see you again! But I suppose you were probably super busy packing it in. Maybe next time. :)

Holly Petty said...

Wow, my mouth is watering. What a great trip. You and juli deserved every bit of that. So glad you could give us a run down!

cherry said...

How are you Kari?? Your girls have gotten so big!! Wow!

K Cummings said...

woah. My mind is blown. Pistachio sugar? The world is a wonderful place.

dave said...

I was thinking exactly the same thing, Katy. Next time I'm sending along some spending cash.

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