If I had to describe a perfect day, yesterday would come pretty close to it. I spent most of my time at various Temple Bar Chocolate Festival events, which I thought were all, without exception, 10 out of 10!
First up was a chocolate making demonstration by French chocolatier Benoit Lorge , who has an artisan chocolate making business in Bonane, near Kenmare, in Co. Kerry. The workshop in the Morgan Hotel included basic chocolate knowledge, a demonstration of how to make chocolates (Benoit uses Valhrona) and afterwards my head was spinning with words like crystallisation points, retraction, ganache, nibs, pellets and pods. There were oohs and aaahs all around when we got to taste some of the delicacies and learned what mistakes to avoid when making chocolates ourselves.
Benoit Lorge at work with fascinated onlookers waiting for their turn to taste his chocolate disks
After that I attended a talk by Willie Harcourt-Cooze in the Button Factory, known to most of us from his Channel 4 hit documentary series ‘Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory’ (and he has a very interesting background too). When I was watching it at the time I remember thinking that family must have been through quite a lot in order for Willie’s dream to come true. In fact, they’re the perfect example of how doggedly holding onto your dream is the only way to go, but that far from this being a fairytale story, making chocolate is also a seriously tough business. Luckily their persistance paid off in the end and Willie brought along a few samples for everyone in the – clearly delighted – audience (see proof below, also managed to get one of the cocoa sacks which emanates a gorgeous cocoa bean smell which I just adooooore). Their amazing 11-year journey from the UK to Venezuela and back to Devon was definitely worth it as far as I can see. We also got to taste a cocoa bean from the first production stage and some of the roasted nibs. Forget dried fruit, these could be the natural snack of the future!
I heard that Willie’s chocolates are being sold at Fallon & Byrne, Avoca and Harvey Nichols just in case you were wondering (like myself)
The third workshop was by Fairtrade chocolate company Divine Chocolate. During the hour-long talk about the history of chocolate and how Divine source their cocoa (mainly from Ghana, 40% of the company is actually owned by cocoa farmers) 800 grams of dark Divine chocolate together with a few hundred mils of cream made it into two huge cooking bowls, which were then handed around (a chocolate worshipping ceremony of sorts) until even the last bit was gone. This meant the workshop was not only the most calorific one of the day, but also the one with the most unusal chocolate facts, e.g.:
– the biggest chocolate easter egg ever made was more than 8 metres high
– chocolate is actually poisonous for dogs and (for some reason) parrots
– it is still (technically) illegal for women to eat chocolate on public transport in the UK (hm must research that one sometime!)
From the left (all gone by now!): Natasha’s Living Foods cocoa nib truffle, The Chocolate Fairy Willie’s Dark truffle, Benoit Lorge’s Baileys Truffle and The Chocolate Fairy’s Chai Espresso Truffle (most original one of the day I’d say)
With a happy, chocolatey smile on my face I made may way down to the New Theatre for my last chocolate-themed event of the day: a reading by local authors, which was of course also all about chocolate! I must say that at that stage, I was glad the chocolate stayed on the pages of the stories and poems we were treated to on the night. They were altogether delightful, though-provoking and some of the funniest anecdotes I’ve heard in a long time.
After singing my heart out at a friend’s Halloween Party later on (which I convinced myself must have burned all the extra calories this chocoholic blogger ingested yesterday), I headed down to the chocolate market this morning to do some more (ehem) field research. Here are some of the lovely people I met and the delightful delicacies I tasted. Trust me, when it comes to running a successful chocolate business, customer service is definitely half the battle and these artisan Irish producers are the best example of it!
Beatrice and Jamie O’Neill of Choc O’Neill – one of their bestsellers are yummy truffles made with fresh mint from their own garden during the summer
Chef and chocolatier Mary Teehan of The Truffle Fairy showing off her delicious wares – including truffles made from Willie’s Venezuelan cocoa
So what did I take away from my chocoholic weekend in Temple Bar (apart from the obvious…)? Chocolate used to be a medicine and a currency, is said to be an aphrodisiac and has certainly got a lot of fans out there. However, chocolate is not just any old sweet or even a market commodity. There are people in poorer countries who work very very hard to provide us with the basic ingredients for a luxury we are able to indulge in whenever we feel like it.
What impressed me most was that all the people who took part in the festival were totally and utterly passionate about chocolate. In this world, so many of the things we eat, touch and use everyday come from impersonal production lines in huge factories. After a weekend like this, I feel really priviledged to be able to have another choice. And, as they say, the proof is most certainly in the (dark chocolate ganache) pudding.