Friday, November 10, 2006

CocoaBella - The Night of the Chocolate Hangover

It finally happened. I ate too much chocolate.

I had always figured that my first chocolate overdose would happen with a giant Toblerone or a bag of Hershey’s Kisses. This was the happiest surprise of all, it was with some of the best chocolates on the planet.

CocoaBella - The Night of the Chocolate Hangover

On November 1st I attended CocoaBella‘s unveiling of the “World’s Greatest Box of Chocolates.” This box is the culmination of Michael Freeman’s tastings of hundreds (probably thousands) of chocolates from some of the best chocolatiers. Instead of just shoving a box in the mail with some literature, Freeman and his PR team held a reception to introduce not only the chocolates but also the aesthetic and even three of the chocolatiers.

CocoaBellaCocoaBella Chocolates bills itself as a purveyor of the best small batch artisan chocolates from all over the world. They carry Amadei, Christopher Elbow, Michel Cluizel and Charles Chocolates, among others. What’s different about them instead of going into all of those shops to find your favorites is that you can create your own box with chocolates from any or all of the chocolatiers. One stop shopping, if you will.

The evening began with the normal press recieving line where we were given our name badges as we entered the little shop in San Francisco. I was offered wine and given an overview of the evening. We would start with browsing and we were free to try ANYTHING in the shop. The chocolates for the box unveiling were located along one wall, but anything behind the counter was also available. There would be a presentation by Michael Freeman and three of the chocolatiers were actually present, Christopher Elbow of Kansas, Chuck Siegel (Charles Chocolates) of Emeryville and Jacques Dahan of Michel Cluizel Chocolates (Paris).

It was clear since the shop still didn’t have that many people in it and there were many name badges laid out on the table that there would be some mingling until everyone arrived. I browsed. I took photos. I didn’t touch anything. It smelled good and looked fantastic. There were other bloggers there, so I began to relax. It was no mistake that I was there.

imageAt the back counter there were two men working to create and plate chocolates. I recognized both of them. On the left was Chuck Siegel and on the right was Christopher Elbow. Since other folks were talking to them, I sidled up and listened in. They were creating three fresh creations for us to try, nothing that either of them were ever going to include in their chocolate lines, just one-offs. I chatted with both of them and some other writers and then started trying some of the chocolates. I started with the nutty items, I had to pace myself. I got four chocolates under my belt when the presentation began.

Michael Freeman explained the chocolate shop, where he carries at least 300 different items. It sounds like exhausting work traveling Europe and the States to find some of the little chocolatiers and he insists that you can set down any of the chocolates he carries in front of him and he can identify it on sight.

Jacques Dahan did a little tasting of three of the Michel Cluizel single origin chocolates. I felt a little smug, as I’d already tried these as a tasting kit a few months back, but was comforted to see that my tasting notes of the time still held up. Dahan reiterated some of the literature in the tasting kit, that Cluizel fosters relationships with the plantations, just as I imagine great sommeliers do with wineries. There’s a great deal of pride involved in this upscale chocolate. What I found particularly refreshing though, was the openness and the nods that each of the chocolatiers were able to give to each other.

There were Siegel and Elbow, two men who might be regarded as rivals, happily collaborating on a set of chocolates for the evening.

imageOh, and what were those chocolates? The little one is a simple dark ganache with a dollop of fresh mango and ginger chutney. Fresh and earthy, the bitterness and complexity of the chocolate was set off nicely by the rooty balsam flavors of the chutney. Then there’s the fresh fig, split open filled with a white chocolate ganache then dipped in dark chocolate. Wonderfully fresh, and the mild sweetness of the fig itself was set off well by the truffle cream, which happily was not sickly sweet. The dark chocolate wasn’t as powerful as I’d hoped, but maybe I didn’t pick one out that had been dipped enough.

The last one was a little mousy looking and they were pretty quiet about what it was. Just a peanut praline with a surprise. The next day Siegel explained a bit more about how praline is made, basically they take raw nuts and throw them in a copper kettle with sugar and heat it all together. As the nuts roast the sugar caramelizes. Then it’s ground together to make a paste that has little flecks of the sugar in it. This little square had an extra bonus though, at first I thought it was just something like the center of a Butterfinger bar, but then it popped. Then there was a lot of popping in there. Unflavored Pop Rocks. It was an interesting combination (and was a great help for my novel).

After the presentations it was back to the chocolate floor. I took photos, of course, and now that I had a better understanding of what Freeman was up to, I started really examining the offerings behind the counter. I also started tasting. I started tasting things that weren’t in that box. I knew that I was going to try more of Charles Chocolates the next day (yes, there’s still more to tell from my San Francisco trip!) so I looked at the other chocolatiers.

CocoaBellaAt first Elbow’s were missing the mark for me, they were very sweet (but they’re so darned pretty). Some that I tried that were fantabulous, most notably was the Orange Honey Blossom, which was a half-sphere button with a drippy honey cream center with a true honey taste and texture. I regret not trying one of the Bananas Foster. The Cluizel was fantastic and so incredibly specific. It finally dawned on me the unique position Cluizel is in, because they make their chocolate, from bean all the way to the final truffle creation. There are so few actual chocolate factories on the planet, and the fact that this one creates more than just the bars and couverture for the rest of the industry sets them apart. (And I need to pay more attention to them now.)

Fact is, I was seriously overloaded with chocolate. I wouldn’t call it a chocolate high, more like a chocolate sedation. I wanted it all, but part of my brain wasn’t working well enough to figure out where to put it. I couldn’t possibly fit any more in my tummy. I had a half a glass of wine during the presentations and after that a bottle of sparkling water. A glance over by the door though, and I saw that the name badges were replaced with gift bags ... with a box of chocolate to take home. I sighed in relief. As much as I didn’t want to leave, because the Golden Ticket would be voided the moment I stepped outside the door, I had to go. The wine had worn off at least a half an hour earlier and it was time to go back to the motel.

I lost count with how much I ate. It was probably a third of a pound of chocolate in two hours. Good thing I didn’t have any lunch or dinner.

Here’s the full review of what’s in the box (but here’s a visual preview).

I'd consider this night a 10 out of 10.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:05 am Tracker Pixel for Entry    

  1. omg what a dream come true!!!

    Comment by ruffy on 11/10/06 at 7:36 am #
  2. Lol, I keep imagining a “mere mortal” opening the chocolate box of the Gods and being unable to handle the sheer divinity of it’s contents.

    It all sounds rather like a Greek myth.

    Comment by GTO on 11/10/06 at 9:12 am #
  3. Now that’s a good time right there.

    Comment by Scott on 11/10/06 at 9:36 am #
  4. I did the same too-much-chocolate thing today—NYC Chocolate Show = bliss and horrible sickness, all rolled into one.

    Comment by Martha on 11/10/06 at 10:28 am #
  5. very nice!

    Comment by Kat on 11/10/06 at 12:10 pm #
  6. One of the hardest things for me with really good chocolate is that chocolate is a migraine trigger and the general rule of thumb is that the darker you go, the more of a trigger it is. 

    But you know, I think I’d take that risk for an evening like that.  smile  It sounds utterly fantastic.

    Comment by Ruth on 11/10/06 at 12:13 pm #
  7. I indulged in some Godiva chocolate while in vacation in NJ two weeks ago and talk about making oneself sick! At least you had skipped lunch we had lunch and chocolate - stuffed turkeys we were.

    Comment by janey on 11/10/06 at 6:43 pm #
  8. Wow, they look like they carry a fantastic assortment of great chocolates and it sounds like a great event.  Looking forward to the review!

    Comment by william on 11/11/06 at 7:44 am #
  9. Omg you’re so lucky to be there! Able to eat nice artisan chocolates and all. I myself had a chocolate overload just this week!

    Comment by Yummie dummieS on 11/11/06 at 1:46 pm #
  10. You’ve taught me so much, I thought I should give you a couple lessons

    Lesson One?Math
    Mango+ginger=yum.  Yum+chocolate=delicious.  Delicious+chutney=fiery heaven.  Fiery heaven+truffle=creation of god

    Lesson Two?Stimuli and Response
    Stimuli: It finally happened. I ate too much chocolate.
    Response: Falling over, scrambling to feet, scrolling past explanations, desperate to see what creation of god stimulated this miracle

    Lesson Three?Coincidence
    I have a candy hangover right now.  A See’s Scotchmallow and Scotch Kiss hangover, to be precise

    Lesson Four?Fancy words
    Precision is conducive to optimal learning

    I’ll save Lesson Five until the full review.

    Comment by Sophia on 11/11/06 at 7:12 pm #
  11. Elbow’s banana foster is insanely good! I am a faithful Cocoa Bella customer (despite my real financial inability to be that) and I always have to have a few of those in my order.

    Comment by Tamara on 1/06/07 at 10:59 pm #
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