Sunday, August 15, 2010
Chocolate conference in Addison draws chocolate makers, chocolate lovers
Dallas is starting to get its own chocolate scene.
Hosted at the Addison Conference Center, the event drew nearly 400 people who attended seminars on baking, decorating, and tasting, and sampled chocolates from 10 vendors, most based in Dallas.
The rock-star attendee was Art Pollard, founder of Utah-based Amano Artisan Chocolate whose chocolate bars are revered by aficionados as the best there is.
But the greater takeaway for locals was the way the event underscored the mutually supportive chocolate scene that's coalescing in and around Dallas. The 10-person assemblage included a spectrum of local chocolate makers, each of whom has not only found a unique niche but also celebrates their peers.
"We all do very different things, and we all help each other out," said Katherine Clapner, owner of Bishop Arts-based Dude, Sweet Chocolate. "I tend to do very unusual chocolates, so if someone comes in looking for something else, I can send them to CocoAndre."
The event opened at 10 a.m. with a roundtable discussion between all participants: Clapner from Dude, Sweet; Pollard from Amano; Dorian Isenberg from J Dorian in North Dallas; Troy Easton from Sublime Chocolate in Allen; ML Dubay from Toffee Treats in Plano; Kevin Wenzel from Wiseman House Chocolates in Hico; Andrea Pedraza from CocoAndre; pastry chef David Collier from Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek; Arturo Romanillos from Le Cordon Bleu; Michele Brown from Collin College. Cristiana Ginatta from Paciugo Gelato was also a participant in the tasting event, but did not join the panel.
There's a world of difference, they said, between a Hershey's kiss and real chocolate. "The only thing they have in common is that they're both brown," quipped Romanillos. Pollard talked about the surprising complexity of chocolate. "The 'classic chocolate flavor' is such a small fraction of the real flavors of chocolate," he said. "Some of the chocolate we make tastes like lavender and clove, and it's nothing we've added, it's in the flavor of the beans themselves."
At the suggestion of event organizer Sander Wolf, each panelist talked about their "favorite" chocolate. Sublime's Troy Easton cited his bacon truffle, made with tiny bits of bacon seeped in maple syrup. David Collier said that, although he doesn't make chocolate in a storefront, his fleur de sel caramels garnered the greatest feedback. Le Cordon Bleu's Romanillos said his favorite was a chai tea ganache. J Dorian couldn't pick just one, and rattled off a laundry list of his products. CocoAndre's Pedraza said she liked her raspberry lavender.
Pollard said, "It's not so much 'what's my favorite' as it is, 'what's my favorite this minute'," before expressing his fondness for a Madagascar dark chocolate bar he makes from hard-to-get beans. Toffee Treats' Dubay said she liked the dark-chocolate-pecan toffee she'd brought for sampling. Michele Brown of Collin College said she loved white-chocolate ganache with chambord and raspberries. Clapner described her Albatross, a blue-cheese fudge she makes with condensed milk -- "I didn't like the granular texture I was getting with a stovetop version," she said. Wiseman's Wenzel said his favorite was the Love Potion, with chipotle pepper and cinnamon.
At the tasting room next door, you got a sample of each for $15, including a scoop of one of Paciugo's eight chocolate flavors: fondente, chocolate with cocoa nibs, chocolate black cherry swirl, chocolate chipotle butter pecan, Bacio, chocolate coconut curry, chocolate Mediterranean sea salt caramel, and chocolate orange saffron.
Seminars ran from a how-to tasting lesson to a baking session led by Brown, Texas Chefs Association's 2010 Pastry Chef of the Year. Chef Tina Buice explained chocolatiers' terms; blogger Clay Gordon conducted a Q-and-A; and Collier demonstrated decorating.
In Chocolate Making 101, Pollard covered chocolate from bean to bar: from sifting through 130-pound bags of chocolate beans to weed out stones, to the ideal micron size to grind chocolate (between 10 and 12 microns).
"For me, it's not a process you can mechanize," he said, thereby revealing a bit about why his chocolate is so special.
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