Monday, March 23, 2009

Chef John Does the 3rd Annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon

Just before leaving for Arizona, I covered the 3rd Annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon for Here is my report, enjoy!

As I stood in line at the Herbst Pavilion, Fort Mason, San Francisco, waiting to pick-up my pass for the 3rd Annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon, I noticed that everyone seemed to be wearing the same happy expression. I've decided to call it chocolate face.

Unfortunately, chocolate face can't be captured on film - if you stop someone to pose for a picture the expression changes. It isn't something that should be saved anyway, chocolate face is simply there to be observed and enjoyed, like a Tibetan sand painting (or in this case an organic Venezuelan cocoa painting).

Anyway, once inside I worked my way around the room - tasting, drinking, smelling, and proudly displaying my own chocolate face. Here are some highlights, as well as a couple low-lights.

Best in Show goes to Amano Chocolate. This is the chocolate I just used in the dark chocolate coins video. It was simply the best chocolate in the room. I tasted dozens of premium chocolates, all very good, but there was nothing that compared to Amano's deep, rich, complex taste - the holy trinity of chocolate flavor; floral, sweet, and bitter, all in perfect balance.

One of Amano's chocolate makers, Clark Goble, gave me a sample of a yet to be release variety called Montanya (pictured here in temporary packaging) that uses cacao beans so remote they can only be reached by horseback. It was exceptional, but my favorite is still their Jembrana.

The next two standouts were in liquid form. Schoggi was pouring a hot chocolate that not only had great flavor, but more importantly had the perfect viscosity. No matter how good the chocolate used, if a hot cocoa is too thick, or too thin, the flavors will not finish fully when swallowed. This was absolutely spot on.

Then there was something called Choffy, and although the name's a little on the nose, this hot drink made from roasted cacao beans, brewed like coffee, was very enjoyable. Pleasantly bitter, and strangely calming. Choffy would be great in the morning with a freshly baked Muffish (a combination muffin-Danish).

Dolce Bella got my vote for best filled chocolate with their take on the classic Rolo (my description, not theirs). Crisp dark chocolate filled with perfect caramel. Sorry peanut butter, but there's nothing better.

Sweet Beauty featured chocolate as make-up and spa treatments. Chocolate lipstick, body rubs, body scrubs, and other edible applications. I liked the packaging and presentation, but I just couldn't bring myself to dip in. I'm no germaphobe, but I wasn't clear on what was being tasted and what was being rubbed on body parts.

I like chocolate, and I like edamame, but I don't like chocolate-covered edamame. I don't blame Jade though; there is something in our human DNA that drives us to chocolate-cover every possible thing.

Xocai wasn't one of my favorites. Which is completely unfair since I didn't taste it. I just couldn’t get past all the fitness buzzwords. They also lost me with the cedilla (that little thingy under the C). Are we out of all the chocolate company names that don't require diacritical punctuation marks?

Worst in Show was this plate of chocolates from a local catering company (to remain unnamed) who had set up a table to promote their business. That's all fine, but in a room of such amazingly made, stunningly perfect, brilliantly shiny, geometrically correct chocolate (pictured below), you just can't put out a plate this imperfect and not look like complete amateurs by comparison. Context is everything; if you put this same chocolate out at a chicken wing tasting it kills.

Overall, the Chocolate Salon was well organized, and smoothly run. The room was busy, but not crowded, and I didn't overhear even one complaint, which is rare for these types of events. Slow Food Nation may have spoiled me, but I thought the interior of the Herbst Pavilion could have used a little dressing up. Next year I suggest getting some trees in there, and maybe a fountain with some dry ice for that misty rainforest ambiance.

If you attended this event, please leave a comment - I would love to hear your thoughts, and see if we shared similar opinions. Thanks!


jonknee said...

You lead a tough life John. Way to suffer through a chocolate tasting for the rest of us :).

Karina said...

I wish I was there... It could be like being in a payground...