Mom (on the phone): Where are you now?
Me: Oh, I'm at a chocolate symposium.
My mum's interest is overbearing. Right. I called her during a break at the Chocolate Manufacturers Association Chocolate Symposium this morning to ask her a question and was amused by her disinterested response. Anyhoo, I'm not here to talk about my mum's indifference to my foodie ways—I'm here to talk about the future of CHOCS.
I was surprised when I was invited to attend the CMA's first chocolate symposium at the Institute of Culinary Education. It was the first time I was ever invited to a show of the trade-type. Or. Anything. I have to admit that I was a bit excited that my bloggie ways labeled me as the MEDIA (see, I got to wear a name tag, HOOHA, SEE?!). Whenever people asked me who I was with, I'd respond with something like, "Um...freeeeelance?" Sometimes I'd say that I have a blog, which would go into a longer response. "Um...it's not specific to anything. I just talk about what I eat. Every freakin' day." Clay Gordon of chocophile.com was understandably in attendance, but we were the only bloggers there. Surely if William of chocolate obsession were based in NYC he would've been there too. Instead of listing a bunch of reasons why I wasn't qualified to be there, I'll just say that it was really cool and I'll try to recap the symposium to the best of my extremely unprofessional abilities.
[Hopefully you've figured this out already, but clicking on the photos will take you to larger versions on my flickr page. I have a gajillion photos so I'm going to post mainly small versions as to not make your browser implode. Do not squint to make out the photo, just click on it!]
After receving two folders stuffed with press releases, educational information about chocolate and biographies of various important chocolate related people, we browsed tables representing some of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world (including Nestle, Mars, and Hershey) and took their free chocolate bars. Or maybe that was just me.
Hey, the Callebaut representative said I could take whatever full-sized chocolate bars I wanted. When someone tells you to take chocolate, you damn well better take it..
Gary Guittard, president of Guittard Chocolate was pleasant to speak to. He'd prove to be a bit of a personality during the panel, in the awesome "Oh, these people really love chocolate" sense. It's a good sense.
Tricia Bowles, "Manager, Division & Brand Affairs" for Nestle said that if I wanted a case of a Nestle product, all I gotta do is ask. That's allll I gotta do. I'm be the hit of the office! Or the most popular house on my block during Halloween. (However, my block only has about 10 houses on it, or maybe even less since the last time I was home one of the neighboring houses was destroyed—along with some surrounding trees—to make room for an even larger house...anyhoo, back to chocs.) I don't plan on abusing this privilege, but I'm keeping her business card just in case. As for the candy on display, they were primarily modified established products, such as Dark Chocolate Raisinets, Dark Chocolate Turtles, Dark Chocolate 100 Grand...do you sense a theme? I'll go into chocolate trends later. (I took notes, but I doubt I'll refer to them because...pssh, notes are for professionals.)
Random chocolate photos for you:
The chocolate flavored Bubble Yum wasn't actually available yet (the boxes were empty), but I recall seeing chocolate flavored gum in Japanese stores. So...there is chocolate gum on the market. For Japanese palates. IS AMERICAN READY? ISSSS IT?
We shuffled down from the 12th to the 6th floor for the first panel, "Chocolatiers Talk What's Next" (I think that's missing a word of grammatical importance, but no matter). Each chair had a chocolate swag bag full of edibles (including a sample box of Guittard chocolates and duplicates of a bunch of things I had already shoved into my bag) and non-edibles (such as Origins "cocoa therapy" body cleanser and a copy of Truffles, Candies, and Confections by Carole Bloome, who spoke to us during lunch). My first thought was something like, "Holy shizz." I can't think of a food-filled bag that could be much better than one stuffed with chocolate. Chocolate is easy to share and it won't go bad if you can't eat it all in one day. A bag full of ice cream would...well, melt, and a bag full of scones would be impossible to eat at peak freshness. Chocolate is the key...the key to...I don't know, but it's the key to something good.
I was sitting next to Lisbeth Echeandia, publisher of Confectioner, a trade magazine about candy. She gave me a copy of the latest issue—did you know there's a line of Canadian chocolate called Choco-Omeg that provides "your daily fix of chocolate plus healthy omegae-3 fatty acids in one yummy product"? My god, I've been looking for that my whole life! ...Okay, not really, but it's an interesting idea. I guess. Oh, those Canadians!
Related to Canadianism, Tricia informed us that Nestle's Coffee Crisp is slated to arrive in US convenience stores on July 17th. No need for the Coffee Crisp Petition anymore. Suckers!...wait, I mean winners! Also, since Kristen asked me about the availability of Dark Chocolate 100 Grand, I can vaguely tell you that it's supposed to come out between now and June 30th. Woo. I have to admit that 100 Grand is one of the few chocolate bars I remember really liking from my Halloween stash as a kid.
The panel was moderated by Joan Steuer, founder of Chocolate Marketing, a chocolate consulting firm. Yup, this woman is really into chocolate. The speakers from left to right, back row to front were Tom Hernquist (Senior Vice President, Global Chief Growth Officer, Hershey), Brice Russel (Senior VP of Technology, Masterfoods/Mars), Tricia Bowles (Manager, Division & Brand Affairs, Nestle), John Urbanski (VP Technical Sales and Services, Wilbur Chocolate Co), Edmond Opler (President, World's Finest Chocolate), Steve Laning (Director of Technical Services, North America, ADM Cocoa), Rose Potts (Sensory Programs Manager, Blommer Chocolate Company), Joe Lucas (VP Chocolate and Cocoa Sales North America, Barry Callebaut USA), and Gary Guittard (Chairman, Guittard Chocolate).
If you're wondering, that list took me forever to write. It might not even be correct; my memory kinda sucks. Dammit. I HOPE IT HELPS.
The main point of discussion was trends in the chocolate world, the major trends being dark chocolate, the health benefits of chocolate, and providing a unique chocolate-eating experience. Overall, chocolate in America is taking a major turn in complexity and choice (or "premium-ness", a term I just made up) similar to that of coffee more than a decade ago (which isn't something I can really comment on since I'm only 20 and am not familiar with a pre-Starbucks world, haha...dammit). As the country's population is getting older, consumers' palates are becoming more sophisticated; they demand something more complex than a Snickers bar. Origins and percentages were discussed; do they matter? Yup. Kinda. Consumers may not necessarily understand them, but origins are a vehicle for culinary travel and give a sense of exoticism. Percentages can be tricky since even though you'd think that 70% means 70% cocoa content, Gary informed us that it actually refers to the combined cocoa solids and cocoa butter content, meaning that there may not actually be that amount of coma-inducing cocoa in your chocolate. At least I think that's what he said.
...Okay, I give in; I need to look at my notes. I also don't want to write this entry for five hours. Yeah, I know I don't have to write an entry all in one sitting, but the loveliness of blogging is that I don't have to wait three or more months to get an article published—I can rush it and pump out something medicore! THAT'S MAH POWER, and I shall abuse it, but also try to keeop your attention.
Are you still reading? CATFOOD TRASH COMPACTOR BRINGS PENGUIN BABIES TO THE CIRCUS. Just checking.
Cocoa powder and chocolate beverages are another big thing to watch. I can attest to that as...um, I drank a lot of hot chocolate this past winter. Then again, that's because I eat a lot. There's a reason why places like Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven, which has an extensive hot chocolate menu, are doing well. Cocoa is also being introduced into other foods, like savory main courses (although it's unlikely to go the other way around; scallop flavored chocolate, anyone?). Flavors that are becoming more popular in chocolate aren't necessarily new, but recall the origins of chocolate, such as spices used by the Aztecs. Someone also mentioned the development of 100 calorie packs to help people control their consumption. Hehehe...hehehe. I don't know about you, but if I eat chocolate, I go for the gluttonous gold. I acknowledge that I'm ingesting 500 calories in one sitting, but it doesn't really stop me. Then again, I'm not obese...yet.
The next panel, titled "What Do Instrustry Watchers See?", featured (from left to right) Don Montuori (Acquisition Editor, Packaged Facts), Dr. John Stanton (Food Marketing Trends Expert, St. Joseph's University), Angie McKenzie (Products Manager, Starbucks), and Chef Michelle Tampakis (Professor, ICE). Many things they said were also covered in the first panel, so I won't recapitulate. They mentioned that stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes are making premium chocolate more accessible. As for what premium chocolate is, they gave the characteristics of not having many ingredients and being well-packaged (Godiva, anyone?). They also touched upon chocolate in non-food items, primarily toiletries. I have to admit that I don't understand the big deal of using some kind of lotion with chocolate in it; I'd rather eat the chocolate than slather it on my skin. (I should probably mention though that my only toiletries are toothpaste and soap. The soap doubles as shampoo. If you've met me in real life, you know that 1) I don't use makeup and 2) I smell like a normal, clean human, unless I've been in the sun too long, so...yeeeaaah.)
Holy crap, I'm supposed to be studying for a final right now. My final final of my junior year. [looks at watch] Against better judgement, I shall plod on.
For lunch, we were treated to a chocolate-themed three-course meal. There was accompanying wine, but I refused it since I have yet to develop the taste for alcohol (I honestly don't care that my tastebuds are underdeveloped, but I wouldn't mind if one day I suddenly liked wine). I sat between Susan Smith, Senior VP of Public Affairs for the National Confectioners Association and Angie McKenzie, Products Manager for Starbucks who spoke in the second panel. Susan was fun to talk to as I somewhat explained my blog to her and she told me how she definitely didn't plan on being in the NCA (although she did grow up in a farming family, so she's always had a connection to food), but...hey, going to candy conventions while getting paid for it is pretty awesome. Angie was also fun to talk to because, holy shizz (if anyone's wondering, my use of the term "shizz" is completely Sarah's fault), she's actually seen my blog before! SCORE. She asked me the name and I guess the title sticks into people's minds, so she recognized it.
"I don't actually eat everything," I explained. I like to mention that sometimes because otherwise I'm afraid people will actually think that I eat everything. My blog title is a lieee. A better title would be, "The Girl Who Eats A Lot More Than She Should", but that's way too long and it doesn't play much upon the title of Jeffrey Steingarten's book.
Onto the meal and the food porn.
We started with "Cremini Mushroom and Bitter Chocolate Risotto with White Truffle Oil", garnished with chives and thin slabs of cheese that I couldn't identify. I liked the dish, although I don't have much to compare it to since I've rarely eaten risotto in my life. It was...creamy. Al dente. Brown. The chocolate taste was interesting in a savory dish, although not necessarily something I'd think about eating again. Of course, I ate the whole thing.
The entree was "Cocoa-Dusted Beef Tenderloin in a Guiness and Dark Chocolate-Rosemary Sauce with Asparagus and Spring Pea Ragout". Yes, a bit of a lengthy description. I have to admit that I can't remember what the sauce tasted like, which I suppose means it wasn't bad or mindblowingly awesome. From the viewpoint of someone who isn't a huge fan of beef slab, I prefered the ragout over the tenderloin. There wasn't anything wrong with the tenderloin—it was pink, juicy, radiating with bovine fleshiness—but I like my carbs (in this case, pastina, which I don't think I've ever eaten before) and I would actually list asparagus and peas among my favorite kinds of vegetables.
Alas, my favorite part: DESSERT. We each received a trio of extremely tiny cupcakes (but hey, there were three of em): White Chocolate with Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Icing, Milk Chocolate with Honey-Creme Fraiche, and Dark Chocolate with Five Spice Glaze. The white chocolate one was most "eh" to me because of the almost financier-esque, slighty chewy texture (not that that's a bad thing, it just wasn't what I was expecting in a cupcake). The chocolate cupcake had a more moist, soft texture that I liked, but I couldn't discern much of the five-spice flavor. The milk chocolate cupcake was my favorite because of the interesting creme-fraiche honey frosting. It had a slight tang and was creamier than the other frostings. Oh yes, I like my high creaminess factor.
I shouldn't be too critical of the meal since it's not like I can cook much. Also, free food is automatically awesome. I don't think using chocolate for the sake of using chocolate is the best idea in the world, but it made sense at a chocolate symposium.
I needed some more sugar after the meal, so I grabbed a pack of Kissables from one of the chocolate baskets on the way out of the dining room. They're adorable, eh? Right now they're adorably being pulverized by my stomach acids. Wee!
Bill Guyton, president of the World Cocoa Foundation, gave a presentation about the foundation and how its affecting cocoa farmers around the world. During the first two panels I was actually wondering what the companies' positions on labor practices on cocoa farms (which are mainly situated in poor "developing" nations—70% of the world's cocoa is grown in West Africa) were since we touched upon the issue in my "Food and Nutrition in a Global Society" class. None of the representatives mentioned it, but Bill gave a nice overview of the WCF and how it's helping to increase productivity, set ethical labor practices, improve education and help the environment. The foundation set up "Farmer Field Schools" to educate farmers and although it has only affected a small percentage of the roughly 3.5 million cocoa farms worldwide (I don't remember the exact number).
Before his presentation, Bill cut open some cacao pods to pass around. DELICIOUS. This is where your candy bar comes from, folks. It's better than staring at a butchered cow, at least.
The last panel titled "Science, Nutrition, Health Benefits" was moderated by Katherine Tallmadge, M.A., R.D., and author of Diet Simple, and featured panelists (from left to right) Dr. Dennis Savaiano Ph.D. (Dean of the College of Consumer and Family Sciences, Dept. of Foods and Nutrition, Purdue University), Dr. Leah Porter Ph.D.(VP of Scientific Affairs, Chocolate Manufacturers Association), Dr. R. Curtis Ellison M.D . (Professor of Medicine and Public Health, Chief of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology, Boston University) and Dr. Joanne Holden, Ph.D., Research leader, USDA). My note taking died off by this point, but I found the panel interesting. Dr. Ellison in particular was a fun dude. He can put that in his credentials: " M.D., and Robyn-certified fun dude". Seriously though, they were talking about how research done on the health benefits of chocolate may just be touching the tip of the iceberg, but it's also showing a lot of promise that may allow dieticians to suggest the inclusion of the somewhat nutritionally taboo chocolate in one's diet and provide the chocolate industry with a crucial marketing perspective...kind of like how red wine became insanely popular after people realized that it didn't lead to instant alcoholism, or else the French would be completely doomed.
I summed up that panel just a bit too quickly, but hey, I'm not getting paid to do this. I still have to cram for my final...dammit.
Alright, I guess I was paid. IN MORE CALORIES THAN I'LL EVER NEED, figuring I'm not stranded in a forest left to live on calorically-dense confections. The back pile consists of what was in the bag (except for the book) and the front pile is what I swiped from the tables and various chocolate baskets. I ate a lot of it already and I'm not too proud of it.
One thing I ate was the dark chocolate caramel filled Crunch Bar. It wasn't bad, but the caramel gave too much sweetness and took away from the solid crunchiness that I like about crunch bars. Don't caramelize my crunch bar! Ah well, it's not bad.
Okay, I'm really going to study now. Please wish me luck on my final, although if I failed I think I'd still pass the course. While talking to Susan about my blog, she asked me how I found the time to write it. Just so you know, this semester I took 18 credits, worked part-time (eh, only 13 hours a week though), and I never missed a class, although there were a few times that I shaved off work time. My grades aren't that bad (I got an A in my food history class; HOHO what a mistake!) so I've decided that opposed to being smart or adept at organizing time, maybe food studies just isn't that hard. Oops. PUTTING MY EDUCATION TO GOOD USE, AM I?!
Anyhoo. I hope you enjoyed this entry. I left out a lot, but it's pretty freakin' long and obviously the event was much more interesting in real life than a word and photo-filled recap can convey. While I was listening to the panelists, I couldn't think of many other topics that I'd actually be that interested in hearing about. Ice cream? Sandwiches? Penguins? Seriously, what else?
Many thanks to Amy Storey for allowing this wee blogger to grace the professional world of chocolatiers and established media with her lack of social/networking skills and ...outfit of a t-shirt and jeans. I had an awesome time! LET'S DO IT AGAIN, WEEHEE!!