More people would probably talk to me if I always wore a tag labeling me as "The Girl Who Ate Everything". Or if they didn't talk to me, their funny glances would burn a hole of insecurity into my soul.
So. I only wore the tag during last Friday's Chocolate Symposium, a meeting between big chocolate companies and various chocolate related people held by the Chocolate Manufacturer's Association at The Institute of Culinary Education. I didn't take as many photos as I did last year, nor do I think I paid as much attention due to an intense case of "god I'm sleepy, so sleepy, ahhh sleepies", but unlike last year they actually hired a professional photographer and I'm sure any other media they invited were much more professional than I am.
And now I present to you...stuff!
The day starts with breakfast and FREE CHOCOLATE (which was a theme throughout the day). As I was running a little late and I'm generally not hungry during the breakfast hours I just aimlessly tootled around the room while trying not to knock people over.
However, I couldn't resist a few sips of hot chocolate in the morning. It wasn't very strong chocolate-wise, but it did have an adequately spicy kick that lingered in my throat after the chocolateness went down. That was fine with me as I didn't want to start my day with a chocolate hangover. (Not that I'd want to end my day with a chocolate hangover either. Hangovers in any form = undesireable.)
Remember how awesome it was to get goody bags at parties when you were a little kid? ...What, you weren't invited to parties? Oh. Yeah, me neither. Anyhoo, imagine a huge-ass bag of CHOCOLATE! Sure, it ain't La Maison du Chocolat-quality stuff, but it's not bad. The contents were mainly solid chocolates of many kinds—milk, dark, from countries of different origins, with varying cocoa percentages.
There were also non-chocolate items with cocoa in them, such as this beef jerky that didn't really have any cocoa taste as far as I could tell. There was also a bottle of cocoa butter, cocoa flavored tea, some chocolate-themed poetry magnets, a little shaker of cocoa powder and cocoa scented lip balm. DO YOU SENSE A THEM HERE?!
The first panel called "Chocolate Health and Wellness – What's New, What Lies Ahead" featured nutritionist Jackie Newgent, Tufts University nutrition professory Jeffery Blumburg and project director of HealthFocus International Doug Healy. They talked about...you know, health. Cocoa is healthy. How healthy? I forget. But I think that was the message. However, I don't eat cocoa for health, so I honestly don't care too much if cocoa will give me a powerful boost of antioxidants considering that I would preferably eat it with a large dose of sugar and milk mixed in. The focus of the panel (or the day rather) seemed to be about getting cocoa in non-chocolate foods so that cocoa isn't always associated with sweet confections. BUT I LOVE MAH SWEEETS!...
Next was a special 3-course lunch that featured cocoa in every dish.
Okay, that's not a course; it's just iced black tea. With some cocoa. It was pretty good for not being sweet, not that I'd want to chug a glass of it or anything.
The appetizer of grilled radicchio, roasted grapes and cauliflower with cocoa-sea salt flatbread and warm fontina didn't really feature cocoa as a flavor but as a color for the flatbread. I found the radicchio too bitter, but the melted fontina helped to cut through it. If only there were more cheese. Such as a block of it. My favorite part was the roasted cauliflower nestled behind the flatbread.
The entree consisted of seared lamb loin rubbed with coffee, cocoa and ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice blend, with a Cabernet/cocoa reduction. On the side was carrot puree, spring peas, and sauteed greens with a splash of avocado oil. While the lamb was cooked nicely (tender and juicy), the spices and sauce didn't do much for me, possibly because my tastebuds don't work correctly. However, the carrot puree, made with cocoa butter, was so so so deliciously smooth, as though it were made with angel-derived butter. (I suppose that implies milking angels, but let's not think about that if possible. Except we already did. Nevermind.) Accompanied by fresh peas, one of my favorite things to eat for being little bubbles of green-ness that explode with the taste of morning dew and babies, or whateve it is they're made of (seriously, if you haven't eaten fresh peas out of a pod, DO IT, THEY ARE AWESOME) and nutty avocado oil (I need a bottle of that stuff ASAP), I would've happily eaten a bucket of it.
For dessert, the best course of the meal (and I mean any meal, not just this one), we had white chocolate and green tea panna cotta with marsala poached apricots. Yet another thing I wouldn't mind eating a bucket of. I'm not a big fan of green tea (or tea in general), but matcha seems to go well with desserts for whatever reason, despite tasting bitter and vegetal on its own. The white chocolate evens out the flavor, resulting in something that's still kind of bitter and vegetal, but in a pleasant way. Or not. I dunno.
PANNA COTTA IS AWESOME.
We returned back to the conference room for another panel, "Trends and Surprising Roles of Cocoa and Chocolate". Joan Steuer, president of Chocolate Marketing, acted as moderator to Steve Laning, Directory of Technical Services of ADM Cocoa, Hands Vriens, Chiefe Innovations Officer (cool title?) of Callebaut, John Urbanski, VP of Technical Sales and Services at Cargill, Patricia Bowels, Manager at Nestlé USA, and Curtis Vreeland, Senior Chocolate Market Analyst of Packaged Facts. I didn't take notes, so I have to admit I forgot what was discussed. Disturbingly perhaps, the only thing I clearly remember is when Curtis Vreeland told us about when he went to the Hershey Spa and after bobbing around in a chocolate bath emerged feeling quite...refreshed. Or drugged. Or somewhere in between.
The last panel, "Chocolate: Back to Its Roots", had lots of...testosterone? And although I could list all the people, there's just too many of them. Because seven is too many. And I think this was the panel that I absorbed the least information from, although I don't know why. No one talked about being dunked into a tub of chocolate—perhaps that's the reason. There was some talk about cocoa farms and chocolate origins and...stuff...
...sorry, this post is dissolving into poopiness. I guess this is what happens when you don't take notes because you figure your brain will remember everything, but it doesn't.
The day ended with a chocolate tasting where we were taken step-by-step through the tasting process involving smell, sound of the chocolate as we bit into each piece, mouthfeel, and flavor. I needed a lot of guidance as my tasting skills are nonexistent. Tasting chocolates of different cocoa percentages from different countries meant every bite was different, but I don't know what to tell you since I KIND OF FORGOT EVERYTHING. What I can tell you is some of the descriptive chocolate terms they gave us in our chocolate tasting booklets: burlap, cocoay, milk crumb (?), musty, green, and straw. DELICIOUS!
I had to rush out of there to return my Internet box to the Time Warner store and pack up my apartment belongings before my mum picked me up that night to move back to Jersey or else I would've been more likely to do the polite thing and say goodbye to the insanely nice people that I met there. Susan Smith, Senior VP of Public Affairs for the National Confectioners Association, recognized me from last year and made sure to say hello to me. During lunch I sat next to Leah Porter, VP of Scientific Affairs of the CMA, who's humor and fun personality made for a memorable meal. (After telling her that I was going to graduate soon, she recounted a story about when she unintentionally got arrested during a protest near the end of her college career. It seems like the scariest part of the whole ordeal was telling her mom.) During the panels I sat next to Tina Edwards van Muijen, consumer Specialist at Godiva who came to the symposium from PA, who I first met while getting a cup of hot chocolate that morning. It was impossible to think she could be anything less than awesome after she started asking me about good places to eat, in particular where to get xiao long bao or a good pastrami sandwich. Methinks she went to Katz's Deli later that afternoon. ;) I also met another freelance writer whose business card I unfortunately did not get (and I guess I could embarrass myself by guessing her name...Mikel?...something that STARS WITH AN M? Email me if you're reading this, please!), but she was also very excited by the prospect of finding good eats. People who care about their food in that way (seriously without being freakish?) make me happy.
Thank you to all the people who put the symposium together and the nice women who found me worth conversing with. I think my nametag worked wonders. ;)
People of Ohio, don't skip this
Update (6/6): I am afraid I am not visiting Ohio, not even if it were the foodie capital of the world. :( But thank you so much for your recommendations and suggestions!
It seemed like going to Virginia last December without first consulting my blog readers for advice was a bad idea, so I'm going to ask you for advice before I've even made any plans.
I might visit Tristan while he works Oberlin this summer. When? Dunno. What are the chances? No clue. So in case it sways my decision, I'm wondering what the area around Oberlin is like food-wise. In other words, I'm probably not going to eat chili in Cincinnati. How's Cleveland? Cities around there? I know nothing about the state that Google Maps says is a 7 hour drive from my house. Will the fooding please roboppy? Let me know. :)