Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, called the cacao plant Theobroma cacao, or “food of the gods.” Aptly named, as chocolate was once considered sacred by Mesoamerican warriors and the privileged elite, who consumed this naturally-bitter substance for power and virility. But we can thank our European ancestors for modern-day chocolate, a sweet combination of cocoa, fat and sugar that American women shove into their mouths by the fistfuls.
Like many serotonin-loving humans, I cannot resist good chocolate, and last weekend’s Chicago Fine Chocolate and Dessert Show was the perfect fix. The public event featured more than 30 artisanal chocolate vendors, as well as culinary presentations, demonstrations and seminars, and art displays.
From chocolate-covered cashews (Belly Jane Candies) to chocolate-dipped pretzels (Sweet Secrets) to Guinness stout truffles (Chocolate for the Spirit), the show was as suited for the glutton as it was for the culinary artist. Moroccan saffron chocolate truffles (Les Palmeraies) intrigued the palette while delicately-crafted bons bons glistened like expensive gems.
I spent the first half engorging myself with samples, including soap-like hunks of cheesecake fudge, butter nut toffees (Four Brothers), pumpkin seed chocolate bars (sweet Designs), rum-drenched cake (Wicked Jack’s Tavern), and my favorite–rose lychee macaroons from Macaron Cafe, an authentic NYC-based bakery owned by a real French pastry chef. I washed everything down with numerous chocolate-inspired drinks, including a tasty iced beverage from Patrick Fahy (executive pastry chef from Sixteen Restaurant).
As my insulin levels soared to precarious levels, I decided to explore the art display section, where chefs from organizations like The French Pastry School and edibleartists network showcased magnificent creations of crystal sugar and carved fondant. Seeing these intricate sculptures firsthand is nothing like watching Ace of Cakes or Top Chef Just Desserts–it amazed me how chocolate pieces and white sugar turned into towering sculptures that barely looked edible.
Except for being one step closer to diabetes, I was overall quite pleased with my experience. These shows not only give average consumers an opportunity to experience rare artisanal creations, but they also provide crucial feedback for vendors and artists trying to perfect and advance their craft. It’s a fantastic marketplace for delicious sweets, but just as importantly, a marketplace for great ideas.