Monday, December 10, 2007

Special Foodventure #46: LA Luxury Chocolate Salon

Never thought I'd say this, but I definitely had too much of a good thing the LA Luxury Chocolate Salon, which I was invited to (i.e. I got in gratis). Who'd thunk that an event with just 20 tables could offer up so many cocoa products?
There were chocolate bars, chocolate truffles, chocolate chips and cocoa powders and even "goo", chocolate dipped fruits, chocolate liqueur, single-origin chocolates, eco-friendly fair trade chocolates, chocolates infused with wines and teas and herbs and spices and, of course, the ubiquitious (white) chocolate fountain. There was even a chocumentary.

Being a "luxury" chocolate event, the chocolatiers showcased items that are more exotic, eccentric and, yes, expensive than your average Hershey's, but a small piece of the good stuff easily outweighs those one-pound bags of fun-sized bars.

Anyways, without further adieu, here's a few of the my favorite chocolatiers at the event:

- L'Artisan du Chocolat: A French chocolatier designing bonbons in-line with current upscale chocolate trend: ganaches of unusual flavors and with modern, artsy print designs on top. I decided to skip over the various flavors (including rose petals and hibiscus) and went straight for the pure 72% dark chocolate ganache, which clinched the deal for me -- a very intense cocoa flavor perfectly balanced with sugar and fat, with a dry texture and a pretty clean finish. Definitely shows off the chef-owners mastery of the confectionary arts.

- Chuao Chocolatier: I was so glad to see them make an appearance at the salon, as I fondly remembered the truffles I brought back from their Irvine boutique store. As expected, all their unusually flavored chocolates exceeded my initially-skeptical expectations, from the Modena balsamic-strawberry caramel chocolate pods to the mildly aromatic Earl Grey bergamont milk chocolate bar, the latter a shock really, since I usually dislike strong, pungent smell of Earl Grey teas. Also very happy to find out that Omni Hotels (including the one in downtown LA) is partnering with Chuao and serving its eclectic hot cocoas in their caf├ęs - sounds like a wonderful way to warm off Jack Frost.

- E. Guittard: Ok, considerably less artisanal than most, but props to the guy who was tabling, who was very well-versed in the various chocolates sampled and offered very helpful notes about what to look for in quality chocolates as well as flavor, texture and aromatic differences between chocolates of different origins. A nice mini-lesson about cocoa and pretty delicious bars to taste and learn as well, and definitely landed their brand in my book if I'm looking for some cooking/baking chocolates.

- L'Estasi Dolce: Definitely adventurous with edgy flavors such as the Asian-inspired lemongrass-ginger and wine-enhanced pinot noir and mimosa truffles. I particularly like their wine truffles since the wine flavors are not overpowering (as is the case with most alcohol-laced truffles I've tried) but just enough to complement and enhance the ganache. One taste and you'll say sayonara to those gimmicky alcohol-filled milk chocolate grossness that's been sitting on store shelves for goodness-knows-how long too.

There were also interesting lectures and demonstrations taking place as well, from making a chocolate martinis using pure ingredients (and an unusually large amount of cashews) to truffle-shaping techniques to get that perfectly round bonbon. So all in all, a wonderful event despite eating enough chocolate to actually make me feel a little sick (unlike wine, I doubt a spit-out would be as well-received).

Nonetheless, I eagerly anticipate its return next year!

P.S. Did I mention a lot of food journalists & bloggers sightings as well? Teenage Glutster, Pleasure Palate and Eater LA were there, just to name a few.



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