Next up were our mains. For the vegetarians among us a tasty-looking ricotta and egg yolk ravioli with fava beans, French breakfast radishes, and black truffles. It looked so good this was one of those rare occasions when I actually wanted the veggie selection.
I went with the Polderside Farms spring lamb with morels, sautéed ramps, and English peas. Wonderfully tender and flavorful.
Fondy, meanwhile, went with the roasted rib of dry aged Alberta prime beef with black truffle béarnaise, potato fondant, and young leeks – and this dish blew the doors off the place. Everyone was raving about it, especially a certain Mr. Carl Binder.
Next was a whipped camembert with raisin brioche, spiced almonds, and fine herbs. Nice, not overly sweet. Jamil in particular enjoyed this one.
We capped the meal with a gorgeous presentation of assorted sorbets served atop carved ice blocks. Unbelievably good, especially the coconut that seemed to be everyone‘s favorite.
After dinner, we moved on to the main event: the chocolates. Last year, I brought in a selection from fourteen different chocolatiers worldwide. This year, it was 21.
JP Hevin’s 96 piece Cave a Chocolat made a return appearance after so impressing last year. Twelve of Hevin’s most famous creations collected in a stunning briefcase. Loved them last year and loved them just as much this year. (http://www.jphevin.com/?lang=en)
Barcelona’s premiere chocolate designer and chocolatier, Oriol Balanguer, makes his first chocolate party appearance with a stunning assortment. These were a bit of a deal to bring in but they were well worth the effort – refined and utterly delicious. Some of the stand-outs included the delicate filled mini tubes, hot toddy, chestnut and nougat, and a Mascleta with pop rocks that my friend Steve couldn’t stop talking about. (http://www.oriolbalaguer.com/)
Speaking of refined, Jin Patisserie made it two years in a row with a delicate and distinguished assortment beautifully presented in silk and jewelry boxes. They were reluctant to ship to Canada last year but, after much pleading relented and their chocolates turned out to be a huge hit. This year, they shipped no problem and, again, their creations had the room buzzing. (http://www.jinpatisserie.com/)
This was a first year for Payard as well and, in addition to a chocolate assortment, they amazed with their vanilla rum truffles and, my personal favorites, their muscadines (dark chocolate ganache dusted in powdered sugar, Grand Marnier, and sugar powder). Even after I’d reached my limit, I couldn’t help ending the night with a couple of the latter. (http://www.payard.com/)
The most expensive chocolates hailed from France’s Debauve & Gallais, chocolate-makers to the French royal court. “Buddy, there is no royal court in France,”my writing partner Paul informed me as he sampled a chocolate. “They had a little something called the French Revolution. Maybe you’ve heard of it?”. Well, over the course of its rich two hundred year history, this company has served the likes of King Louis XVIII, Charles X, Louis-Philippe – and now, us. Fantastic chocolates I won’t hesitate to re-order for my next bash.
This is my fourth annual chocolate party and La Maison du Chocolat has made an appearance at every one. An incredible assortment of world-class chocolates including their Habanera Gift Box made up of dark chocolate perfumed with vine peaches, and milk chocolate infused with Mirabelle plums. John, Alaina’s husband, was blown away by the subtle milk chocolate/plum combo. (http://www.lamaisonduchocolat.com/en/#/home)
Richart offers up an unbelievable selection of their marvelous creations grouped into different flavor families (balsamic, roasted, fruity, citrust, herbal, floral, and spiced) in addition to dark and milk chocolate samplers ranging from rich milk chocolate to intense darks. (http://www.richart-chocolates.com/)
New York’s Mariebelle is another heavy hitter than never fails to impress with its beautiful blue box collection. Their croquettes – crispy and crunchy buttery European cookies in milk or dark chocolate – always draw A LOT of interest. I ordered four boxes this year – and all four were finished by night’s end. (http://www.mariebelle.com/)
I decided to check out of some of the local flavor and picked up an assortment from Vancouver’s own CocoaNymph. Owner Rachel has been at it a year and a half and obviously puts much love and imagination into her creations. My favorite was one she had me sample when I dropped by her shop – a remarkable blueberry and balsamic. (http://www.cocoanymph.com/)
Also hailing from Vancouver and making their first chocolate party appearance was Mink Chocolates and their exciting collection that included a pear and rosemary with milk chocolate ganache in dark chocolate. In addition to the bonbons, they also boast an intriguing line-up of inspired chocolate bars. (http://www.minkchocolates.com/)
Speaking of inspired, French chocolatier Joel Durand’s Alphabet des Saveurs offered up a range of extraordinary combinations, from A (Gold Square – dark chocolate, 70% cocoa) to Z (Almonds Praline – 40% milk chocolate with home made praline from Provence almonds). Some other surprisingly good letters of note included F (dark chocolate and Corsica arbutus bitter honey), P (Provence almond praline and black olives from “Les Baux” Valley), and W (dark chocolate and fresh Provence thyme). (http://www.chocolat-durand.com/)
What would a chocolate party be without a contribution from my buddy Will Poole and his shop, Wen Chocolates, in Denver, Colorado? I first glimpsed his Bananas Foster truffle creations on Food Network’s Road Tasted and have been a fan ever since. In addition to the Bananas Foster (“It tastes like Christmas!”someone enthused), other truffles to garner the Oooh and Aaah reaction included Mint Julep, Kaffir Lime, and California Bay Leaf. (https://www.wenchocolates.com/)
Another perennial favorite is chocolatier Pierre Marcolini. A wonderful collection that took me back to my last Tokyo trip when I would while away the afternoons at the Pierre Marcolini location in Ginza, enjoying his marvelous chocolates, ice creams, and hot cocoa. (http://pierremarcolini-na.com/)
Michel Cluizel’s line of chocolate bars is simply terrific – and what better way to enjoy them than with a sampler of some of his most popular offerings. In addition, Cluizel offers a Once Upon A Bean presentation box that treats novices to an overview of the chocolate-making process, from cocoa bean to finished product. (http://www.chocolatmichelcluizel-na.com/)
Hey, speaking of chocolate bars, I figured no chocolate party would be complete without my very favorites: Amedei’s porcelana and chuao bars. I personally think you’d be hardpressed to find better. (http://www.amedei.com/jspamedei/index.jsp?lang=en)
Martine’s Chocolate makes yet another chocolate party appearance with their varied 72 piece selection. My wife’s favorite. (http://martineschocolates.com/)
I don’t think you can find anyone more passionate or as knowledgeable about chocolate in Vancouver than Themis Velgis, owner of Yaletown’s Chocoatl. This year, in addition to making some dark and decadent desserts, he supplied milk and dark drinking chocolate, milk and dark chocolate fountains, and oodles of delicious dunkables. (http://www.chocoatl.com/)
Christopher Norman is another chocolate party mainstay owing to the quality of the product and the beauty and care that goes into their presentation. Their hand-painted Grand Mosaic Box is stunning and, while oft-copied (Vancouver’s most famous chocolatier comes to mind), nothing comes close to the original. The luxury tea collection is a sublime mix of unique tea flavor profiles (green tea, tropical mango, China Rose, and Lapsang Souchong), chocolate ganache, and dark chocolate. This was the first year I had the pleasure of enjoying their Coconut Snowball Collection in addition to their Blue Cheese Chocolate Truffles. The latter were an acquired taste. Brian found them surprisingly subtle while David was quick to politely but vehemently disagree. Of all the chocolates I brought in, these Blue Cheese Chocolate truffles were the ones that Ashleigh was most excited about. Alas, no leftovers but I thought it might be nice to surprise her with a box later in the year. In lieu of a Christmas bonus. (http://www.christophernormanchocolates.com/)
Hey, speaking of acquired taste, Vosges is always a chocolate party favorite in large part due to their bold, out-there flavor combinations: wild Tuscan fennel pollen and milk chocolate, sweet Hungarian paprika and dark chocolate, horseradish, lemon zest, and dark chocolate. But my personal favorite has to be their smoked applewood bacon milk chocolate truffle. Also, last year, I brought in two boxes of their creamy organic peanut butter bonbons topped with sea salt – and they were the first to go. This year, I brought in four boxes – and they didn’t last any longer. (http://www.vosgeschocolate.com/)
France’s Patrick Roger has been described as an up and coming chocolatier. Judging from the creations I sampled last night, I think it’s safe to say he’s arrived. Incredibly accomplished chocolates that had Chef Rob, in particular, singing their praises. (http://www.patrickroger.com/index_en.html)
I’ve wanted to bring in Jacques Torres chocolates for years but, every time I contacted their shop in New York, I was informed they didn’t ship to Canada. Then, this year, I included a link to my last chocolate party with the request. Well, a company representative contacted me and informed me they were willing to ship for the special event – and, boy, are we glad they did. Wow! The chocolates were superb and those champagne truffles outrageously good! (http://www.mrchocolate.com/)
Christopher Elbow’s artisan chocolates are a sight to behold – and they are as tasty as they are dazzling. In addition to chocolate pieces, Elbow also makes some mighty unbelievable bars and, in all likelihood, the best coffee/chocolate bar out there. (http://www.elbowchocolates.com/)
And, finally, this was the first year for Teuscher. I ordered the 48 piece assortment. Excellent chocolates, but the truffles were unbelievable! (http://www.teuscher.com/)
Whew! It was a chocolate extravaganza. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves although some definitely overdid it. Take Lawren for instance. After attacking the chocolate, he was offered a significant sum of money if he could finish four sinfully rich chocolate desserts in twenty-five minutes. Well, despite the fact that he was chocolated-out, he decided to give it a try. He put the first dessert away no problem, making everyone else at the table mighty nervous. As he put the second one away, he began to draw a crowd and, by the third dessert – which took him a good ten minutes to get through – he had his own cheering section. By the time he started on that fourth dessert, the entire room was crowded around him, shouting words of encouragement and, in some cases, discouragement. He got halfway through the fourth one when, with five minutes to go, he threw in the towel. According to Tom, he had dialed 9 and 1 and was waiting to dial that last 1.
Well, he may not have won the cash but Lawren won the respect of many of those in the room – who would respect anyone crazy enough to try and put away four decadent chocolate desserts after maxing out on a chocolate buffet.
Thanks to the gang at Fuel, the wonderful participating chocolatiers, and, of course, my guests.
So, yeah – Best Chocolate Party Ever!
Until next year of course.