April 18, 2010: The Greatest Chocolate Party Ever!
Every April, I hold something called a Chocolate Party, an annual event in which I gathered some fifty of my closest friends, feed them dinner, then try to kill them with massive amounts of chocolate. Over the years, this event has grown, from a modest get-together at my home to a gastronomic blow-out at Fuel now Refuel) Restaurant. The evening goes something like this:
The guests gathers. We chat and drink.
We sit down and enjoy an incredible multi-course meal prepared by Chef Rob, Chef Ted, and the rest of the gang.
Then, we move onto the main event: Chocolate! Chocolate! Chocolate!
It seems fairly straightforward, but even the most dedicated chocoholic would be hard-pressed to sample all that’s an display – the varied master creations of some twenty chocolatiers from all over the world. This year, I brought in chocolates from Paris, Troyes, Barcelona, Austria, London, Brighton, New York, San Francisco, Kansas City, Fort Myers, Montreal, Vermont, and, of course, Vancouver. It was quite a night!
I arrived early to help set up the chocolates along the massive bar and counter area, fully covering all available space with chocolates from…
This year marked four straight appearances for New York’s MareBelle. The 100 Piece Blue Box, pictured here, never fails to draw a crowd.
Also from MarieBelle, the hugely popular Croquette au Chocolat: buttery European cookie milk and dark chocolate bars. Each box contains 4 bars. I ordered six boxes – and they were all gone by night’s end.
It was two years in a row for New York’s Jacques Torres (aka Mr. Chocolate). They usually don’t ship to Canada but made an exception last year after I sent them a link to previous chocolate parties. And we’re glad they did. Their champagne truffles – a combination of milk chocolate, fresh cream, and actual Tattinger Brut la Francaise never fails to impress. I ordered two boxes because they proved so popular last year – and they too were all gone by night’s end. In addition to the champagne truffles, the Jacques Torres corner also included a fifty piece assortment of their hand-crafted chocolates and bars.
One of my personal favorites – Jean-Paul Hevin – presents his marvelous creations in an eye-catching “cave a chocolat”. Basically, it’s a briefcase full of chocolate!
Also from Jean-Paul Hevin, a coffret filled with composed of 8 blisters filled with dark, coffee, milk and milk-caramel with refined salt palets. In addition, I also ordered a box of Hevin’s intense truffles and a Cheese Chocolate Appetizer box that included flavors like époisses cheese/ cumin, Pont l’évêque cheese/thyme, goat cheese/hazelnut, and roquefort/walnut. Ashleigh’s favorite! She made off with any leftovers.
Barcelona’s Oriol Balaguer has been described as a gastronomic revolutionary. One bite of his inspired creations and you’ll no doubt agree.
Also from Oriol Balaguer: luscious ganache-filled mini-tubes in a variety of delectable flavors – Passionfruit, Orange, Yuzu, Raspberry, Star Anise, and – Carl’s wife’s favorite – Hazelnut Praline with Pop Rocks. You can order them from Borne Confections in New York.
Making their first appearance: chocolates from Troyes’ Pascal Caffet. A sampling of the award-winning patissier’s chocolates included Earl Grey Tea and Hazelnut Praliné with Coriander. Also available from Borne Confections.
Paris’s Debauve & Gallais boast a rich 200 year tradition of chocolate-making as the appointed supplier to Kings Louis XVIII, Charles X and Louis-Philippe. The selection includes a 54 piece assortment, a 36 piece pralines collection, and Les Incroyables (pearls of caramelized roasted Spanish almond coated in dark chocolate) that WERE incredible! These blew away Jamil Walker Smith.
Compliments of my friend Cynthia in London comes Rococo Chocolates’ award-winning salty caramel ravioli. The assortment included dark chocolate with chilli, milk chocolate with sea salt, and white chocolate with cardamom.
Another Parisian heavy hitter, La Maison du Chocolat represents with their Initiation Set of 20 pralines and ganaches. Also, smooth and creamy caramel truffles an Arriba Gift Set of smooth dark chocolate ganaches and…
La Maison du Chocolat’s Habanera Gift Box: dark chocolate perfumed with vine peaches and milk chocolate infused with mirabelle plums. Another annual favorite.
Another little something from Cynthia in the U.K.: Demarquette’s ganache assortment, a signature blend of carefully selected pure single origin and single estate cocoas.
Wow! Some of the evening’s most visually striking offerings came from Norman Love in Fort Myers, Florida. Pictured here: the black single origin chocolate collection.
Another striking offering from Norman Love: the 50 Piece Chocolate Gift Box.
Norman Love chocolate bars: chocolate caramel pecan, peanut caramel, coconut milk chocolate almond, and chocolate hazelnut. Another wow!
A few years ago, a friend brought me back a box of Recchiuti chocolates from San Francisco. They were nothing short of revelatory. For two years, I tried to convince Recchiuti to make an exception to their “no shipping to Canada” policy with no success. Until this year. Pictured here, The Platinum Collection. Marvelous chocolates. I also ordered their Dragee Sampler which comes with with Burnt Caramel Almonds, Burnt Caramel Hazelnuts, Peanut Butter Pearls, Cherries Two Ways.
Also from Recchiuti, Key Lime Pears and Peanut Butter Pucks. Both garnered a lot of fans over the course of the evening.
Barcelona’s Enric Rovira offers up something called The Planetarium – all nine planets and the sun. Mars tastes of Earl Grey tea, the sun of Williams pears and Earth of salt and pepper.
In addition to a truffle selection with flavors ranging from fiery Habanero to peaty Scotch, the Enric Rovira corner also included Bombolas – Covered in intense 70 dark chocolate, flavors include corn, pumpkin seed, pink pepper, lemon, and cocoa nib. The pink pepper and lemon were particularly well-received. Alegio Chocolate in Berkley carries the Enric Rovira line – and it’s a little closer than Spain.
Missed them last year because they were closed, but Vancouver’s DC Duby made a triumphant chocolate party return with their Arome Collection (praline butter filling is scented with enchanting oil infusions and studded with luscious sun-ripened fruit jellies), Texture Collection (praline butter filling is scented with alluring and exotic spice blends, and studded with honey caramelized nuts or seeds, plump dried fruits or candied citrus peels) and various other imaginative creations.
Requisite dark chocolate fountain.
The requisite milk chocolate fountain.
Representing Kansas City with a stunning assortment – Christopher Elbow.
An assortment from Vancouver’s own Thomas Haas.
And while I was at Thomas Haas picking up chocolate, I spied these delectable-looking chocolate macarons. I sampled one – and ended up buying the tray.
San Francisco’s Jin Patisserie, another chocolate party mainstay, never fails to impress with its delicate creations. This one is Chef Rob’s favorite.
Another U.K. entry compliments of Cynthia – Brighton’s Montezuma’s Chocolates.
Everybody had their personal favorite, and this one way mine – France’s Patrick Roger. Cocoa bean chips, mini-rochers, ganache with hazelnut praline and almond paste, citrus caramels, and a fantastic assortment.
Making a first chocolate party appearance – Montreal’s Gendron Confiseur Chocolatier. I sampled these when I visited Montreal last month and was mightily impressed with their delicate texture and flavors. The ganache assortment included Hawaiian coffee Kaüai, black spruce, mimosa, Matcha, Lapsan Souchong, Tahitian vanilla, Alba truffle, Roquefort, caramel a la fleur de sel, pistachio, cranberry, and grapefruit.
Also from Montreal, Le Maitre Chocolatier delivers a terrific assortment –
– some INTENSE alcohol-spiked chocolates, and –
A double decadent combination of foie gras and chocolate. Everyone who tried them was pleasantly surprised by these truffles.
File this one under “fun”. Austria’s Zotter Chocolates is known for flavors famed and infamous: celery, truffle and port wine, peanuts and ketchup, and lemon polenta to name a few.
A couple of weeks ago, I was watching Throwdown With Bobby Flay and watched him take on The Vermont Brownie Company and their signature chevre brownie. Impressed, I elected to include these delectable treats in the line-up this year.
Speaking of brownies, check out this decadent Callebeaut-chocolate version from Vancouver’s own Linda Meinhardt. David Blue declared them the best brownies he’s ever eaten.
Another great local entry was Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France. Exquisite ganaches and truffles.
Eventually, the guests started to arrive –
Stuart, Brian, and John
Ashleigh, Lawren, and James
Kathy and Will
Teresa and Alan. Oh, and Carl.
Alan and Kerry (with a Y)
Carl, Karen, and Debbie
Peter and Holly
Louis peruses the menu.
And likes what he sees.
Alaina and John
Ashleigh and Kerry (with a Y).
David snaps me snapping him.
Jeffrey and Elyse
Carl sports his hungry face.
Everyone eventually took their seats and dinner got underway…
Amuse bouche of broccoli soup and Welsh rarebit. Not rabbit. Rarebit (coined “cheezy bread” by some). Delicious!
Alan smiles while his wife chokes on her drink.
Ashleigh and James
Remi and Cintia
Alan and Kerry (with a Y).
One for Brian’s mom.
Lawren presents the butter lettuce salad with smoked coppa and heirloom beets. Excellent. I’m all about the beets.
The partial line-up
The partial line-up.
In the kitchen: Tom, Chef Rob, and Chef Ted.
Tagliatelle with black truffle and cultured butter. THIS was the dish everyone was talking about all night. Simple yet sublime.
Chef Rob invited me back into the kitchen to watch them finish the prime rib. Cooked sous-vide until rare, then given a crispy coating.
Cirspy Duck Confit and Prime Beef! Two types of awesome!
Jen and Jamil. And Louis too!
Debbie, Alaina, and Hillary.
Ivon and Elyse
Kathy and Will
I ask the kitchen to include a little something special in Ashleigh’s vegetarian option. Yes, some crispy duck.
Well, look who’s fashionably late. It’s Patrick Gilmore.
My crispy duck confit with mustard spaetzle. Lots of oohing and aahing over this dish.
With dinner done, we moved onto the main event…
Thanks to the gang at Refuel for an incredible evening!
What a night!
And what a day – spent uploading all of these pictures!