The Maritime Museum of San Diego’s Chocolate Festival, is a relatively new tradition to the city, but you’d never guess that from the crowds it drew! Fans of the cacao bean came from far and wide to get their hands on all the delicious treats to be had. The event itself was almost like walking into a dream. This illusion was aided greatly by the fact that as you approach the venue, you can’t help but notice the majestic swaying masts of the museum’s resident tall ships, The Star of India and The Surprise. The Chocolate Festival was held on the upper deck of the equally exquisite steam ferry Berkley. This ship, which first took to the waters in 1898, maintains all the charms of that bygone era. Her leaded glass windows strewn a golden glow across the floor, and the elaborately carved wood work framing each vendors station seems to beckon visitors closer, of course the promise of chocolate doesn’t hurt either.
The first night of the Chocolate Festival was dedicated to chocolate, cheese and wine pairings. Complementary cheese platters were offered to guests, as well as decadent sea-salt chocolates from La Belge. Libations were provided by California Fruit Wine, a hip new winery riding the craft brewing wave. Guests sipped merrily on glasses of pomegranate, blueberry, raspberry and even pumpkin spice wines.
American Heritage, a historical division of Mars Candy offered a presentation on how chocolate is made, and was enjoyed by people across the centuries. American Heritage is dedicated to educating people about chocolate, and the historical significance of this crop as well as producing chocolate recipes from America’s colonial past. Originally, chocolate was enjoyed as a drink. First by meso-American cultures, then later, due to the introduction of Chocolate into European society by the Spanish, by the Europeans. Solid chocolate was not something people of yesteryear would have been entirely familiar with until 1839, when the German company Jordan & Timaeus developed the processes to create milk chocolate. Such treats would not be enjoyed by Americans until around 1851, when bon-bons, caramels and boiled sweets (hard candies) became available on the continent.
Later in the evening, a presentation was given by Rodney Snyder, senior research engineer and author of From Stone Metates to Steel Mills. Snyder discussed the history of chocolate, and how it influenced trade, production and engineering throughout the ages. He talked about common misconceptions the population has about chocolate and the cacao tree. For instance, did you know that it is illegal in the state of Rhode Island to own a cacao tree, the plant from which chocolate comes from? This is because it was believed by state officials that cacao trees were the same as coca plant, from which cocaine could be processed. It’s not true of course, but just one example of how chocolate has worked it’s way into history.
On the subject of history, you might find yourself wondering exactly why a festival about Chocolate is being held aboard a boat, Shirley Temple’s rendition of The Good Ship Lollipop being rather far removed from the public consciousness of today. The reason behind this lies in the fact that chocolate was a commodity that was grown in Equatorial lands of South America and shipped worldwide. It was so popular that it even became part of the rations made available to sailors. Chocolate has been riding the seven seas since the days of Christopher Columbus, who brought the Cacao bean back to Spain. However, it would not be until Hernando Cortes that Chocolate would be revered as the delicacy it is now.
Day 2 & 3
Day 2 and three of the chocolate festival offered an assortment of activities for the whole family. There was a scavenger hunt for the kids, games to play such as chocolate bingo,
and fun, edible crafts such as a marshmallow decoration station,
and an opportunity to make your very own chocolate pizza out of a sugar cookie, and a wide variety of toppings.
Ballast Point Beer was one of the highlighted vendors. Ballast Point is a local San Diego brewing company, who creates some of the most unique craft beers you’re likely to ever try. The stand out, to my taste buds at least was Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra, a beer with just a hint of curry. This unusual beverage was paired with a lime and lemongrass chocolate, that absolutely ignited it’s flavors.
Vendors from all around the county displayed their wares. Among them were Salty Sisters Candy Company, purveyors of fine handmade chocolates, toffees and sauces with astounding flavors. Salty Sisters tackles two of the cravings that drive me to conniptions, that being salty and sweet, and combine them into one perfectly balanced bite! If you aren’t acquainted with salted candies, this might sound like a bizarre combination, but the end result is actually quite spectacular! They offer dozens of unusual flavor combinations, among them Chile Verde, an explosive flavor that delivers a mighty punch of flavor to your palate. Chocolate has historically been paired with chile since the time of the Olmecs and Mayas, and it’s nice to see this combo is making a comeback.
I had a chance to practice my French with Didier Leveque, president of Belgium Gourmet. In addition to a wide variety of marvelously rich chocolates, Monsieur Leveque offered Liège Waffles, blanketed in fluffy whipped cream, strawberries and drizzled with chocolate sauce. I had to buy some, to try this recipe out at home. The waffles came pre-made, so all that needed to be done was the toppings.
I can’t help but think this would be a the perfect project to roll out when my nieces and nephews come a calling. Monsieur Leveque told me about his cuberdons, which were pictured on his sign but sadly unavailable at his table (maybe I just wasn’t fast enough to beat the rush.) These are luscious little cones of sugar syrup, filled with fruit (strawberry is traditional). I can’t wait to try them all, I’ll have to pace myself.
Paraiso Delicacies offered samples of their mind blowing temptation white chocolate key lime truffle and their equally dazzling home made almond roca, among other confections. This vendor had prepared beautiful candied apples, looking plump and delectable atop the table. I had to fight my temptation to pluck one up for a covert bite.
San Diego Catering Co.’s Chef Kitty displayed two delicately beautiful wedding cakes. I was left absolutely breathless by one done in a pale teal fondant, adorned with white chocolate seashells and topped with a lacy sea fan formed from the same versatile substance. I may have found my wedding cake!
San Diego Catering had a wide variety of cupcakes and cakes that guests could chose from, and even prepared crêpes, stuffed with fruit and cream cheese and wrapped in a sash of caramel or chocolate.
In the next booth over I met with two men in dark suits and sunglasses, who introduced themselves as agents from The Secret Cookie Service. This organization is of course shrouded in mystery, but I managed to crack these agents with my dogged interrogation skills. The Secret Cookie Service delivers cookies of all flavors to customers with a craving for something sweet. Place your order and an agent, dressed in the obligatory black suit and sunglasses will be dispatched to your door with a discrete delivery.
Chef Miguel’s Deli was preparing some dairy free ice cream using the old fashioned bucket and crank technique. I talked a bit with Miguel about his deli, and all the different meals offered. If you’re starting to go into sweet overload, Chef Miguel’s is the place to head. The deli’s combinations of classic recipes such as tortas, sandwiches and salads with fresh, organic ingredients knits beloved comfort classics with health conscious sensibility. I like that!
Fancy yourself a bit of a chocolate sophisticate? Then make your way to the David Bacco Chocolatier’s booth. David Bacco began his life in the culinary world back in the year 1994 under the tuteledge of Chef Jonathan Lundy. In 1997, he relocated to Madison, WI and furthered his knowledge under the guidance of Chef Eric Rupert. It was here that he would become inspired by elite pastry competitions to create peerless desserts with a stunning visual aesthetic. After much hard work and dedication, Bacco eventually found his way to San Diego where he would present his completely original line of chocolates to the delight of cacao lovers everywhere.
I had the opportunity to sample a blend called Dominican Republic, a 74% dark chocolate blend accented with “organic Grand Cru Hacienda, fruity aromas, robust tobacco with a bitter tannic finish.” David explained that many chocolatiers are too forward with their flavors, and never allow you to appreciate the subtle nuances offered by each blend. In this case I have to agree, his chocolate is a journey that slowly unfolds upon your tongue, carrying you with lithe grace from one flavor to the next.
For those among us who opt for a gluten free lifestyle, there is Deanna’s Gluten Free Bakery. I sampled one of their ambrosial brownies and had to know the story behind this specialized bakery. Deanna originally began making her recipes for her niece, who was diagnosed with Celiac disease. This condition is an autoimmune disorder, affecting the small intestine, which causes the sufferer great difficulty when they eat products that contain gluten, a substance found in cereal grains, that produces the stretchiness we equate with dough. Most breads, cereals and pastries all have gluten, even some surprising foods like hot dogs have gluten added as a thickening agent. Deanna’s recipes were so delicious and unique that word got out. Realizing she could provide a service to people to other Celiac sufferers, she opened her bakery.
If you’re feeling inspired by all these entrepreneurs to start your own venture, a good place to get started might be Dove Chocolate Discoveries. Yes, Dove has now opened up opportunities for everyday people to get involved in the chocolate business, no culinary experience necessary. Dove Chocolate Discoveries starts potential sales people off with their $85.oo kit, from there you host your own chocolate parties, selling products such as chocolate martini mix, sweet and smoky chocolate BBQ sauce, and old stand-bys like chocolate covered espresso beans. Check their website for opportunities in your area.
All in all The Maritime Museum Of San Diego’s Chocolate Festival was a fun, flavorful experience and a must for any foodie. To keep up with future events at The Maritime Museum, check out their website at: http://www.sdmaritime.org/ or follow them on Facebook Twitter flickr and YouTube
Check out the video below to see the event in action!