Cover image: Jacques Torres © Vicha Saravay for The Big Chocolate Show
Bottom Line: With over 48 chocolatiers, beverage suppliers, distributors, and industry innovators, The Big Chocolate Show at the Waterfront was full of delightful surprises. With a record number of visitors to expo, even selling out on Saturday, The Big Chocolate Show has to become an annual New York tradition.
Review: Never mind the crowds pouring into the neighboring Comic Con nor the rain, New York’s chocolate lovers paid little notice as they headed to the Big Chocolate Show at the Waterfront. Whether in the industry or just a gluttonous, chocolate-guzzling heathen like me, the show had something indulgent for everyone. Delicious and informative, creative yet sustainable, the achievements on show from these chocolate innovators were impressive.
The most stunning displays included those of chocolatier Christopher Elbow, who started his career in pastry making petits fours before moving onto to high end chocolate. There were pretty as a picture. Both Elbow’s lemon meringue pie-flavored truffle and salted caramel fleur de sel looked dainty, and yet, delivered on flavor. The first had all the hallmark flavors of a meringue pie with a little clever addition of white chocolate while the fleur de sel caramel was light, fluffy and not sticky. I was at a loss for words.
John and Kira’s, a husband-and-wife team who began making chocolates in their kitchen back in 2002, had some of the most cutest chocolates at the show. Vibrantly colored each truffle took on a different character. The honey caramel bee, although stickier than that of Christopher Elbow, had a beautiful, intense caramelized honey flavor offset with a pinch of salt. It may seem haphazard, but John and Kira’s flavor creations are the result of intense experimentation and their deep-rooted relationships with producers across the country.
Although there was no shortage of amazing flavors from all of the vendors, the heavyweights in the industry had some of the best samples at the expo. French-based Valrhona, whose clientele includes some the world’s finest restaurants, showed off their latest milk chocolate creations, and the noir Guanaja at 70% cocoa, was perfectly balanced between bitter and sweet.
With its shops dotting the city, New York-based French implant Jacques Torres had some of the best milk chocolate at the show. Solid, unfussy and richly creamy without being too sweet, every morsel had a long finish of sweet cocoa and milk.
In terms of flavor combinations, one of the major show-stoppers was award-winning Chocolat Moderne’s The Lover, a brilliantly judged white chocolate and passion fruit caramel. The slightly tart fruitiness was a perfect foil to the rich, sweet, cocoa buttery chocolate cup.
And Brooklyn-based Marie-Belle chocolatier’s orange, ginger and matcha flavored chocolates were all delicious, but the latter infused in white chocolate gave an deep green tea flavor that tamed the white chocolate’s sweetness. Truffle Shots quirky ganache sold in shot glasses had a beautiful mélange of Macallan 12-year single malt, which makes sense to mix the scotch’s caramel smokiness with sweet, airy chocolate.
They weren’t, however, the only whiskey mixers on the block. Coole Swan from Ireland served heart-warming boozy shots of chocolate and Irish whisky. Although normally not a fan of sweet, alcoholic beverages, I really enjoyed the pairing creamy chocolate with fiery whiskey, giving a slight warm tingling. I had to take another swig before moving on.
There were more exotic flavors, some of which most visitors had never seen before. Vietnamese-import Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat use of creamy non-dairy coconut milk was a first for me. In a land where milk is often of poor quality, Marou founders Samuel and Vincent opted for coconuts to make a completely single-source Vietnamese chocolate. For me, Marou’s candied ginger-flavored chocolate really worked with just a hint of coconut! Utterly speechless.
Chocolate is a world commodity and many of Europe’s top end chocolatiers import cocoa from West Africa and the Americas. The Big Chocolate Show’s inclusion of several Latin American producers allowed visitors to sample rising chocolate stars from Peru and Ecuador. With some exceptions, the chocolate at the expo from the European-inspired chocolatiers tended to be creamier and smoother while those from the Americas were earthier but equally enjoyable. For instance, sustainable organic Pacari from Ecuador is one of South America’s few single ec0-friendly sourced chocolate makers. While I really liked the beautifully-balanced Rose chocolate and slightly bitter Sal de Cuzco (Pink salted cocoa nib), the 101% dark chocolate bar was one step too far for my palette. The extreme sour, bitterness almost made it inedible.
Equally impressive was Villa Kuyaya, another Ecuadorian-origin chocolate with a fantastic array of eclectic, international flavors including my favorites Earl Grey and Masala Chai, which is a wonder why there aren’t more tea-chocolate pairings. Although I also liked the slightly crunchiness of the ginger-honey, the matcha with dark chocolate did not work as well, and the tea used was from China and not Japan!
While many may like chocolate, most still know little about its origins and how to use it in dishes. Valrhona, in an ambitious move to draw the public in, opened New York’s very first l’École Valrhona. Consumers can learn about the art of chocolate from the city’s leading pâtissiers from Le Bernardin and Per se. Finally, whether a gift or a self-indulgent escapade, the award for the best packaging goes to 2 Beans, who have recruited award-winning artist Charles Fazzino to design their boxes. The custom packaging makes the perfect showstopper to impress friends from out of town or maybe to enjoy over a cup of coffee.
For chocolate enthusiasts willing to try their own home-grown concoctions, Diamond Custom Machines offers the ultimate, personal artisanal chocolate maker, which can make an average novice strive to be the next big thing.
Thanks to the participants and sponsors, The Big Chocolate Show this year was a tremendous success. Brilliantly informative, innovative, deliciously indulgent and devilishly decadent, the show brought a little chocolate magic to New York and will linger on our palettes until next time.