“The Best Chocolate Party Ever!” was the presumptuous title of the thread that had got me going. The Best Chocolate Party EVER?! I was incensed! Forget THAT chocolate party. The chocolate party I was about to throw would be The Best Chocolate Party Ever! Never mind the fact that there is no standard against which to measure the relative “bestest“ of a given party. Or the fact that I was actually doing something as silly as entering into a Chocolate Party Throwdown. Or the fact that “The Best Chocolate Party Ever!” cited in that thread was a reference to my own chocolate party that I hosted last year. No, this one would be bigger. And better!
I’d sent out the invitations a couple of weeks ago listing the place (Fuel Restaurant), the time (April 26th, 2008), and included a little message/warning (“If you’re coming for dinner, be there at 7:00 p.m. otherwise I’ll be eating without you!”), received timely shipments from 13 of the 15 chocolatiers I’d ordered from (alas, Debauve & Gallas and Christopher Elbow did not make it in time), organized my chocolates on the day,then dropped them off that afternoon. By the time we got to the restaurant at about 6:45 p.m., I was feeling nice and relaxed; extremely thankful that I had turned the hosting duties over to the gang at Fuel. They would be the ones to feed my guests. They would be the ones to lay out and display the chocolates. And, best of all, they would be the ones to clean up afterwards.
John Lenic, Stuart, and Lawren were already there when we walked in. We ordered cocktails while we waited for everyone else to show. I deferred to the waitress who served me a Campari and soda. Gah! If one to imagine the taste of poison, Campari would pretty much be it. Carl had a sip and displayed the same face he made that time we slipped him some 100% dark chocolate. Brutal.
The rest of the party arrived soon after, about forty guests in all. Dinner, as expected, was amazing. Our first course was a wild stinging nettle soup with slow cooked garlic and nice, meaty humpback shrimp. A gorgeous green, hearty soup with tremendous garlic flavor. This was my first time eating nettles and it was a surprisingly positive experience. Chef Rob assures me they’re much tastier than, say, poison ivy.
For our second course, we were served a kabocha squash and cured coppa salad with peppercress, manchego cheese, and hazelnuts. One of Marty G.’s favorites.
Our third course was the whole confit Polderside duck served with ramps, spaetzle, and grainy mustard. This was the dish that really blew the first-timers away and had the people who’d opted for the risotto and fish alternate menu sincerely regretting their decision. Crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside; deboned and delicious. I remember being one of the first people to try this dish late last year when they were considering putting on the menu. My mother was visiting at the time and, for someone who generally turns her nose up at restaurant food, she was mightily impressed.
Our fourth and final course was the roasted suckling and foie gras, served with spring peas, fingerling potatoes, and foie gras jus. Crispy skinned, mouth melting perfection.
A little chat. A bit of chat. And, finally, it was time for the chocolates. The selection ran the length of the bar and a couple of tables.
My buddy Chef Will Poole from Colorado’s Wen Chocolates wowed ’em again with his truffle collection. I learned my lesson at my last chocolate party and, this time, ordered about 50 of his Bananas Foster truffles. And they still went fast.
Local chocolatier, Themis Velgis of Chocoatl (1127 Mainland St., Vancouver, 604-676-9977), supplied the milk and dark chocolate fountain, dunkables, and some of his own signature handmade creations.
Also representing Vancouver was DC Duby (http://www.dcduby.com/) with their multisensory mélanges of taste and texture like Pinot Noir with strawberry and licorice, or rhubarb stilton emulsion and port wine reduction.
The Marie Belle chocolates (http://www.mariebelle.com/) chocolates were so beautiful, the guests were actually reluctant to eat them. They had no such problems, however, with the Marie Belle chocolate bars, especially the croquettes, a heavenly combination and milk and dark chocolate and buttery cookies.
Donnelly Chocolates (http://www.donnellychocolates.com/) made it’s first appearance at one of my chocolate soirees and, judging from the positive response to their award-winning, handmade creations, they’ll no doubt be making a return appearance next year.
The prize for the most impressive presentation goes to Paris’s Jean-Paul Hevin (http://www.jphevin.com/) for his cave a chocolat, a beautiful briefcase of chocolate. These were the first I sampled and were among my favorites of the night.
Also from Paris, La Maison du Chocolat (http://www.lamaisonduchocolat.com/en/) represented big time with a large assortment including an unbelievably good dark chocolate ganache with vine peaches, and an equally outstanding milk chocolate ganache with Mirabelle plums. I know, I know. As a rule, I don’t mix fruit and dessert (especially chocolate), but I was happy to make an exception for these.
Another Parisian entry, Richart http://www.richart-chocolates.com/), really impressed with perhaps the most delightfully intense flavors of the evening.
And speaking of intense – Rococo Chocolates (http://www.rococochocolates.com/) chili chocolate raviolis delivered the heat! The chocolate bars, meanwhile, won a lot of fans. The milk chocolate with sea salt was a huge favorite with many while I consider its dark chocolate with Arabian spices among my very favorite bars.
New York’s Martine’s Chocolates (http://www.martineschocolates.com/) made their second chocolate party appearance. And, like last year, they were Fondy’s favorite.
Vosges Chocolates (http://www.vosgeschocolate.com/) did Chicago proud with some eclectic truffle collections that included Taleggio cheese with organic walnuts and Tahitian vanilla beans, wild tuscan fennel pollen and dark chocolate, 12 year old Balsamic vinegar with dark chocolate and Sicilian hazenuts, and an applewood smoked bacon and with smoked sea salt and deep milk chocolate truffle that amazed a lot of skeptics. But it was Vosges’ peanut butter bonbons (a delectable marriage of organic peanut butter and milk chocolate topped with Himalayan sea salt) that proved the overall favorite. Despite the fact that I had ordered two boxes, they were the first to go.
New York’s Christopher Norman (http://www.christophernormanchocolates.com/) made its third chocolate party appearance in as many years and had the room abuzz with its gorgeous hand painted collections like the Grand Mosaic Box and, or course, the stunning luxury tea collection (comprised of Lapsang Souchong, China Rose, Green Tea, and tropical Mango). They never fail to impress. The decadent Baroque Brownies and signature Swirling Dervishes also drew a lingering crowd.
Last year, I tried to convince Jin’s Patisserie (http://www.jinpatisserie.com/) to ship to Canada but they refused for fear any delay caused by customs could result in an unfair representation of their product. But this year, after some convincing, they agreed to ship – and, boy, were we glad they did. Their gorgeous collection of chocolates and bars had no less than Chef Rob Belcham agog. According to Chef Rob, Jin’s salted caramels were the best he’s ever tasted while another (off-duty) chef simply marveled over the subtle flavors and beautiful presentation.
A surprise addition to the line-up was a selection from The Williamsburg Chocolatier (http://www.williamsburgchocolate.pointshop.com/) which arrived, compliments of blog regular Thornyrose, just in time for the festivities. Thanks, Thornyrose.
As I said last year, the great thing about a chocolate party is that your guests crash about a half an hour into the tasting, so you’re always assured an earl night. By 10:00 p.m., I was ready for bed. I urged the guests and staff at Fuel (who were fantastic) to take home as much chocolate as they could carry. And yet, in spite of their best efforts, there were a good dozen boxes waiting for the following morning.
I spent Sunday relaxing, going through my photos, and driving around looking for a clinic so I could get my eye checked (No such luck. Apparently, you can’t get sick on a Sunday in Vancouver). I’m exhausted, but look forward to a nice, relaxing day on set tomorrow for Day 5 of Whispers.
A huge thank you to Tom, Tim, Chef Rob, and the rest of the gang at Fuel for an amazing evening. It’s going to be very, very tough to top next year.
But we will.
Long overdue mailbag:
1norriski writes: “Speaking of Paul/Carson have the odds of him being back for more than 5 episodes increased yet as the back half of the season continues to be discussed? Or will that depend on the fan reaction to having Carson back?”
Answer: The number of Carson appearances will be totally story dependent. At present, 5 seems about right.
Bex writes: “Have you ever come to Al Porto Ristorante on water street to eat?”
Answer: I haven’t. Next time I’m in the neighborhood, I’ll certainly stop by.
Shadow Step writes: “Some posters expressed the opinion that they found it statistically unlikely that such a group of women would chose to join the army – a reflection on looks not ability.”
Answer: Huh? Are they saying that it’s statistically unlikely that there would be four attractive women serving in the army at any given time?
Thornyrose writes: “Thanks to Mr. Ford for taking the time to answer our questions.”
Answer: And thanks to you for the chocolates.
Tiger’s Eye writes: “Joe, a really big “thank you” again for setting all this up – the BOTM club and everything that goes with it: blog-reader analyses, author Q&A’s, and anything else that pops up along the way.”
Answer: It has been a lot of fun. And, best of all, it’s been a great way to discover new authors. Like you, I’ve already ordered more of Jeffrey Ford.
Shiloh writes: “I’m also a football fan (a female who follows football, go figure) – did you watch the NFL draft today? Woo woo – 4 of my trojans in the first round!”
Answer: You sound like our own USC alum Carl Binder.
Chevron7 writes: “What do you think of bringing family members onto your show Joe? Fantastic idea, problematic or it depends if they’re right for the role?”
Answer: While I won’t give someone a role sight unseen, I have absolutely no problem bringing anyone in to audition for a role. At the end of the day, it’s their performance that will decide whether they get the job or not.