“Your hand and your mouth agreed many years ago that, as far as chocolate is concerned, there is no need to involve your brain,” once wrote humor columnist Dave Barry, whose work has appeared in more than 500 newspapers in the United States and abroad.
It turns out Dave Barry is wrong, if attending the Los Angeles Luxury Chocolate Salon is any indication. To truly appreciate artisan chocolate, you can’t simply stuff your face, regardless of what your instincts tell you.
The event had its 13th annual anniversary on Sunday, Sept. 29 at the Pasadena Convention Center. From 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the numerous booths and stations showcased chocolate tastings, demonstrations, and chef and author talks for curious souls interested in exploring chocolate-making further. It attracted no small amount of chocolatiers and aficionados.
Tickets sold out days before the Salon, and long lines made navigating towards the enticing chocolates on display difficult. Those who waited patiently, however, were duly rewarded with colorful samples and the opportunity to purchase the treats they enjoyed.
Michael’s Chocolates, run by California Culinary Academy and Ecole Chocolat graduate Michael Benner and his husband Curtis Wallis, was one of the first booths encountered when venturing past the sign. The initial line was long, and the crowd did not truly disperse until the waning minutes of the event. Curtis helped man the booth while Michael chatted up customers in line.
Their specialty: particularly shiny chocolate bon-bons. They were not available for sampling themselves, but Michael handed over small spoonfuls of the delicious ganache that filled them. Later, when he spoke to the small crowd huddled in the adjoining room, he explained the intricacies behind his craft.
“Chocolate is very sensitive to humidity, temperature — everything. The rotation of the sun in space, whether it’s a Thursday… chocolate is very, very tempermental,” said Benner. “People look at my bonbons and say ‘wow, they are very, very shiny’ — that is when chocolate is in proper temper — meaning the cocoa butter in the chocolate, because that’s what you’re tempering. In my case, it’s sprayed in color on the outside. With someone else’s case it’s just chocolate in a mold.”
Another notable booth belonged to Raphio Chocolate, on the opposite side of the room. They offered samples of the unroasted beans that went into their award-winning chocolates, which they also provided samples of. From Ecuador, Madagascar, and Tanzania, their chocolates are full of complex flavors and best enjoyed slowly. Their meyer lemon olive oil chocolate is a Good Food Award winner, as well as vegan and gluten-free. Luckily, the last package was available to try. Unfortunately, the Espresso Crunch sold out within the first two hours and the wait in line itself was a good 30 minutes.
VeneCacao, a Venezuelan confectionery enterprise, offered bonbon desserts which looked like they belonged in a rock and mineral set. Fortunately, they don’t taste like polished stones, and come in white, milk, and dark varieties, each with differing levels of delicious sweetness.
There were some unique chocolatey twists and some less conventional products: a perfumer offered free chocolate perfume “smells” and chocolate barbecue sauce was for sale. There were also plenty of vendors offering non-chocolate products such as wines, fresh produce, tea therapy, and even chip dips.
The Los Angeles Chocolate Salon is undoubtedly a great place to learn about and indulge in the finest artisan chocolate. If chocolate piques your interest, make sure to book early and come with an appetite.