[NOTE: Today I'm also experimenting with Flickr photo sets, so let me know if things aren't showing up properly. You can find the full photo stream for the Salon du Chocolat here.]
Ok, so from Oct 27 to Nov 1, there's this exposition / trade fair called the Salon du Chocolat. As you might imagine, it's a huge, sprawling orgy of chocolate. If you're familiar with the One of A Kind show circuit in North America, you can imagine the same thing purely dedicated to chocolate. It was, to put it frankly, insane.
- Chocolate is still expensive
- France is still conservative when it comes to chocolate flavors.
- Continental palates are still not used to spicy anything.
- On the other hand, they're happy to do all sorts of odd things with chocolate.
- I'm totally more interested in solid chocolate than with bonbons or truffles
- There is an actual limit to chocolate consumption.
Let's go over these points in detail:
Chocolate is still expensive
Even at a chocolate expo/trade show, where you would think the goal is to get your chocolate into everyone's bag, nonetheless chocolate cost a minimum of 2€ / bar and often hovered in the 5€ range (i.e., approx $7 USD / $7.50 CDN for one chocolate bar). Similarly, a box of 6 bonbons could cost anywhere from 12-20€, depending on the vendor. That much being said, the vendors were mostly pretty generous with their free samples, so I still spent the day grazing on chocolate. What I took home, however, was shaped by my budget and some tough decisions.
France is still conservative when it comes to chocolate flavors
Granted, this is probably not unique to France, but it's surprising from a country that has essentially branded itself with culinary "innovation." The most adventurous chocolate combinations were the dark chocolate — herb combinations (e.g., thyme, rosemary, violet, basil), and on the whole most chocolatiers didn't go beyond tea-infused chocolate or fruit-flavoured things. One exception came from Japan, Madame Setsuko, whose bonbon flavours included green tea ganache, sweet red bean ganache, dark chocolate and soya sauce, toasted sesame seeds, and what tasted like lotus seed paste. This was the one place where I paid a rediculously high price for chocolate. Let's just say those 6 bonbons could've bought me a lot of chocolate elsewhere.
One really tell-tale difference in palates arose with the tastings of Mexican chocolates. Clearly, some Mexican cultural attachés made a big point of showing a strong Mexican presence, so there were at least three booths that I could see (not including other countries from Central America). One booth offered mole tastings (savoury chocolate sauce for chicken preparations) that I fould pretty delicious, but most people around me found it disgusting. Lots of "Eww! This tastes like chicken!" Similarly, another Mexican vendor was trying to promote her "rustic" (Oaxaca) chocolate bars, which was made of a paste of cacao beans and sugar. This granular texture didn't go down well, either. The more polite passers-by would say it was "spéciale," which is a very French euphemism for "I find this revolting, but have no polite way of saying so."
Continental palates are still not used to spicy anything
The other complaint I heard a lot at that mole-tasting was that it was too spicy. Now, I realize that I'm not a good barometer for spicyness, but I didn't even realize it was spicy until I heard a group of teenagers next to me squeal about it. What's up with that? I would've thought France's colonial encounters in l'Indochine and le Maghreb would've provided a pretty strong base for spicy eating (like similar experiences did for the UK).
Perhaps the most telling moment for this was when I bought a cup of "hot chili" hot chocolate at one of the booths. The woman at the counter warned me that it was very spicy, so I was looking forward to a firey bite like that of Soma's "intense shot" in Toronto. Instead, I took a sip, took two more, and then began to walk back to the booth, thinking that there had surely been a mistake. A moment later, a mild curry-like burn lingered at the back of my tongue. That, apparently, was it. If they present the same thing at the New York chapter of this Expo, I fully expect Texans and Tejanos to spit this out in disappointment.
On the other hand, they're happy to do all sorts of odd things with chocolate.
This is a chocolate + sugar sculpture (click on the photo for other images from that competition). In addition to these very high-end competition pieces, many booths were selling flowers made out of chocolate, chocolate figurines, chocolate lettering, chocolate liqueurs, and so on. Even better is this:
Unfortunately, the photo didn't come out very well, but what you're looking at is a chocolate massage booth. Every time I passed by, some person was sitting there getting their back massaged with chocolate-based products. And in the booth behind them, another vendor was selling chocolate waxing products. Yes, that's right. Using chocolate to rip out body hair. Of course, I consider any non-eating use of chocolate to be an abomination in the way others might view pork or shellfish or masturbation or mixed fibres. Nonetheless, I got a great kick out of seeing the masseuse slather a bunch of sticky chocolate cream onto this guy's unbelieveably hairy back; I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was thinking "How am I going to clean this off?!"
I'm totally more interested in solid chocolate than with bonbons or truffles
Mind you, I did drop a huge load of €€€ on that set of bonbons from Madame Setsuko (because I probably won't ever find those things again), but otherwise behold my haul from the Salon du Chocolat:
Of course, you might recognize the 6 bars on the left as leftovers from my previous misadventures in chocolate. Otherwise, starting from the left, we have: a Mexican "rustic" chocolate bar and a box of similarly "rustic" vanilla-flavoured chocolates, made out of crushed cocoa bean paste and granulated sugar; four bars of "organic"/fair trade bars, which were actually the cheapest at the show (4 for 5€) in Dark+Lemon, Dark+Quinoa, Dark+Rasberry, Dark+Orange; 6 bars of infused dark chocolate from La Cabosse, including pink peppercorns, rosemary, thyme, roses, violets, and basil; and the three pastel-coloured bars to the right of them are italian white chocolates, flavoured with orange, lemom, and hot peppers.
For the record, Carla, I am trying my best not to eat these before you get here! No promises, mind you....
There is an actual limit to chocolate consumption
Those who know me well understand that, for me to reach an actual limit of chocolate consumption, there must have been a LOT of chocolate available at this show. Even though I only bought one thing to eat on the spot (the hot chocolate), there were so many tastings that I felt vaguely nauseous by the time I left. Of course, that didn't stop me from eating these chocolate-covered marshmallow/meringue thingies when I got home:
Don't forget to check out my Flickr photo set for more pics of the salon!