Today I went to Fort Mason to check out the third annual San Francisco International Salon. It was advertised as 30,000 square feet of chocolate, wine, and confections so I knew something good had to come out of it.
Over 50 artisans were displaying and selling their wonderful products, it was hard to decide where to start. I had checked out the program and I knew that there were few people I was interested in meeting who were going to be there. I first went to see what the The Gourmet Chocophile Challenge was about, and I volunteered to be among 11 other testers to compete for the grand prize of a free Gourmet Tour. Andrea Nadel, founder of Gourmet Walks, was hosting what I was hoping would be a fun challenge. We were first given 6 chocolates to taste, and we had to guess whether it was dark or milk chocolate (easy), what was the exact percentage (not so easy), and what turned out to be the hardest part...guess the ingredients. Some ingredients were obvious like cinnamon, blueberries, pumpkin seed and chili pepper, but others were totally unrecognizable, like cheese or mushrooms (I thought the mushroom's taste was coffee!). I got one of the highest scores so I stayed for the second round which consisted of tasting 3 single origin chocolates and guess the percentage, the country of origin, and the maker (close to impossible). I only scored one point (!) so I didn't get a chance to stay for the third and final round. It was fun though, but harder than I thought, and a great learning experience because I got to taste a wonderful chocolate from Madagascar, and loved it! The flavor was complex and very aromatic, I wish I had written down the name. I hope the country doesn't destroy itself, but will slowly recover and find the pride in its treasures.
It was time to walk around and hit some of the tables. I saw a very interesting mix of vendors, including a Willy Wonka wannabe, and another nice gentleman who clearly believes that chocolate is aphrodisiac. Among the most unusual products I saw, there were some beauty products including a baby cleanser. There was some chocolate inspired art as well, like this wonderful photograph by April Banks.
Anita Chu was talking about her book Field Guide to Cookies so I went to listen to her presentation. It was nice to see in person the talented creator of Dessert First, one of my favorite baking blogs. Anita has a new candy book that is coming out soon, I can't wait to see it.
The most interesting chocolates where the ones that were fair trade, and single origin. I definitely have to learn more about all of this, especially of the countries that produce chocolate, what an immense variety of flavors.
By the time I went around two times I had probably ingested close to half a pound of chocolate, and I was feeling it. I decided to leave but first I stopped to say hi to Celia Sack of Omnivore, a small bookstore in San Francisco that specializes in hard to find cookbooks (I will visit it again because on my first visit I didn't get a chance to talk to Celia and savor it completely). On my way out I stopped at one of the best looking tables, set up by Neococoa, and I couldn't believe my fortune when I noticed the venerable Alice Medrich chatting with Neococoa's owner. I introduced myself to the person I consider the Bay Area Chocolate Guru and asked her if I could write about her recipes in this forum. Alice Medrich was very gracious and gave me permission to publish her recipes on my blog, so expect some of her recipes soon!
I am sure there were many vendors I missed, but the ones I truly enjoyed were:
Socola creates beautiful and delicious chocolate confections and is located in Oakland.
Poco Dolce makes very simply yet delicious chocolate tiles sprinkled with sea salt, an heavenly combination.
Chopita makes infused cocoa nibs and just introduced a hybrid chocolate/cocoa nib bar that is really flavorful and innovative.
Amano had a chocolate from Venezuela that has a smoky flavor that was very interesting.
TCHO has an interesting way to promote its chocolate, through a colorful flavor wheel.
Neococoa wins for taste and look, I would want to eat more of their delicious almond butter and smoked salt truffles.
It was a very pleasant visit and it gave me lots of food for thoughts, pun intended.