There are so many great reasons to live in the Pacific Northwest; amazing hikes, talented artisans and of course, the food. And so its little wonder that Seattle would be chosen to host some of the world's top culinary professionals and award winning artisan chocolatiers for an amazing weekend full of demonstrations, workshops and of course, a whole lot of tasting! Without further delay, let's explore the 2015 Northwest Chocolate Festival.
After enduring a substantial line of chocolate lovers just to get in the door, you realize the sheer size of this festival. Spanning most of three floors within the Bell Harbor International Convention Center, located on Pier 66, you immediately begin to enact a strategy for not dropping too quickly into chocolate overload. This will happen, undoubtedly, but with any hope you will at least get to visit all of the artisans on your list first. Fortunate for me, I had only a short time to locate my first workshop and could only sample limitedly along the way.
I had heard in advance that the workshops being offered were not to be missed, and were a huge factor in me attending the festival. As anyone who lives here knows, the area around Pike's Market is very popular during fall weekends but I am so glad that we attended despite the traffic concerns. Our day began with an incredibly informative presentation by Dandelion Chocolates, located in San Francisco, CA. Explaining how to go from bean to bar in small batches with relatively inexpensive equipment, I left feeling both inspired and well informed as to the process. Aside from the $250.00 chocolate refiner (seen in the photo above), the rest of the tools were common household items; rolling pin, hair drier, shallow bowl and a heat gun. At the conclusion of the demonstration, we were given samples of the type of chocolate you can expect to make given these methods and I have to admit, I'm pretty sold on embarking on my own at home bean to bar chocolate making adventure.
While each hour you have upwards of 6 different presentations you could choose to attend, we decided to hit the trade floor and begin a round of sampling. While each vendor gladly offered tastes of their premier products, many also sought to expose visitors to both the process of chocolate making and cacao at varies stages. Pictured above at the Mindo Chocolate table were bowls of cacao nibs to highlight what unsweetened chocolate tastes like from different regions.
Visiting the Seleuss Chocolates booth was an especially decadent treat in a room full of decadent treats. While it is a common claim to "source only the best ingredients", Alexander Long's micro batch truffles were undoubtedly created with the utmost of quality and attention. After sampling both the Wild Lavender Honey and the Greek Rose, I couldn"t choose as both had such incredibly distinctive tastes. My first purchase of the day was a box that contained both.
While this is a public celebration of all things chocolate, the Northwest Chocolate Festival also doubles as an industry gathering where one can view that latest machines, molds and ingredients. While I don't think this will fit in my small space kitchen, I did pick up a silicone mold from Truffly Made (which is produced in the US!)
As to be expected, the crowd around the Forte Chocolate tables were quite thick all day, but this only intensified after Forte's owner, Chef Karen Neugebauer, took the mic to teach a packed room the secrets of chocolate tempering. When you have a multi award winning master chocolatier willing to speak to you on just about anything, it's going to be a great afternoon, but tempering? Now that was a dream come true, especially after a few failures this year in my own chocolate endeavors. Though Chef Karen gave us a great deal of practical advice, what was most surprising is her practice of hand tempering everything she makes to ensure that each batch is of prime quality. So many facets of the process clicked into place as she explained her methods. At the end of her presentation, I felt genuinely inspired to return to my chocolate failures with a fresh new perspective and turn them into something wonderful.
So after a long afternoon of both learning and tasting, here are my impressions of the Northwest Chocolate Festival:
- Be prepared for a huge crowd, despite the $30.00+ entrance fee. Whether people attend for the top notch classes or just to go nuts eating chocolate, you will have to contend with a lot of people who seem quite uninterested in moving along.
- Though I would have loved to attend more of the classes, the ones that most interested me tended to be spread out quite evenly over the two days. If I lived closer to the venue, I would certainly have returned on Sunday.
- Nearly every vendor that I visited seemed genuinely happy to be there and interacting with attendees. Even in the midst of such huge crowds, they were very approachable (well, once you could get to the table), and gladly answered questions.
-The venue itself was very accommodating and kept attendees well hydrated with water stations throughout the festival. Despite the huge crowds, the temperature was also very comfortable.
-Did I mention how amazing the classes were? For the $30.00 entrance fee, I was able to sit in on two amazing sessions and ask a few questions as well, what a bargain!
Would I attend in the future? This would depend greatly on the presentation schedule. While I very much enjoyed sampling all of the different brands of chocolate, the sessions are the real draw for me in returning, especially considering how packed the trade floors were. If you are interested in improving your chocolate preparation, then the Northwest Chocolate Festival is likely to be a worthwhile event for you to attend. If you're just looking to indulge in a lot of samples, you might be a little disappointed as the table crowds simply don't move along.