Susana and Isabel of Miami’s Cacao Art
This weekend’s Fort Lauderdale Festival of Chocolate was mostly designed to attract the average chocolate consumer – and apparently, as many of their kids as possible. There were plenty of chocolate cooking demos, chocolate and wine pairings, eating contests and the joy of festival goers digging into Nutella crepes, drinking chocolate-scented coffee and buying chocolate-themed mugs, bags and hair accessories.
But scattered around the exhibition floor, there were the artisan confectioners. The people who work long hours in shared production kitchens, often after working a “real” job, to create small-batch products they believe in – and want you to try just once, because they know you’ll come back for more.
Here’s an introduction to the cacao crafters from this weekend’s show:
Paula Telles recently arrived in Miami Beach by way of Manhattan’s Chelsea district, bringing her Brazilian truffle company, Brigadeiro Gourmet, with her. Her booth attracted dozens of photographers, thanks to the jewel-box layout of truffles placed on fine glass and china. A “brigadeiro” is the Brazilian version of a truffle; it’s smaller, with a similar texture, and flavored with everything from nuts to tropical fruits to the potent cachaça, Brazil’s most famous alcoholic beverage. You can follow the company on Facebook:http://www.facebook.com/sweettreatsbrigadeiro#!/sweettreatsbrigadeiro/info.
Isabel Garcia and Susana Nevett of Cacao Art (blog: http://www.cacaoart.com/blog/) are based in Miami, with very literal ties to Venezuela. It’s where the cacao to make their chocolates is sourced and their sister company, Latitud 10 Chocolates, is based in Caracas. This duo is creating delicate, dark chocolates with fillings such as passion fruit, house-made marshmallow, caramel, lime, dulce de leche and honey and cardamom. Their distinctive packaging, all in shades of brown, speaks of both their seriousness and their desire to simply show off exquisite product.
Making the cross-state trip is Justin Schaffer of Irresistible Confections (http://www.irresistibleconfections.com/) out of Fort Myers. A young man who looks more college student than experienced chocolatier, his line includes fantastically flavored and tinted molded truffles, filled with peanut butter, fruit and more chocolate and artfully gilded and shaded with contrasting colors, making the final results look like something you would collect before you would consider eating. Some of Schaffer’s most beautiful creations are the custom corporate orders: he can do perfectly detailed corporate logos on his chocolates that will bring a company the best kind of notice.
Hilary Saporta and her husband Bernie Diaz are a Flair For Fudge (http://www.shop.aflairforfudge.com/) and she has a flair for telling you all about it. A former Harley Davidson marketing and promotions director who lost her job two years ago, she made fudge for fun and gave it to friends. Those friends never complained, unless a batch failed to arrive. After the job loss, Saporta decided to turn the hobby into a next life, and the Fort Lauderdale-based company makes fifteen standard flavors. Not that the word “standard” exactly applies here: wasabi ginger, black bean, guava and cream cheese and Cuban coffee toffee are examples of Saporta’s normal flavor output. Definitely not your average Grandma’s goodie, this is fudge that’s innovative and fun.
Eric Newman of The Sweet Tooth (http://www.thesweettooth.com/) thought his daughter should wear a chocolate dress for a recent show. So he made her one. Turns out, he did a pretty good job, because the dress lasted about three hours before meltdown began. He can make one for you as well, along with matching shoes and a purse. Or he can keep it simple and make up a gift basket filled with chocolate-dipped and decorated treats for any occasion from a birthday to a wedding to Passover (think of a Seder plate done in chocolate; no one will skip the bitter herb or toss the shank bone to the dog). The novelty chocolates are fun, and there are dark bars with nuts and tropical fruits for the grownups to enjoy, too.
And back to West Palm Beach’s Olive Tap (http://www.theolivetap.com/wpb/index.php) for…chocolate balsamics? Sounds like vinegar and chocolate don’t go together, but then again, why not? The sweet and sharp do balance one another quite well. The chocolate cherry balsamic, mocha fudge balsamic and chocolate marshmallow balsamic are three examples of what the store carries. Each is a small, sweet shot that doesn’t overwhelm with either the vinegar or the sugar elements. They add about 20 calories per tablespoon, and work wonderfully as dessert sauces.
And yes, Shocolaate’s (http://www.shocolaate.com/) mother/daughter team of Cristina Vives and Diana Pace were here and busy, and yes, Cristina had to go back to the shop and make more truffles for the Sunday show. By noon Sunday, her voice was going as fast as her product, which included the Star of India, coffee truffles, white chocolate coconut, marzipan and the most-popular S’mores truffles.
While I was hoping to make it to the New York Chocolate Show, it’s not looking like a go for this year. But the Fort Lauderdale Festival was a good start. Meeting mostly local artisans and finding out why they do what they do was the whole point of this trip. Note that all of the artisans mentioned here ship nationwide and do custom orders, and most ship internationally. If you like what you’ve read, tell me, but even more important, contact them, and buy. Keep buying the best, and there will always be someone out there willing to create the best.