Mischievous food experimenter Heston Blumenthal goes all Willy Wonka with a sixties-themed programme, "Heston's Chocolate Factory Feast" featuring chocolate fountains and lickable wallpaper. The versatility of this mind-altering substance has tempted man for centuries. Can you resist the seductive lure of chocolate?
I wish I didn’t love chocolate so much. I know it’s addictive, but then again so are many other things like alcohol, shopping, dancing, illegal drugs, exercise and anything else that gives you a temporary serotonin boost. Is it really that unhealthy? I think not. Oscillating research on the pros and cons of chocolate feasting can put us in a head spin - or maybe that’s just a sugar-jag. Chocolate has to be put in perspective. Like most things, it really is fine in moderation.
Chocolate is oh-so-versatile, it comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colours, coverings, strengths and packages. There really is something for everyone. I like it dipped, dusted, garnished, shaped, molded, filled, layered and best of all, in my mouth. I’m not so keen on the white stuff or extreme chocolate. Mustard flavoured chocolate just doesn’t work.
I admire well-designed chocolate packaging ranging from attention-grabbing supermarket-impulse-buying wrappers to tasteful, stylishly boxed chocolate printed treats. Chocolate branding really works for me - after all, I am a designer by trade.
I attended the "Cocoa, Climate Change and the Future of Chocolate Conference" last year. This was the world's first chocolate traceability conference and I was incredibly pleased to be part of it. My social responsibility glow was even more illuminated by the fact that Minerva Chocolate Masters from Bath were handing out samples of their gold dusted chocolates, which helped elevate my mood no end. The lure for me was not only my interest in sustainability, but also the worry that the chocolate fountain might run dry. Surely that couldn’t be possible. How can we not have chocolate in our lives? I crave it, my other half hoards it, and on average, each person in Britain eats around nine kilos of it per year. Too right that I’m concerned!
Visitors attending this cocoa symposium included leading university professors specialising in biodiversity and reforestation, environmental researchers, conservation representatives, the press, CEOs of various kinds (one of which came from West Africa’s Nature Conservation Research Centre) - and then there was me. It was serious stuff. One eco-friendly lady I was speaking to rushed off to find the man from Cadbury’s. “The Milk Tray Man?” I offered, but she’d gone by then and my humour fell on dead ears. Well, I thought it was funny.
Climate change, logging and unsustainable farming practices are devastating the West African Rain Forest, and the growth in demand for cocoa products and a decreasing cocoa belt may lead to a crisis of supply for the industry. Those Minerva chocolates started taking on a whole new meaning for me. You don’t often think about the back-story to these edible treats, but this truly is a potential problem. We must preserve our chocolate.
Attached to the conference was a Speciality Chocolate Fair. This Willy Wonka-style chocolate extravaganza had me almost keeling over with lust at the sophisticated packaging and lip smacking contents. I worked my way through nibblettes, truffles, bars, lollies and mini-nuanciers. Boutique chocolate houses displayed their wares - colourful and delicate designs were imprinted on their 85-90% cocoa confections. They were so beautifully aesthetic, I wanted to frame them and hang them on my wall. With my sugar rush raging and in fear of becoming borderline diabetic, I decided I needed a stiff drink. Luckily the Chase Vodka stand was just up the aisle. I eventually left the venue on a cocoa-induced high, laden down with a bagful of freebies.
I briefly flirted with the idea of opening up a chocolate boutique, then promptly changed my mind as I’d most likely end up eating the profits and be out of business before you could say L’artisan du chocolat.