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Chocolate for Charity

Dateline: Chicago, Illinois

By Tracy L. Ziemer
Tuesday, December 5, 2006

the daily dishNothing brings people together like chocolate — especially when those scores of sweets are for a good cause. More than 1,500 people gathered at the Hyatt Regency Chicago on November 30 for the fifth annual World of Chocolate event benefiting the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. Held on the eve of World AIDS Day, the World of Chocolate event assembled 26 vendors who used chocolate in a myriad of ways.

The chocolate was draped over caramels and topped with sea salt. It flowed from a fountain. It studded cookies, formed moussey peaks, mingled with chile flavors to pack some sweet heat, and provided a creamy surprise in pillowy mashed potatoes. It even touched the ceiling — in the form of a 20-foot, eight-inch dark-chocolate Sears Tower. Alain Roby, executive pastry chef of the Hyatt Regency, created the 2,285-pound tower, which at an October Food Network event earned a spot in the Guinness World Records book as the tallest chocolate structure.

Chef Roby's chocolate skills shone on a smaller scale, too, with his Drinkable Brownie concoction. This very rich, velvety dessert in an aperitif glass was reminiscent of liquefied fudge. Chef Roby explained that the base of the dessert was an actual marshmallow brownie that he had emulsified in a blender with heavy cream and a little milk. (Home cooks anticipating leftover holiday desserts, take note: "It is a good technique to use for leftover apple pie, too, or chocolate cake that's gotten dry," he said.)

Shining like baubles were the Cocoa Room's glossy chocolate candies, including sublime Pumpkin Spice malted milk balls — think grown-up, fall-flavored Whoppers with a kick. (These and other candies are available for mail order at www.thecocoaroom.com.) Nearby were Chocolate Gourmet's so-called "ugly truffles," which bore clean flavors and unusual names such as Oozy Boozy Caramel (caramel center with brandy–milk chocolate ganache and a milk chocolate–pecan shell) and Morning-After Merlot (Merlot ganache surrounded with bittersweet chocolate and rolled in red-velvet cake crumbs). Take a peek at all 16 truffle and cookie flavors at www.chocolategourmet.com.

Some chocolate treats inched more toward fresh and light than dark and rich on the flavor spectrum. Ricques Mexican restaurant poured hot chocolate infused with rose petals and achiote seeds, while Terry's Toffee struck delicate notes with its Lavenilla toffee (lavender, Madagascar vanilla, and white chocolate) and Lemon Paradise (macadamia nuts and white chocolate), which had a clean, buttery, fresh-picked taste. (See www.terrystoffee.com to order 15 flavors of toffee, plus other treats.)

While the desserts dazzled, the spotlight belonged to the more innovative creations on the savory side of the palette. Sweets and Savories restaurant served an outstanding beef tenderloin with a mildly tangy black cherry–chocolate glaze perched atop a cloud of mashed potatoes whipped with white chocolate.

The winner of the event's "Loco Cocoa" award for the most creative use of chocolate deservedly went to The Stained Glass, a wine bar and bistro in Evanston owned by chef Victor Hernandez, for its braised-rabbit empanadas with a smear of red mole sauce made with Mexican chocolate. The result was a lovely flavor combination of earthy, hearty, sweet, and spicy.


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