The sweet smell is the first to strike: comforting, desirable, and all too familiar. Your smile widens in anticipation as you enter the Metropolitan Pavilion, where a Wonka-esque sight will meet your eyes.
Inside, chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate stretches as far as the eye can see. Crowds cluster around culinary demonstrations held by top-notch chefs, as awed shoppers wander through booth upon booth selling chocolate in all its incarnations. This is the New York Chocolate Show, in which vendors, activities, and exhibitions fill 30,000 square feet for three days this weekend to pay homage to the eponymous ingredient.
The festivities were dreamed up by Sylvie Douce and François Jeantet, who founded Paris’ 1994 Le Salon du Chocolat. Today, their brainchild has branches worldwide, from Bordeaux to Bahia and Seoul to Shanghai. Each city puts its unique stamp on the event by catering to the tastes of the local audience.
As New York’s show prepares to celebrate its 15th anniversary this weekend, celebrations will be more elaborate than usual. Limited-edition bracelets declaring “I love Chocolate,” crafted by Boulogne-based Agnès de Boissieu, will be available for purchase, Nicholas Farhi will create chocolate paintings, and Upper West Side staple Screme Gelato will teach attendees how to make chocolate gelato.
The show makes chocolate interactive, and its sheer scale guarantees that all will find a taste to tickle their fancy. Those seeking a savory snack, for example, should stop by the demonstration of the Pad Thai Truffle-making process by Nicole Coady, the executive chef of Boston’s Finale Dessert Company.
AN INTERNATIONAL STAGE
Such an accumulation of talent naturally draws public attention. New vendors gain an avenue for immense growth, as noted by New York-based H.S. Chocolate Co. owner MaryAnne Hoekstra-Shekar, a first-year participant in the show.
“I just launched H.S. Chocolate Co. one year ago, so [I] wasn’t expecting an invite until I was a bit more established,” Hoekstra-Shekar said. “It [The Chocolate Show] gives us a national or perhaps even international stage where we can interact with the chocolate enthusiast community from all over the country. Being a small business with a very limited marketing budget, it can be a challenge to get our chocolates into the hands of a large audience.”
Hoekstra-Shekar, who took classes at the Institute of Culinary Education and the French Culinary Institute prior to starting her business, says she seeks to imbue the familiar into her chocolate confections.
“My philosophy behind chocolate-making is that you can have nostalgic flavors and not have to sacrifice the quality of your ingredients,” Hoekstra-Shekar said. “Personally, I am drawn to desserts and sweets that remind me of something.”
Hoekstra-Shekar makes her own marshmallow cream and almond paste to ensure authenticity, while her chocolates serve as versions of her childhood favorites.
“Our Troop 652 candy bar is my take on a Girl Scouts Samoa,” she said.
Other more established Manhattan shops—such as Peanut Butter & Co., which calls Sullivan Street home—find that the show offers them the opportunity to mix and mingle with some of the dessert world’s finest talents.
“We’ve been able to network and share ideas with superstar chocolatiers like Jacques Torres and François Payard, as well as meet with up-and-coming artisan companies like Liddabit Sweets that are using Peanut Butter & Co. peanut butter in their products with great success,” Lee Zalben, founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., said.
LATEST AND GREATEST
Since the New York Chocolate Show is the only branch in the U.S., it naturally inspires vendors to display their latest and greatest creations. H.S. Chocolate Co. will unveil its brand-new Almond Dandy, a milk chocolate-almond paste bar studded with almonds, rice crisps, and sea salt, this weekend. Meanwhile, Salt of the Earth Bakery, another Manhattan-based vendor, will unveil its Cherry Bomb.
Salt’s Managing Partner and Executive Chef Alexandra Joseph Rabbani became involved in the Chocolate Show, she said, because she saw it as an opportunity to showcase chocolate in another medium.
“The year we established Salt of the Earth Bakery, we attended the New York Chocolate Show as laymen—and had a fantastic time,” Rabbani said. “We noticed that there was an absence of baked goods at the show, so once we entered production we contacted them about participating.”
Salt of the Earth serves up brownies, cookies, and other baked specialties with a twist, as they sprinkle artisanal sea salt to enhance the flavor. Its famous cookie, for example, combines E. Guittard dark chocolate with Maldon English sea salt.
IN GOOD COMPANY
“At the New York Chocolate Show, you’re in the company of amazing craftsmen from all over the world, and being received in the manner in which we were—in that atmosphere—gave us a lot of confidence that we were doing something right. It is one thing to love what you make. It is another thing to see that smile, what we call ‘OMG face,’ on throngs of perfect strangers.”
Rabbani said she ultimately sees the Chocolate Show as a way for people of all background to bond over a common passion.
“The New York Metropolitan Area is one of the culinary centers of the world, and the New York Chocolate Show really cleaves to our philosophy of “‘Foodies’ Food for Everyone.” It is not just a trade event; it is not just a social scene. It attracts singles, couples, families, amateurs, professionals, chefs, cooks, [and] writers, all unified by their common love of chocolate.”
To get a taste of this chocolate lover’s paradise for yourself, visit the Metropolitan Pavilion (125 W. 18th St. between Sixth and Seventh avenues) on Friday, Nov. 9 and Saturday, Nov. 10 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. or on Sunday, Nov. 11 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are $40 on Friday and Sunday and $50 on Saturday. For more information, visit www.chocolateshow.com.