A chocolate show is a wonderful thing. Imagine your favorite thing to eat in the whole world and there's a convention about it, with every booth offering free samples of that thing. All people should go to a show featuring their favorite food once in their lives, yet unfortunately not all foods get their own show. Bacon probably wouldn't have its own show. Candy gets its own show sometimes. Chocolate has been getting its own show for years now. My first chocolate show was in November 1998 in New York, when I was a grad student in the Food Studies Master's degree program at NYU.
The Food Studies department posted a notice for volunteers to help out at the popular New York Chocolate Show at Soho's regal Puck Building. The time required to serve was a full Saturday, and we put on white coats and assisted a certain famous French pastry chef during his live chocolate demonstrations. His desserts and cakes are always impressive, however this chef treated us volunteers with disdain that day. I think that's when I learned it's definitely fun to volunteer at a chocolate show, but it's even more fun to be a patron.
Years later I received a complimentary ticket for the same show through the restaurant company I worked at, since one of our pastry chefs was a featured guest. Seeing the show as a human instead of a volunteer led to a higher level of satisfaction all around, as I was no longer chained to one corner of the room and could now explore freely. This was all good with the exception that I did not heed this warning:
**Warning: Taste samples sporadically, not constantly, at a chocolate show or you will have extreme headaches**
(Heck I still wouldn't take that advice. Never ask me to.)
There was another chocolate show I attended with my old friend Chris probably around 2002 after we returned from a trip to Paris. But before I talk about that, let me mention that good chocolate is easy to find in Paris! Chris took me to Angelina’s for their luxe hot chocolate poured from a porcelain pot, and we visited Michael Chaundon’s shop near the Eiffel Tower for cream-filled chocolates so fresh they must always be refrigerated.
Right, so it was after Paris that Chris and I visited a New York chocolate show in a more intimate setting than the Puck Building, in some big gallery in Chelsea. There were some marvelous products at this show, including white chocolate bark with cherries, apricots and pistachios from France, painted artisinal bon bons from Japan and new flavors of Van Gogh chocolate vodka from The Netherlands. And yes, samples were plentiful!
Now the weirdest chocolate show experience I ever had was in October 2005 in Sweden. I happened upon a crazy coincidence one day while researching an upcoming visit to Scandinavia. The purpose of the visit was two-fold: to taste real Danish pastries in Copenhagen, and to visit my Catherine-Deneuve-look-alike friend Kirsten in Oslo (we met at a New York barbecue when she offered me a piece of the lovely Swedish candy called Daim).
After the flights were booked, I did a random online search for chocolate in Sweden. No, Sweden wasn't on the itinerary per se, but I planned to visit the Swedish town of Malmo for a few hours since it was the most accessible Swedish city near Copenhagen and I couldn’t eat Danish ALL the time so a short train trip to the most accessible part of Sweden made sense! So, the online search for "Sweden chocolate" resulted in a wonderful coincidence. During the time of my visit, there was going to be a CHOCOLATE SHOW IN MALMO, SWEDEN!
The 30-minute train ride to Malmo went quickly and in the train station I bought a few Swedish chocolate bars for the wrappers (including the exquisitely wrapped Japonais bar), and promptly ignored the tons of licorice for sale (it’s a thing in Scandinavia, that licorice). Then with purpose and anticipation I walked, a good 30-minute walk, down the cold streets of Malmo to the old brick factory where the chocolate show would be. I found it! That felt awesome.
There was a short line at the door, and the ticket taker was a very attractive Swedish man. (Did I ever tell you about the inherent attractiveness of Scandinavian people? It’s amazing, and as I would soon find out in Oslo, the Norwegians are just as attractive as the Swedes!) The Swedish man was in jeans and a big burly gray sweater, the kind of sweater that belongs at a cozy lodge with you and your (plural) hot toddies by the fire. He was blond, J Crew model-like but without a drip of pretention, and he smiled at me when I asked him if he spoke English.
He nicely explained that the chocolate show ticket price was something like 25 euros. Ack! True I did come to Malmo for this chocolate show (as well as to visit Malmo's "famous International Market Square" down the street), but 25 euros compared to the $15 or even free admission I was used to for larger shows in New York felt like too much here. I mean, it’s not that I needed to go this show. I wanted to, if possible.
I explained my situation to the handsome Swede, that I worked for a restaurant company and loved chocolate and went to many food shows and didn’t really need to see this one after all, thanks anyway. "Where did you travel from?" he asked. I said "Besides Copenhagen? I'm from New York City." Well that’s all it took for him to melt like a big piece of white chocolate in the sun. He lived in New York City once too! And he really wanted to talk to me about that. But what can you do, people kept interrupting, you know, to buy tickets for the chocolate show.
This man graciously decided, under the circumstances, that I should be able to go to the show for free. Really? Wow thank you so much...I accepted the offer and went upstairs. The chocolate show was 1/30th the size of any show I’d been to. It was extremely intimate and lovely, and I deftly walked around the three little rooms in food-show-grazing style, popping through people and accepting the few samples offered. That said, I think I finished the show in 10 minutes. A little embarrassing, yes, but stalling was difficult due to the crowds so all I could really do was leave.
Back downstairs he was surprised to see me so soon! I sincerely thanked him and then he wanted to hear what I thought about the show and wished to continue talking. So did I, then the admission line suddenly grew and he had to take tickets, even though he was flustered that this meant we had to stop chatting. I said “Listen I’m going to walk to the International Market Square which should be a few blocks that way and then will come back.” Relieved, he said okay. I walked a few blocks to that famous square, and immediately noticed that whoever wrote the promotional benefits of visiting Malmo and included the International Market Square as one of those benefits was high on aquavit. There was absolutely nothing to see, no special shops or restaurants or takeout places. The square was desolate, depressing, and kinda closed. Maybe because it was a Sunday? Anyway my little side trip to the square lasted about 30 seconds and then I turned back.
On the walk back to the chocolate show I started to imagine what would happen if I lingered to chat up the chocolate show man. Well, we could have an adventure...he clearly wanted to talk more, so I could invite him to visit me in Copenhagen where I was staying for three more days and he would take the 30-minute train ride from Malmo and meet me for dinner and we would enjoy each other’s company and have drinks and then because I was a single female traveler alone in Scandinavia with a hotel room he might expect more and that might be too risky so..., so, hmm. Boy was he a lovely, intelligent and generous man, however my mind raced in über-precautionary mode. I had no idea what to do.
When I got back to the old brick factory I stopped on the sidewalk and waved hello to him while he was exchanging money frantically with customers. He was very happy to see that I returned. I stood and waited. I got nervous. I imagined a conversation about meeting up later but with no expectations. I decided it was too weird to explain my vulnerabilities to a total stranger. Resolved to eat my dinner alone that night, I got his attention, pointed towards the train station and mouthed the words “I have to go,” then walked away watching him watch me, his frustration clear as he tried to catch me but in the end was trapped taking chocolate show money.
I regret that I did not stay to get to know this person, who only knew me for a few minutes before sneaking me into his chocolate show. What had I been so worried about? He wanted to talk to someone from New York, to reminisce about his old home. Who knows what else, but that at least was real. It’s one of those things where in this day-and-age of Facebook I wish I knew his name because then I could “friend” him and explain why I up and left without a word that day in October 2005 when he worked at the Malmo chocolate show. Nah, I don't think people remember things like I do.
Soon after I was reminded of some lessons: 1) Don't make assumptions about or decisions for other people because you have no idea what they're thinking, and 2) Don't think so much all the time, just go with life when it happens. At least right after seeing the show I had a moment to thank the man for his generosity and tell him how much I enjoyed it.
I haven’t been to a chocolate show since, unless you call the visions of chocolate dancing around my mind each day a chocolate show.
Until we eat again,