Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Chocolate The Exhibition

Chocolate the Exhibition originated at The Field Museum in Chicago and is now right here in Raleigh, NC! I was so excited to see it! Here I am at the entrance with a bagful of purchases - one of which is a sign that says "Will Work for Chocolate."

Here's the entrance:

Well, that's pretty much the highlight of the exhibition. I mean, except for the gift shop.

Okay, I'm jaded. I've been to Hershey's Museum and Chocolate World. I've see the chocolate fountain at the Bellagio. I've toured chocolate factories. I've watched chocolate videos. This just wasn't all that. Maybe my hopes were just too high.

But the NC Museum of Natural Science has some educational events around the exhibition, and I went to one last week. It featured local chocolatier Hallot Parson of Escazu. I'd been into Escazu - it's a tiny shop which seems geared more to catering than to the random walk-in customer. No problem, I'm a die hard capitalist and want these small chocolatiers to make money.

Now you all know how much I love chocolate and how excited I get when I meet cool chocolate people. I loved watching them make the bourbon cherries in Kentucky, had a blast at Just Born in PA, and adored the tour of A Chocolate Fetish in Asheville. (And you know about my crush on Chuao Chocolatier Master Chef Michael Antonorsi.) Hallot Parson is a serious buzz kill.

I was so bummed when I stopped by the shop and tried to get him to talk about his chocolates. Ho. Hum. He was SO serious. I thought maybe I was keeping him from some important task - like saving the free world. I chalked it up to him having a bad day.

Well, Hallot is just like that. His presentation was interesting but he sucked all the joy out of the room. The auditorium was crowded, by the way. Crowded with chocolate lovers just waiting to laugh and have fun and learn. Not with Hallot. He's the most dour chocolate maker I have yet to meet. He didn't smile once - not even in the slides he showed us of him at the cacao plantation. Is this allowed? Shouldn't the fumes alone keep a chocolate maker in a perpetual state of bliss? Apparently not. I don't think Hallot would be fun to hang out with. All the other chocolatiers are the opposite - I would love to be able to pop in their shops and buy what's new and just bask in their coolness. Hallot is more like an Ooompa Loompa than a Willie Wonka. Bummer.

They do have a great logo:

And some lovely chocolates (although I think their bars are really where the action is). They have a sea salt bar that's terrific. But check these out:

I got these on a very hot summer day, so the bloom on the diamond shaped piece was unavoidable. The bad part is that because Hallot was such a grouch, I can't even remember what all these are. He was no fun to pick them out with - and they were not cheap.

The flat disk is a very thin delicious dark chocolate, but whatever is on top left an aftertaste like dirt. Ugh. Not so good.

The diamond was okay - it didn't blow me away, but it was good.

The tiger stripe brown dome was bad - I'm not sure if something happened with the heat. It reminded me of that horrible blue cheese Vosges truffle.

The small yellowish one has cool Aztec-inspired design work and was good, although it's white chocolate. I wish I had more details as I know there were some interesting flavors I couldn't quite identify. I love it when the boxes have identification or the chocolate shop employees fill out a card for you. I wasn't about to ask Hallot to do anything like that.

I really liked the gorgeous Easter egg truffle:

Not only is it visually breathtaking - look at those delicious layers of chocolate - white, milk, ganache. This was a true work of art - both visual and culinary - delicious!!

The personalities of chocolate are fascinating!! Tomorrow we'll meet Fritz Knipschildt - festive but egotistical. WHEEE!!!


Spinning Ninny said...

I was also at the lecture at the museum in Raleigh. Apparently, we had very different experiences. The lecture was a well done talk about what goes into making small batch artisan chocolates. I thought the samples tasty, and I too stopped by the shop afterward. Escazu is a small operation doing small batches of chocolate in a very specific way. If you're expecting a Willie Wonka, I think you're not quite the capitalist you claim to be. Of course Mr. Parson was "serious" - that's his livelihood that you're talking about and everyone's a critic. I probably wouldn't be all smiles if I was one of two people staffing a small chocolate shop, making all of the components of the chocolate and working 7 days a week to do so. Even if you've been to the Hershey's factory (I have too, I used to live near there.), you might try having a little respect for the difference between an impersonal corporation mass producing mediocre chocolate and a small artisan boutique that hand selects their cocoa beans. The lecture was informative, as it was meant to be, and the line of folks coming up to talk to Mr. Parson after seemed to indicate that they both enjoyed the lecture and appreciated his expertise, rather than judging his personality quite so harshly as you. Is personality a factor in the quality of a product? Do you think that Richard Lenny is a delightful man? I wonder if he even knows how to make chocolate...

Denise Ryan said...

Hi Spinning,

Thanks for taking the time to post a comment!

I’m thinking you’re not a regular reader or you might have guessed that my comments are often intended to be taken in a more humorous light. But I do appreciate your point of view.

I stopped by Escazu on another day and was simply using the lecture as confirmation of the seriousness of Mr. Parsons. I do indeed have respect for the smaller operators (not just chocolate makers but other candy producers) as I have often said in many of my postings. I have visited many small chocolate operations (Chocolaterie Stam, A Chocolate Fetish, Old Kentucky Chocolates, and others) and I have always been lucky enough to encounter friendly people. These people also have their livelihoods on the line.

And, oh yes, I am a die hard capitalist. No die hard capitalist would dare suggest that a company should just be rewarded for trying hard. Good customer service is a vital part of business success. And to me, a huge part of customer service is friendliness. (I did try to engage Mr. Parson at the shop and, he just wasn’t friendly. I would have bought a lot more chocolate if he was.) I would say that the personality of those interacting with the public is a HUGE factor in the success (or not) of a business. I have never met and know nothing about Richard Lenny (former Hershey’s CEO) so I cannot comment on him, but I bet Hershey’s sales force has a lot of people who know how to be friendly. The employees I came into contact with during my visit there and the ones I met at Candy Expo were delightful. For capitalists, the marketplace is the judge. And like their chocolate or not, Hershey’s ain’t doing so bad.

However, if you re-read my posting, my comment about Hershey was in regard to the exhibit itself and had nothing to do with Mr. Parsons or Escazu.

I’m glad you liked the lecture – I was being my usual over the top self in dramatizing Mr. Parsons’ serious demeanor. I have found so many candy people so much fun and so friendly when they meet someone excited about what they do, that he surprised me.

But again, thanks for your comment, and I hope all your chocolate experiences are good ones!