Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cincinnati Chocolate Festival

Ghoul cookie from The BonBonerie

In honor of Halloween, here are a few photos I snapped at last weekend’s Cincinnati Chocolate Festival. I would have taken more, but it was crazy crowded. That’s a good thing, though, when the proceeds go to projects and donations that support women and children thanks to the Isaac M. Wise Temple Sisterhood, who organized the festival for the second year in a row. It was also great exposure for the 40-some vendors who participated – what a wealth of local chocolatier and baking talent!

Most vendors had bite-size treats available for 1 ticket, like these cake pops, from Janel’s Cakes. Since admission came with 10 tickets – and there were so many samples to try – I was glad they were on the small side.

Most vendors had additional items available for purchase, too, like Chocolats LaTour. I didn’t realize until I got mine home that this pumpkin shell is edible too! And those chocolates inside? Shalini LaTour’s seasonal specialties like Spice Berry, Wild Turkey, Stout, Honey Basil Caramel, and Rosemary Mandarin – ooh, la, la!

And some tables – like Artrageous – showcased what they can do in a large format, drawing mobs for smaller tastes of their creations.

I was delighted to find wine and chocolate pairings available from A Bottle or Two (1 ticket per chocolate bit + 1 ticket per wine tasting). I didn’t manage to get a photo of their table, but it was conveniently located just across the aisle from Murray’s Cheese/Kroger, which offered this, one of my favorite bites of the fest. (Acclaimed NYC-based Murray’s Cheeses has partnered with Kroger to make a lot of national and international specialty cheeses available in the Tri-State and elsewhere – I was surprised to learn how many Greater Cincinnati Kroger locations now have Murray’s selections available, and I’m going to have to clue my mom in there’s one in Knoxville too.)
According to the handy card I picked up, this was dark chocolate-dipped Plava Vecchio cheese served with Kissel’s blueberry lavender jam and mascarpone on a thin, crispy 34 degree wafer. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who loved it. This won the “Most Creative Use of Chocolate” Award in the Vendor/Professional Division.

Amateurs were invited to compete in their own division, and as luck would have it, I was standing near that table when their sweets were brought out into the hall after the judges had made their deliberations. Here are Debbie Heldman’s Mushroom Meringues, which took 1st place in the candy category. How impressive is this?

There were also a huge number of gift baskets being raffled off. Realizing I was going to reach sugar overload before using up all my tickets (I bought more than came with my admission), I decided to drop some of them in the boxes for the baskets – after all, it was for a good cause.

And then there were the demos. Again, just 1 ticket, although there were only 30 seats available for each – but if you got one of those choice seats, you also got to taste the chef’s dishes! The area was cordoned off with a short white “fence,” so onlookers could view, even though they couldn’t taste. While watching part of the demo by Steve Hellmich, Chocolatier of Graeter's, outside that fence, I realized I was already in line for the next one, by Megan Ketover, Pastry Chef at Orchid’s and recent contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef: Just Desserts. Having had the chance to meet her and taste her food a couple of months ago, I was looking forward to this, and so were many more fans.

Megan showed how to make her pumpkin whoopee pies with brown sugar buttercream and chocolate cardamom sauce in a way that made it all look easy. The finished product, prepped ahead for those of us lucky enough to be within seating and eating distance, was far more elaborate.

The pipette you see sticking out of Megan's whoopie pie contained her chocolate cardamon sauce – just squeeze the bulb to inject some of the rich sauce into the center of the dessert. Each confection also featured an edible chocolate garnish bearing the insignia of the Netherland Plaza, the hotel where she is pastry chef at Orchids. If you're interested in the recipe, Megan graciously agreed to let me share it and I'll be posting it on All Top Chef.

Megan wasn’t the only well-known Cincinnati pastry chef to demo. She was in the company of two Cincinnati veterans, Pam Sturkey and Summer Genetti.

Unfortunately, I missed most of Pam’s demo, after exiting the seating area to make way for more “ticket-paying” customers. But I did secure a seat for Summer Genetti’s demo, and it was a stunner.

Here is the dessert Summer demonstrated, titled, simply, "Fish Eggs."
Straddling the line between sweet and savory, Summer's offering was white chocolate and pink peppercorn custard baked in eggshells, with ginger whipped cream, green apple and radish salad, ahi tuna, wasabi caviar and orange zest – as delicious as it was unexpected!

Summer recently moved from The Palace to one of my favorite restaurants, Honey, in Northside. It's been far too long since I ate there, but Summer's inventive desserts are extra incentive for a return trip.

It was a fun afternoon, even if I did ingest way more sugar than I normally would. As soon as I got home, the phone rang with more sweet news. I actually won a raffle basket (and I never win things like this)! So I jumped back in the car and returned to the Cintas Center to pick up my prize. I've got six pints of Madisono's gelato and sorbet in my future, and I'm grinning from ear to ear.

Enjoy your Halloween festivities, and stop back Monday for my entry in this month's Culinary Smackdown, Battle: Winter Squash, hosted by last month's winner, the lovely Jen of Our Good Food Life. It sounds like we're going to have a pretty good turnout for this month's contest, and I can't wait to see what everyone comes up with! For updates on each month's theme, host, and deadline, you can always click this image on my sidebar.


Dawn Donahue said...

This is fantastic! wow, what a great festival event. Thanks for sharing.

Sharon Rudd said...

Thanks, Dawn! It really was a fun event - and for a bunch of great charities!