On Saturday February 11th I attended the Indulge Chocolate Festival at The Olympic Collection in West Los Angeles. I should mention I love chocolate! I love it! I was literally a kid in a candy store. I had been given the golden ticket to taste and test some of the most delicious desserts from all over the world! Well, the golden ticket was a gray wristband, but once I was given that wristband, I began my journey into four very indulgent hours.
This was my first trip to the Indulge Chocolate Festival. It is basically what it sounds like it would be, and a little more. It is the very best chocolatiers, pastry chefs and confectioners from all over the world along with the best wines, champagnes and spirits and demonstrations from celebrity chefs, all culminating in a delicious “Chocolate Show,” to benefit St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
I arrived fashionably late but the main festival still wasn’t quite open to the regular guests. Only the VIP’s were allowed in, but I was just in time for the first celebrity chef demo with Annette Starbuck. Starbuck was the winner of The Food Network Competition “The Cupcake Wars.” She is also the owner and founder of Goodie Girls Cupcakes in Glendale. The demos were held in a large room downstairs from the Ballroom where the festival was being held. There was a set up similar to what you would see on a cooking show. I took a seat in the front row and soon after Annette came on the “set” along with her husband Anthony. She was blonde and bubbly and as sweet as sugar. She had trouble getting her headset microphone to work and was given a hand held mic that her husband held for her to talk into. As she did the mixing, he made silly jokes that kept us laughing. They were a truly adorable couple.
Her demonstration that day was to show how to make different flavors of frostings. She started with a basic vanilla and then added very simple ingredients to change the taste. I don’t know why I thought it would be more complicated. I do love to bake, but I haven’t been very adventurous in the kitchen. I really just make the same three items and try to find new people to eat them. So, I was surprised when she was making peanut butter frosting, all she added was a spoonful of peanut butter; to make lemon frosting, she grated lemon zest; to make coconut she added coconut milk; and to make caramel, she added, prepare yourself now, a spoonful of caramel. Then to make that perfect dollop on top of the cupcake she put the frosting in a pastry bag and squeezed it right on. She topped each off with some edible glitter and made a series of perfect and easy cupcakes!
I didn’t stay until the end of her demo — the chocolate room was calling my name and I was ready to answer. I only had a couple more hours and there were still two more demonstrations I had to attend, so I had to move quickly. I took a deep breath and tried to brace myself. Two large security men stood outside the door and I flashed my wristband and they nodded and granted me entrance. I will try to describe to you what it was like being surrounded all of these free desserts. There were, I would say, about 25 different exhibits and none of them were alike. There were cupcakes, brownies, cheesecake, cups full of chocolate mousse, candy, truffles, wine, tequila, liquor, and there were A LOT of people who all wanted to try everything!
It was a little overwhelming to say the least. I started off with one of The Goodie Girls mini- cupcakes. I don’t know what the flavor was, perhaps pink lemonade. It was soooo good. After that, my goal became to taste as much as I could without getting an upset stomach. I found the perfect dessert that would assist in this endeavor. Kira’s Kiss desserts makes cupcakes called “cuppies” that are low-calorie, no sugar or reduced sugar, free from sugar substitutes, low fat and all natural. I was skeptical but the Vanilla Cuppie I ate was delicious and sweet and bursting with flavor. I never would have realized that they had 1/3 less calories than a regular cupcake. The next piece I had was a truffle injected with hypnotiq liquor brought in by Vosges Haut Chocolates. The explosion of taste in my mouth can’t exactly be put into words. It was pretty intense and I think I got a little light headed.
I shook it off and moved on to a chocolate mousse cup. I didn’t intend on finishing the whole thing, but it was too good to put down. Next was a raspberry truffle and then a brownie. I was already at this point starting to feel a little stuffed. Everything was so rich and I wasn’t sure how much more I could take. I then walked up to the booth of Maria’s Italian Kitchen. What a spread that was. I told the man behind the table that I could only have one thing, he suggested the flourless chocolate cake. He said it was the most popular. I said ok, I will have one bite. Well, that didn’t happen. That cake was one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten. I think I expected it to taste just like any chocolate cake, but it was sweeter and richer and somehow just fantastic. I ate every bit. My stomach was saying no, but my taste buds were screaming yes yes yes!!!
It was then time for another demonstration. This time it was led by an amusing Frenchman named Jean-Louis Auboine, a master chocolatier and highly acclaimed pastry chef. He has brought his creations to The Bellagio in Las Vegas and The Fountain Blue in Miami and just recently opened Jean Louis Auboine Chocolates. He was showing us how he made those little striped candies with cream filling inside. It took a while to boil the sugar and while it was boiling he talked about how much he loved being a chocolatier and how it was becoming a lost art. He said, “It’s a very old style candy and we lost the tradition. For me it is very important to keep the tradition alive.” I was inspired and he was very passionate as he spoke.
Once the sugar was the right temperature, he poured it out and it quickly turned to a taffy-like consistency. He began to color, pull and shape it. He cut off small pieces with special scissors and gave us each a piece to sample once if cooled off.
It did taste good and not too sweet, but still not much different than any other generic hard candy. However, I thoroughly enjoyed what he had to say, his humor and watching the candy-making process.
Then it was back to the tasting room. I was ready to try some chocolate wine. The Chocolate Shop was offering a tasting of their very popular chocolate wine. I do love wine, and could definitely appreciate the rich chocolate undertones. It was a wine I would drink again. I would highly recommend it paired with a light dessert, but it was a bit too rich for two in the afternoon mixed with all that I had already devoured.
I also want to mention that the event was sponsored by Patron tequila and Hypnotiq. After the wine and all the chocolate tasting, the thought of mixing hard liquor wasn’t very appealing, so I didn’t taste any of the drinks they were offering, but no doubt were delicious.
I continued to sample trying to keep my eye on the time.
I hit the Pacific Cheesecake Company and the Choclatique flavored chocolates. Each time I tasted something new an “Oh my God” escaped my mouth or a deep throated “mmmm.” I had few eye rolls in there too. Everything was absolutely orgasmic.
As I nibbled on a Pina Colada Chocolate from Choclatique, I stopped to view the auction items. There was lots of autographed sports memorabilia including an autographed Tom Brady jersey, there were also framed pictures from the cast of Glee and the cast of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory complete with a Golden Ticket and a whole lot more.
At this point all I could do was take a few bites here and there. I couldn’t even bring myself to finish a full piece. I drank some water and grabbed a bottle of Activate Vitamin Water hoping it might somehow balance out the massive amounts of sugar in my system.
It was then time for the last demonstration of the day. His name was Michael Gillet, a Sam Worthington look-alike with a sexy French accent. Finally some eye candy! Gillet has been a pastry chef at The Ritz Carlton in Florida, and the SLS hotel in Beverly Hills and is currently at Sugar Factory in Las Vegas. He was making us The Hot Chocolate Mousse which had a hazelnut praline and diced Angelo pears. It was a very popular dessert that The SLS Hotel still offers.
He prepared the dessert and answered some questions along the way. One thing I did learn was that when using egg whites to make mousse or macaroons it should be chilled first for two days in a sealed container and then left out for one hour at room temperature. I attempted macaroons once and they were awful, perhaps now I know why. He mixed and stirred and talked and mixed and stirred and talked. I could’ve watched him all day. After he put the hazelnuts in a food processor, the ingredients were put together and we were all given a sample. There was nothing about the dessert that blew me away, but it was on the lighter side and a nice change from all of the rich confections I had been eating all day.
I was suddenly hit with the realization that the event was rapidly coming to an end. Maybe I could get just one more morsel before I had to leave. Just one. I returned to The Ballroom, but everything was getting packed up. I had almost given up when I turned the corner and saw on oasis of chocolate ganache cups garnished with berries. The one booth still standing was for Barry Callebaut, one of the main sponsors of the event and the world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality cocoa and chocolate products. I leaned against the wall and indulged in my last chocolate sampling. The rich chocolate mixed with the sweet berries, made my taste buds dance. It was heavenly.
I had a wonderful time at the Indulge Chocolate Festival. I wish I had more time to mingle and get to know the dedicated chocolate, candy and pastry makers that all came together to support a great cause. I learned that dessert making truly is an art and nothing to be taken for granted. My favorite item of the day? The flourless chocolate cake from Maria’s Italian Kitchen. You can bet that I will be visiting one of their LA locations in the near future! Overall I would say it was a very successful event and all of the guests seemed very pleased and no doubt got more than their fill of chocolate. I know I did! Can’t wait to go back next year!
**Liesl Jackson is a writer/actress/comedian/pet sitter living in the heart of Hollywood. She loves the arts, animals, volunteering, traveling, and attempting to learn the acoustic guitar. Email her at email@example.com. Follow her on twitter @SillyLiesl and follow The Pacific Punch @ThePacificPunch.***
Liesl Jackson is a writer/actress/comedian/pet sitter living in the heart of Hollywood. She loves the arts, animals, volunteering, traveling, and attempting to learn the acoustic guitar. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @SillyLiesl and follow The Pacific Punch @ThePacificPunch.