Chocolate starts the year concerned with melting, and that remains a major theme throughout 2014. For some varietals trying to break into the Latin American or South Asian markets, it is proximity to the equator that poses the greatest technical challenge. Scientific modifications to cacao’s chemistry may be necessary to thwart disaster.
For others, concerns about proper storage, handling and shelf stability are secondary to packaging and new recycling rules. Here in the Lower Mainland, businesses that conduct trade in packaged goods will be responsible for the end user recycling that packaging. This loosely translates into new taxes and levies retailers will need to either charge or absorb.
Chocolate is a strong, independent sign, which does not make it easy to emulsify. Chocolatiers the world over will be working on developing new flavour profiles and deciding how quickly they can take them to market. Commodity prices will be rising, as bulk inventories remain downward trending. Foreign currencies used to hedge against rising prices will also be going up, causing much consternation at retail.
Surprises will be a theme for chocolate this year, especially small batch artisan chocolate crafted for Valentines and Easter. Expect a baby boom pre-Christmas as a result of the former.
Chocolate lives in a creative and artistic sphere, and dreams of putting its imagination and skills into concrete form. Many varieties will manifest this talent and find the appropriate outlet, while some might meet resistance. Don’t worry — consumers can get past that. If you are a bonbon, changes to your appearance are in the cards for the second half of the year. Romance for dark chocolate, 70% or higher, is the new black.
2014 sees chocolate break out of its reclusive cycle. There is a possibility chocolate could be put on a pedestal, and obsessed over. Chocolate refuses to be thought of as a co-conspirator, demanding unbridled affection. It is a force to be reckoned with this coming year.
Call toll free: 1.866.283.5181
Four years ago, a woman called me from out of country, wanting to buy Easter chocolate for her daughter who was in first year university here. We chatted briefly, and agreed on a nice representation of seasonal novelties for the basket. I learned this was the daughter’s first time away from home, and that the mother was a touch anxious. The university wasn’t that far out of my way, so I offered to personally deliver it.
Without giving away too much of the surprise, I made arrangements to meet the daughter in the lobby of her student residence. It was a gorgeous spring day and I remember the cherry blossoms being in full bloom as I walked across the campus parking lot. I don’t remember too much else about that meeting save for her being a little wary of a stranger bearing gifts.
The next year, her mother called me again a few days before Easter, and told me how thrilled the daughter was to get the treats the year before, and would I mind personally delivering them again. I said it would be my pleasure and we put together a nice arrangement of rabbits and eggs and assorted other chocolates. I texted the daughter and we made arrangements to meet at a popular bakery café not too far from the university where she’d be cramming for exams.
I arrived at the prescribed time to find about 50 or 60 kids, noses buried in their laptops, coffees and diet cokes strewn about, music blaring, and not a clue as to what she looked like. I held the Easter basket aloft and yelled out her name. She came from across the room, shyly and just a bit embarrassed. I wished her a happy Easter, good luck on her exams, and took my leave.
Last year, her mom called me again. By now we were old friends. She remarked how happy she was that we had this little thing going on, a tradition of sorts, a way for her to be close to her daughter while being very far away. She commented on how important it was to build memories, and asked about my family.
Now the daughter was living in a shared rental house, again not too far out of my way. We made arrangements by text, and I showed up that morning on time, yet it was a full ten minutes before she opened the front door. I venture to say she had been asleep all of an hour. Her mascara was streaked, obviously hung-over, perhaps still drunk, a sea of beer cans and empty pizza boxes and overflowing ashtrays giving testament to the goings-on the night before.
The sun was too bright for her to look at me directly, so with head down and hand shielding her eyes the exchange took place, this time with an embarrassment not borne of being singled out in front of strangers, but doing what college kids do after exams, hoping it doesn’t get back to the parental units.
Well, the tradition continues and this year the mother asked me to include a Mermaid’s Choice chocolate bar with the rest of the Easter treats. She told me that her daughter had worked a forestry internship in Quesnel, BC, last summer, and while riding in the back of a pickup truck with another intern, was offered a bite of what she said was the most amazing thing she’d ever had. She of course recognized the brand from three years worth of Easter treats, but never had she fallen so in love with any chocolate as that particular one after just one small shared piece. The mother squirreled away this little tidbit and was giddy at the thought she’d be able to really surprise her daughter this year.
Sidebar: Mink chocolate is sold exclusively at the two Mink cafes in the Lower Mainland, and online, but periodically carried by Bella Flora Studio, a wonderful florist in Nelson, BC, and by my dear friend Shecky at Bo Peep Boutique in Quesnel.
I’m guessing this unidentified intern walked into my friend’s store and bought that chocolate and then shared it the next day with the daughter in the back of a pickup truck on a logging road in the bush, far from school and even farther from home. I got a kick out of the coincidence and called Shecky immediately. I told her the story beginning to end. We had a good laugh, and hung up. Five minutes later she texted me that her husband Mike, who works for West Fraser Timber, the company that the daughter was interning for, not only knew her, but that she was a great gal and likely coming back this summer.
I emailed the mom later that evening, and told her in spite of our geographic difference, the world was indeed a small place. I’m scheduled to make a fourth Easter delivery to the daughter this week. The exchange will take mere moments, and the small talk will still be small, but this time long enough to drop West Fraser Timber and Mike’s name and let her know the chocolate guy is keeping tabs on her.
Mink Chocolates Inc.,
Mink A Chocolate Cafe Ltd.
Call toll free: 1.866.283.5181
Friday. I meet Fred for lunch. For the fourteenth year in a row, he’s not eating cheese for the entire month of January. With limited options, we settle on a neighborhood salad joint. Personally, winter makes me more pre-disposed to pressed curds of milk, but after two helpings of lasagna and two pieces of Shecky’s pumpkin pie the night before, there’s some virtue to a meal of plants and roots.
I tell him I’m heading to San Francisco the next day to scope out exhibitor opportunities at the Winter Fancy Food Show. He tells me he’s also leaving town Saturday, heading to Houston for a Halloween costume trade show. I delight in telling him my short stay in the Bay Area coincides with the Niner’s playing in the NFC Championship. He casually tells me between mouthfuls of arugula his quick trip includes a stopover in Minneapolis to see Prince play a small club in Dinkytown.
He’s one-upped me so for the next ten minutes we eat in silence. I look at him and wonder how someone so hirsute can be so bald. I remember when he had hair. Has he invested wisely the money he’s saved on conditioner? Wax, shave or Nair for Men? How many sweater vests does he own?
Sunday Morning. The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade runs the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, held again this year at the sprawling subterranean Moscone Convention Center downtown. Fresh off a buffet breakfast fit for a football team, I burn three calories walking briskly across the street and into the show. Before I can even pick up my attendee badge, I’ve been sampled a package of organic hazelnut spread with cocoa and milk, a squeeze tube of asiago cheese and a compostable bottle of caffeine free vitamin enriched caramel coconut water with sea salt that was allegedly scraped off the fleshy underbelly of migrating centenarian sea turtles.
I start in the smallest of the three halls with the portion of the show devoted to What’s Hot. By all accounts, it’s obvious gluten is no longer an expensive commodity, because everyone was advertising it as free. Gluten free this, gluten free that. Even the makers of pure gluten were advertising gluten free gluten. I wondered if gluten was getting an inferiority complex.
I consult the show directory to try and establish a strategy for navigating the 22 acres of foodstuffs when all I really want to see are chocolate companies. It seems they are interspersed amongst and scattered between all manners of fancy food purveyors. Poco Dolce Chocolates is next to a single barrel artisan pickle maker. Tcho Chocolates is in the grilling sauces section, all of which have cowboy themes and purport to be hotter than Megan Fox sunbathing nude in Hades. Recchiuti is sandwiched between shelf stable baby food and fair trade non-GMO nut-free nut butters.
What all the exhibitors seem to have in common are either large men in shiny suits with Jersey accents or young Russian girls in short animal print skirts handing out samples to throngs of people who by all accounts look like they would be stumped if asked how the Caramilk got into the Caramilk bar. I’m being diplomatic when I say they were handing out samples. It was more like the crowds were collectively channeling their inner Kirstie Alleys in the presence of unattended cheesecake. Someone was bound to lose an eye in the ensuing mayhem.
Sunday Afternoon. Rather than avail myself of the many on-site concessions in the pursuit of lunch, I become one of them, and unabashedly scarf as much free food as I can. Most of what I found appealing was either cheese, meat, or meat with cheese. Silly me thinking the nose to tail and artisan butchering trend was over. There was no shortage of Spanish heirloom pigs being carved into onion-skin thin slices of transparency wrapped around iPhone sized cubes of black cheese. Apparently there are goats that live on Ellesmere Island, tended to by toothless descendants of Norse seafarers who make exquisite colored cheese. Who knew?
George calls. He and Stacy and the kids are in the city, and have reservations at a new restaurant in the Mission district. He asks if I’m hungry, and I politely answer yes.
George: We’re vegans now.
Me: Is that the result of a head injury?
George: It’s been over a year.
Me: Where has social services placed the kids?
George: They’re vegetarian. It’s been easier than we imagined, although it is ironic we quit meat and dairy cold turkey.
I haven’t seen my god-daughter and her parents and brother in far too long. In all our phone and email correspondence, the issue of eating habits never came up. This is the densely populated Bay Area after all, so I’m not entirely surprised that they’ve lost the ability to hunt. I just didn’t think they would go so new-agey. They are, after all, architects.
George: There’s always something on every menu that qualifies as vegan.
Me: Is wine allowed?
George: More so now than ever before.
The vegan Mexican restaurant is packed. I see a lot of people with Fancy Food Show badges. We’re told by our server they are out of cauliflower. That renders a third of the menu unavailable. Even though they are across the street from a grocery store, it seems that run-of-the-mill cauliflower doesn’t pack enough Zen.
I order a dish of butternut squash and caramelized onions rolled in corn tortillas, glazed with “cheese” made from almonds. It’s very good, and I comment on its pleasing taste and appearance. I can tell by the way Stacy looks at George she thinks I may convert, but I secretly harbor suspicion. More important than the meal of course, is the chance to spend some time with the dearest of people I don’t see often enough anymore. Raising a family and running a new business has made our visits far too infrequent, and I miss it.
They may be vegans, but they’re not shy about driving their family of four into the city in two cars. I say goodbye to George and Graham outside the restaurant. Stacy and Ivy drive me back to my hotel, and we enjoy a prolonged goodbye, and briefly commit to figuring out how our kids can meet, preferably while on vacation in a mutually convenient locale. I head upstairs, intent on watching a bit of TV to catch sports highlights, and do what comes naturally. I order a pizza from room service, double pepperoni and double cheese.
Mink Chocolates Inc.,
Mink A Chocolate Cafe Ltd.
863 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC CANADA
Call toll free: 1.866.283.5181