On opening night, Sylvie Douce and François Jeantet, founders of the famed Paris Salon du Chocolat were jubilant.  Not only was it the 19th year for what has become “the biggest event in the world devoted to chocolate,” but the opening fashion show was a rousing success. 

Models wearing chocolate-inspired costumes, each a collaboration between a French fashion designer and chocolatier, were a big hit.  From a pouty-faced doll wearing an edible-cupcake adorned hoop skirt to a modern geisha with a floor length kimono, there was chocolate au couture everywhere.  The hour-long parade of fashion culminated with the arrival of a couple that seemed to have “time-warped” out of the pages of Camelot — she riding a long-maned, white horse adorned with chocolate.  The crowd and paparazzi roared with approval. 

Despite the eye-popping opening night spectacle, the real event was on the main show floor.  With more than 250 booths, there was a never-ending array of mouthwatering chocolates, confections and sweets covering two floors in Pavilion 5 at the enormous Porte de Versaille exposition center.  Guy Urbain, the founder of Chocolat & Confiserie Magazine, enthusiastically summed it up calling it “the magic of chocolate.”  He should know.  In his 90-plus years, he has had the pleasure of watching the Salon grow and evolve beyond expectations. 

No surprise then that the biyearly event is eagerly awaited.  For five days in early November all roads lead to the Salon du Chocolat.  Or so it seems.  Lest anyone forget, there are reminders all over Paris.  On billboards.  The front of every city bus.  Oversized signs in every Metro station.

And, with all of the anticipation and promotion, people came.  School kids en masse on field trips.  Families, large and small, taking advantage of the All Saints holiday.  With every passing day, the trams arriving at Porte de Versaille were more and more packed with people — old, young, able-bodied and frail — it seemed like all of Paris was coming to sample and buy chocolate.

The numbers were impressive.  Saturday’s attendance alone reached 34,700.  With more than a quarter of million square feet of space to accommodate them, the Pavillion was filled to overflowing.

But that wasn’t all.  Next door in Pavilion 4, occupying another 130,000 sq. ft., the Salon du Chocolat Professional had opened, albeit with much less fanfare two days prior.  This was the fourth year of the three-day sister event.  Its goal is to draw producers and manufacturers from all over the world to meet the chocolatiers who transform what they grow and sell into artistry.  To Urbain’s way of thinking, the addition of the professional show is a “pairing” that unites “the business of chocolate with its pleasure.” 

That objective transpires through a multitude of events.  This year a culinary component — the Forum Gastronomic — was added, complete with a main stage for public demonstrations.  Jerome Landrieu, director of Barry Callebaut’s Chocolate Academy in Chicago, was invited to present one of the smaller, private workshops also being offered.

And let’s not forget the World Chocolate Masters competition.  Sponsored by Barry Callebaut, 20 chefs and chocolatiers from all over the world vie for the prestigious title.  Each must have won a preliminary qualifying competition prior to the Salon.  Their challenge in Paris is to compete in six categories, including: chocolate sculpture, confection and plated dessert.  This year’s theme was “The Architecture of Taste.” Jove Hubbard, executive pastry chef at the James Hotel in Chicago represented the United States.

 A jury of 23 accomplished international chocolatiers and pastry chefs served as judges.  Amongst them were two from the United States with impressive backgrounds of their own: John Kraus, whose Patisserie 46 is in Minneapolis, and Norman Love, who owns his own confectionery business in Fort Myers, Fla. 

Valrhona Chocolate TV, a web channel for food industry professionals, documented the entire event.  While onlookers watched from a balcony above, TV cameras zoomed in on the competitors studiously working on their creations.  Meanwhile, interviews were conducted in real-time on a small stage off to the side as the jury tasted, evaluated and conferred amongst themselves.  On Thursday evening Davide Comaschi from Italy was awarded the coveted international title, World Chocolate Master 2013.

Back at the consumer show, there were events and excitement at every turn — live music, book signings, recipe demonstrations and seminars.  Everywhere, it seemed, the pavilion was filled with well-known artisanal brands, celebrated chefs and iconic figures from all candy and chocolate realms.  There was something for everyone. 

In the midst of all the colorful displays, one event — perhaps the most important one at Salon du Chocolate — took place without much hoopla.  The International Cocoa Awards are a collaboration between the Salon, Biodiversity International and CIRAD, a French research center focusing on agricultural development issues.   The goal is to recognize and reward small farm cocoa growers around the world who bring a high level of craftsmanship and quality to the production of their beans.  According to Ed Seguine of Mars Chocolate, the awards “are a labor of love for the people who make them happen.”  But the success is obvious.  Only in its  fourth year, there were  114 entries. Sixteen awards were given to farmers from four geographic regions around the world. 

“This is a great thing”’ says Seguine. “I look forward to the year when we will evaluate 50 cocoas chosen from throughout the cocoa-growing regions and say, we need 50 certificates!”

Many of the Cocoa Award winners traveled to Paris to accept their certificate.  Sylvie Douce spoke of the event as one of the Salon’s most important components.  “If there is no cocoa, there is no chocolate.  In France we have a saying, the better you know, the better you appreciate.” 

It was a sentiment that summed up the dialogues and interactions happening throughout the entire Salon.

Check out writer Linda Rice Lorenzetti's personal journey through Paris' famed Salon du Chocolat.

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