If you weren't able to attend the For the Love of Chocolate annual gala hosted by The French Pastry School in Chicago on Saturday, Feb. 7, catch up on the event by reading "Steph Says ...".

By Stephanie Hildebrandt
Associate Editor
Candy Industry

Choco'dise discovered

On the weekends, I normally spend time catching up with family and friends, and seeing at least one movie. While I still managed to fulfill my film fix last weekend (how could I pass up the premiere of “He’s Just Not That Into You?”), I also was able to get my chocolate fix by attending The French Pastry School’s For the Love of Chocolate annual gala, held on Saturday, Feb. 7. As a chocoholic for 20 years and counting, I found this event to be a dream come true.

Dressed to the nines, my boyfriend, Joe, and I walked into The French Pastry School lobby, a.k.a. Edible Chocolate Sculpture Garden, and were immediately surrounded by champagne, music and, of course, chocolate. The first thing we did was pick up our “Chocolate Voyage Passports” for the evening, which featured a page for each room: Edible Chocolate Sculpture Garden, Cocoa Cuisine, Cocoa Dessert Salon, Cocoa Sutra and Cocoa Lounge. The goal was to get our pages stamped after visiting every location; those who did were to receive complimentary gifts from The French Pastry School at the end of the night.

The Edible Chocolate Sculpture Garden featured chocolate sculptures (who would have guessed?), along with products from companies like Bleeding Heart Bakery, Hyatt Regency Chicago, Sara Lee, Mayana Chocolate, Sweet Collective, Tru, The French Pastry School and Lovely: a bake shop. (ReadCandy Industry’sMarch issue for more on Lovely chef Bob Hartwig.)

After viewing the remarkably tall chocolate fountain in the lobby and trying some artistically decorated dark chocolate from Sara Lee, Joe and I made our way to the second floor. There, an intimate setting of small tables with tea light candles led us into the Cocoa Cuisine room. This room, which eventually had a line out the door, was full of upscale entrees from Chicago’s top restaurants, including Bistro 110, Everest & Brasserie Jo, Calihan Catering, Great American Cheese Collection, Julius Meinl, La Sardine, Parrot Cage, Sikia and Table Fifty-Two. After filling our bellies a bit, we walked through two pairs of dark curtains to find the Cocoa Dessert Salon.

The red-lit room reverberated with the driving techno beat deftly mixed by the DJ. Energized, Joe and I sampled various dessert items from The Peninsula Hotel, The James Hotel and NAHA. Taking in the ambience with our desserts, we reviewed our passports to see what other rooms remained. On our way to the Cocoa Lounge, we passed a few chocolate sculptures that seemed physically impossible. How these sculptures kept from falling apart or melting, I’ll never understand. Such edible art!

In the Cocoa Lounge, I found one of my favorite chocolate pieces: chocolate-covered grapes. This simple concoction, provided by Chicago-based Chocolate Grape, was just what I needed to refresh my palate. But how do you stop at one? I also tried their raspberry truffle, which they paired with a Malbec wine, along with more truffles from Schaumburg, Ill.-based Chocolatines. Dare I relate how many samples we tried? Let’s just say it was done in the name of duty. And do you think we stopped there? Of course not. We still had to check out Cocoa Sutra!

At this point, Joe and I were both on sugar highs from the immense amount of chocolate we’d eaten throughout the night. And even though Joe began to limit his chocolate intake, I pushed on, trying macaroons, pastries, more truffles and various other chocolate creations. I didn’t have enough hands to hold all the samples. As we made it through the aisle of chocolate, we caught a glimpse of the scenery up ahead.

Among the belly dancers and those seductively displaying their chocolate body art were people indulging in the ultimate chocolate experience – chocolate healing. Chocolate For Your Body was there to demonstrate the power of cocoa, sugar, oils and cocoa butter by placing them directly on attendees’ bodies. According to its web site, the antioxidants that are found naturally in chocolate protect skin from free radicals, pollution and sun damage. Now that’s what I call pampering.

We made one more round to all the rooms and collected our gift at the end of the night: Brioche Parisienne and Chocolate/Hazelnut Spread created by students at The French Pastry School. And, of course, after the drive home, I tried that, too.

Although I loved every minute of sampling the different foods, desserts and chocolates, the real reason for the gala was not to aid my chocoholism. Each year, For the Love of Chocolate Foundation awards scholarships to the L’Art de la Patisserie program taught by The French Pastry School for the City Colleges of Chicago. These scholarships are then given to students specializing in pastry. The foundation also promotes pastry arts education for those looking to change careers, along with individuals who have shown interest in the culinary field, but have had no formal pastry education.

This night not only benefitted those involved in pastry; it also allowed everyone in attendance to discover a paradise – one delightfully enrobed in chocolate.