A CELEBRATION of chocolate is taking place in Cork for the first time from November 24 to 26 at the Cork International Hotel.
A number of expert artisan chocolate- makers ,along with some specialist chefs, are taking part in the chocolate extravaganza that is sure to be fun for all the family.
Executive Pastry Chef at the 5-star Merrion Hotel, Paul Kelly, has more than 20 years experience in the cheffing business and 10 years specialising in chocolate.
“Chocolate is my thing, I love working with it,” he says.
Paul is an ambassador for Cacao Barry, a chocolate company that produces quality chocolate all over the world, and also supervises chocolate making at the Merrion Hotel.
“We make all our own chocolate in the hotel. We have a wide range of products including raspberry flavour, caramel, white, milk and dark,” he explained.
Paul said he loves working with chocolate.
“It is so versatile, you can cook it, eat it raw, you can do so much with it. You have to know how to work with chocolate to get the best results from it and you have to work with good quality chocolate with a good cocoa base.”
He will be cooking up a chocolate extravaganza dessert for the chocolate-themed banquet taking place at the home of the inaugural Cork chocolate festival, the Cork International Hotel.
“My dessert is going to be quite interesting, it will be a bit of a show, there will be some theatre involved.”
Speaking about his own favourite desserts, Paul said he quite enjoys a chocolate fondant. “If you get it right, it is perfect.” He also likes to make a caramel, milk and dark chocolate cremeux with poached pears and pear sorbet.
“It is quite technical to make, which I enjoy, and it is just beautiful to taste. The flavours in it are amazing. It is just really worthwhile. A small portion is enough to satisfy you.”
Also taking part in the chocolate festival is artisan bean to bar chocolate maker, Allison Roberts.
Allison moved to Ireland ten years ago with her husband.
“We came to holiday in Ireland, in Inchydoney, for our honeymoon and ended up living here. I fell in love with the place,” she explained.
Allison set up Clonakilty Chocolate, which is healthy, sugar-free, gluten-free, alternative chocolate.
“I started making it as a chocolatier for the local shops in Clonakilty. Then, about five years ago, I went to Africa and met farmers and growers there and decided to become a bean to bar chocolate maker.”
Allison explained that chocolatiers are very limited in what they can do with their chocolate.
“They import a base from France or Belgium or wherever and those bars already have sugar and milk in them.
“So if you buy dark chocolate, 72%, it already has soya lecithins, sugar and a number of other ingredients in it because the cocoa butters are already set in it.
“You don’t have any freedom to experiment with the ingredients when it comes to sweeteners and dairy and stuff.
“So I started importing the cocoa beans and then I got forms of chocolate cane sugar-free, so suddenly I could do really unusual things since I could work from scratch. I was very interested in using alternative sugars and seeing how far chocolate could go.”
As Allison now makes the chocolate from scratch, she explained how much work was involved.
“For chocolatiering, all you need is a bowl and a hob, but I like to make chocolate from the bean, you are involved in the manufacturing process, so we are roasting, cracking, nibbing, we are winnowing and we have a 350 kilo stone grinder which it has to go round for three days. So, before, I could make a chocolate bar from a base in a couple of hours, but now it takes a month.”
Allison sells her chocolate bars in health food shops across Ireland and Scotland and her business continues to grow.
“In the last five years, we have been doubling our business each year,” she says.
As well as making chocolate, Allison does a lot of talks, educating people about the benefits of the cocoa bean.
“I do a lot of talks and I work with schools a lot and it ends up being about the ethics of chocolate as in the chocolate that we eat, why we eat it.
“I do a spiel about the cocoa bean compared to an apple, like in the part of the world near the equator where the cocoa bean grows, they are as prolific as apples.
“When we think of an apple, we think of one ingredient, but we also think of the chocolate bar as one thing.
“But if you liken the chocolate bar to the apple pie and the cocoa bean to the apple, the chocolate bar, like the apple pie, can have a million different ingredients in it.
“They can be mass produced and full of preservatives and things you don’t need or they can be homemade with healthy alternatives.
“So to think of the chocolate bar, people always think it is bad for you, but I am quite interested in making people see that it is not the chocolate that is bad for you, it is the various things in the bar.”
Another artisan chocolate maker, Enda Spillane, will also be participating in Cork’s inaugural chocolate festival. Enda is an IT marketing consultant turned chocolatier who recently set up her own business called Cocomo Chocolate.
“It has been a huge change, I have gone from living in power suits to jeans, crocs, polos and chef aprons, I love it.”
Enda said the lack of business meetings and conference calls has been a welcome change.
“My life is less formal now and I am in charge, which is great.”
Enda makes a range of products including the very popular fluffy chocolate marshmallows, along with an equally popular raspberry chocolate bar and a chilli bar that flies off the shelves.
Enda said she always loved chocolate and wanted to set up a tea shop for a number of years, despite not being a tea drinker.
“I love food entertainment and chocolate. I wanted to do something different, I suppose it was a bit of a midlife crisis, but I am very happy now.”
As well as making chocolate, Enda also runs workshops for kids and adults.
“I do a lot of birthday parties and hen parties. The kids love the workshops.We make chocolate birthday cake and chocolate lollipops while their parents relax and enjoy a coffee in the cafe next door.
“When we are finished the kids take home the chocolate home.”
Enda said she can’t wait for the chocolate festival later this month.
“I think chocolate gets a lot of bad press when really it is not chocolate that is bad for you, it is the quantity that is the problem.
“If you drink too much water you will die, there needs to be more education around chocolate.
“People should enjoy chocolate and I don’t mean devour a 200g bar of Cadburys while sitting down watching The X Factor. Chocolate isn’t bad, we should enjoy it in small quantities.”
The inaugural Cork Chocolate Festival takes place from Friday, November 24, to Sunday, November 26 at the Cork International Hotel.
For more information log onto www.corkchocolatefestival.ie.
WHAT IS ON AT THE FESTIVAL:
On Saturday and Sunday, a series of demonstrations will be held at the Cork International Hotel between 11am and 5.30pm.
On Saturday, the Cork Rose, Aisling O’Connor, will be attending the exhibition followed by a demonstration from Paul Kelly from The Great Irish Bake Off.
Also doing demonstrations on Saturday will be Allison Roberts from Clonakilty Chocolates, discussing how chocolate is made, and Kinsale Roasters explaining how to roast chocolate.
On Sunday there will be a number of exhibitions including Enda Spillane from Cocomo Chocolates, Ian Graham from Milséan and Patricia O’Flaherty from A Touch of Magic.
Visitors should note that children are welcome to attend the festival, between the hours of 11am and 2pm. After 2pm, many of the events are focused towards adults.
For more information go to www.corkchocolatefestival.ie.