Chocolate Museums and (maybe) Barbecue

cacao poulain posterBased on customer words bouncing off the glass display cases in the front of the store this week it seems everyone in and around Riverside is hitting the road for short and long Memorial Day weekend travel plans. Alas, not us. We’d like to travel, but store’s open. So, when things go slow this Memorial Day weekend we heading to museums around the world.

Chocolate museums, of course.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as accommodating as San’s Francisco Exploratorium museum which provides its chocolate exhibit in an easily explored online form. As a result, a quiet time might be the perfect time to work our way through a New York Daily News article on the world’s top chocolate museums to see what links besides the Cologne Chocolate Museum (which we already knew about) that we can dig up. Alternatively, there is also a more extensive list from the Chocolate Wrappers site [], which has its own seemingly-abandoned Facebook “museum” to virtually visit.

Somewhat related to today’s UEFA Cup championship match setting German compatriots Borussia Dortmund at the throat of last year’s runner-up Bayern Munich, we are also thinking of pitting the Eupen, Belgium-based online offerings from the Antoine Jacques museum against the Brussels, Belgium, Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate for some sort of chocobragging rights.

Anyway, that’s the current plan. However, if the weather turns wonderful and we still aren’t drawing in customers, it may be time to start planning the Memorial Day cookout, thinking inspired by Dying for Chocolate postings of chocolate barbecues recipes they’re recommending.

In other words, chocolate virtual can be entertaining, but chocolate victuals are sustaining.

Sometimes a Chocolate Is Not a Chocolate

chocolate trainChocolate use is not always about chocolate consumption. It’s almost Freudian that way.

The most recent example of this comes from a media-conscious, progressive, post-modernish arty, activist collective, the Fresh Juice Party, who claim to have sent 5,000 gruesomely rendered soldiers made of chocolate to various opinion-makers as part of a protest of American military policy. They call their confection-conception a FUBAR and claim it is delicious.

Of course, the tastefulness of the actual chocolate is inconsequential, except, perhaps, in service to their political point. It’s similar in that way to all the various things that over the years have been made from chocolate as a way to call attention to themselves … and their creators such as the random assortment compiled on one list of 30 Things Made of Chocolate and another of Amazing Things Made of Chocolate.

The idea of cacao creations being used not for taste but for the ideas conjured in the audiences’ mind can evolve into a nesting doll idea of self-referentialness finding it ultimate — at least to us and so far — when a box of chocolates made of chocolate appears on what Hulu refers to as chocolate television.

Admittedly, it’s a long sidetrack away from making chocolate confections that just taste good for their own sake. But enough of the philosophizing. Back to the kitchen for some and to the sales counter for others.

Know It When You Taste/See It?

hershey kissHeard a mediocre talent describe herself on a TV chat show as an artist. It is probably true, which told us two things: 1) we realized it no longer means anything special to be identified — particularly self-hailed — as an artist, and 2) what’s going on with chocolate art.

And the answer is we don’t really know. Is Alexander Lervik’s Lumière au Chocolatea art, a fixture, conceptual dessert?

Is it “art” or just “decoration” if chocolate is used to create abstract designs in a kitchen?

What about when chocolate is used like any other sculptured material? (It is quite the niche.) Would this be museum quality art if it didn’t melt or wasn’t edible?

It seems that basic advertising for chocolate shops, products or themed events is immediately labeled art when taken out of context, framed and hung on a wall? But why, exactly?

The point is probably made. After a good 30 seconds of thought and 25 or 30 minutes of web surfing we failed in figuring out the defining characteristics of what is and what is not “chocolate art,” other than, of course, chocolate is involved. Taste is involved, but it is not clear at all from what is labeled as “art” or produced by an “artisan” how to define that. Basically, we’re back where we started, with the concept of art that we started with: it’s something person-created that dramatically and consequentially changes the audience’s perception of the world around them — and in the case of chocolate art it has at least a bit of cacao in it.

Actually, we’re not quite back where we started: we’re behind on getting everything baked up for Valentine’s Day, now less than 200 hours away.

Spectacle Not Delectable

Even in chocolate, where one almost always wants more, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Also, you can’t judge a chocolate by its cute or clever appearance.

Those are the lessons to be learned as we take in the wonder of a ridiculously long chocolate choo-choo that if life were really just would be delicious. The candy engineering efforts of Maltese-born “chocolate artist” Andrew Farrugia are on display in the Brussels, Belgium, station of his ton-and-a-half, 112-foot long chocolate train — which, thanks to the folks at the Guinness Book of World Records is now officially also the longest chocolate structure, as well as longest chocolate train and probably winner of a host of other made up choco-categories.

The train’s unveiling was the kickoff to Brussels Chocolate Week … in case you want to make some quick post-Thanksgiving, Black Friday travel plans and take a look as well at Farrugia’s “chocolate piano” (obviously not including keyboard and other key playing parts since it will be used by musicians tapping out everything from jazz to classical ditties.)

Of course, nobody uses the finest cacao and supporting ingredients when building a train and in all the hype of the sculptural, record-setting feat there is no mention of gustatory pleasure. So while we have our doubts about the joys of chomping on the choo-choo, we’re confident of finding many other mouth-sensations while in-country thanks to Swiss-émigrée Jean Neuhaus and his Flemish and Walloon compadres. Go Belg!

Pretty to View; Coulda Been Great to Taste

Qzina Chocolate Sculpture The best news is that the chocolate temple will be destroyed 21 December 2012, in keeping with the Mayan calendars “end of time.”  The worst news is that thousands of pounds of cacao beans suffered the loss of their innards in a publicity stunt that will thrill no tongue.

In the middle are the facts. To celebrate their 30th anniversary, California’s Qzina Specialty Foods created an 18,000+ pound, 1/30th scale chocolate model of a Mayan temple. Doing so broke the Guinness World Record for the largest chocolate sculpture — a 10,700+ lb sculpture from Italy’s Mirco Della Vecchia, but did not threaten the world record for tallest religious chocolate sculpture, an honor continuing to be held by with a 32+ foot “Christmas tree” from Patrick Roger in Sceaux, France.

Intriguingly — and a great way to keep the publicity machine flowing — Qzina announced they haven’t determined the path of the temple’s destruction.

Qzina Chocolate Sculpture

Faux Choco Museum

The world needs a chocolate museum or cocoa hall of fame. Until a real one is built we have hype and hope. Mostly the former — although there was a pinch of the latter — was featured for a week ending Feb. 12 in New York City at The Museum of Chocolate.

The Mars M&M marketing ploy was built around spokescandy “Ms. Brown” (as voiced by actress Vanessa Williams) who celebrated her 70th year of provoking palates. In case you missed the pop-up museum, which did exhibit the work of some actual artists during the week it was open there are the memories.

The truth about M&Ms is that it’s sort of crappy chocolate (addictive, nonetheless). Still, the company does know something about marketing throwing a good commercial. This what they sprang on Super Bowl 2012 audiences…