Tag Archives: chocolate

Pastry Live

Pastry Live National Showpiece Champtionship

On the final day of Pastry Live in Atlanta five teams of pastry chefs competed in the National Showpiece Championship. The teams had seven hours to build sculptures made entirely of chocolate or sugar.

This year’s theme was video games, and Super Mario Brothers was a popular pick. The winners, who swept the Best Overall, Best Sugar Showpiece and Competitors’ Choice, were Bill Foltz and Cori Schlemmer for their Dragon Ball inspired sculpture.

Watch the video below to see the teams in action.

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Valor: Spain’s Favorite Chocolate Available in the US

Quieres chocolate? Whether you answered ‘si’ or ‘yes,’ you’ll want to try the dark and milk chocolates from Valor, Spain’s oldest family-owned chocolate company.

Valor chocolatesWith a commitment to “bean to bar” and keeping their chocolates free of artificial flavoring and preservatives, Valor has become Spain’s leading chocolate brand. Starting with cocoa beans from Ecuador, Panama and Ghana, Valor’s master chocolatiers expertly roast, shell and ground the beans for a distinct aroma and flavor.

When you take a bite of a Valor bar there’s no waxy taste or texture – it’s just really good chocolate. It is made even better with whole Marcona almonds, which add a delicately sweet and nutty flavor.

In addition to their traditional chocolates, Valor has sugar-free and no sugar added chocolates that are so tasty you won’t feel like you’re missing out. The sugar-free chocolates are made with Stevia.

Valor is based in Villajoyosa, Alicante, on the eastern coast of Spain. For more information visit www.ValorChocolate.com.

Purchase Valor Chocolates online at the following sites:

Disclosure: The Amateur Gastronomer received complimentary samples.

Chocolate South: Handcrafted Treats with a Southern Flair

Now open in Atlanta’s Westside neighborhood, Chocolate South offers a selection of handcrafted chocolate indulgences using the finest ingredients.

Architect by career and chocolatier by passion, owner Amy Stankus has been perfecting her chocolates since 2004. A native of Mississippi who has called Atlanta home since the mid-1980s, Amy infuses her southern heritage into both the chocolates and the boutique.

Each chocolate takes days to make and is truly a piece of art. There is great attention to detail, from the shimmering shell of the Green Tea with Mint bonbon to the alligator print of the Mississippi Mud.Southern Gardens chocolatesTea Time chocolates

Taste is most important and here Amy excels too. She selects special tempered Valrhona chocolate for each of her creations and uses organic cream in the ganache. These give the chocolates a delicately crisp shell and a luxuriously rich inside.

Great Southern Getaway chocolates

Try the Peach Tea – locally-produced Georgia Peaches Tea from Just Add Honey is infused into cream and blended with dark chocolate and surrounded with a dark chocolate shell. Or try the Honey Ginger – ginger-infused cream is mixed with local honey, dark chocolate and crystallized ginger bits in a dark chocolate shell that resembles a gemstone.

The selection of chocolates will grow over the coming months. Amy plans a line of chocolates inspired by southern celebrities, including Elvis, Dolly Parton and Ted Turner.

There is savory in addition to the sweet. Amy makes vegan muffins, pimento cheese sandwiches and egg and olive salad sandwiches, which she sells at the shop.Chocolate South

There is also picked okra, cheese straws, loose tea and greeting cards, all made by people whom Amy knows. And there’s art on display too — beautiful wooden bowls made by Amy’s husband Roman, and coming soon to the walls, paintings from local artists.

Chocolate South: a one-of-a-kind chocolate boutique and much more.

Chocolate South, 1050 Marietta Street NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30318
404.815.8859, chocolatesouth.com

Ice Cream with a View

The Amateur Gastronomer spent the month of August in Provence, France.  This is one of a series of articles on the region.

I’m going to let you in on a secret: the best ice cream in western, or perhaps all of Provence.  But you have to promise not to tell anyone so it won’t get too crowded and lose its charm.

This hidden gem is called L’Art Glacier.  And hidden is a good way to describe it, as you’d likely only hear about it from a local.  It’s in between the towns of Ansouis and La Tour d’Aigues, about a 15 minute drive north of Pertuis which is a town about 30 minutes north of Aix-en-Provence.

I was taken there by my host parents in 1998, when I spent the summer living with a French family in Pertuis.  When planning my trip to Provence this summer I was thrilled to find out L’Art Glacier was still around.

As the name implies, at L’Art Glacier ice cream making really is an art.  All the ice creams and sorbets are made on site with fresh local ingredients by husband and wife Michel and Sigrid Perriere and their son Olivier.  On any given day there are more than 30 flavors to choose from, with additional flavors that change with the seasons.

I remember from my visit in 1998 that finding L’Art Glacier was a bit of a challenge.  Fortunately they now have a website with directions.  Still it’s an adventure to get to, up and down long, winding roads through vineyards and a final steep uphill drive.  I recommend driving east from Ansouis, where you’ll find a few signs to help guide you in the right direction.

This off the beaten path location helps make the experience.  When you arrive you see right away why L’Art Glacier is so special — it feels as if you’ve been invited into the Perrieres’ home, with an incredible view of the valley below.

L’Art Glacier isn’t a normal ice cream shop where you order your scoops and then walk away.  Here there is table service, which of course you won’t mind because you’re seated in an outdoor garden looking out at the countryside.

When my husband and I arrived on a warm and sunny afternoon in August, I immediately noticed some differences from my visit in 1998.  Word had apparently gotten out about the exceptional ice cream, as there were many more tables and most of them were full.  The menu had expanded too — in addition to the dishes of ice cream there were milkshakes and floats.

My husband and I decided to share a dish of eight flavors.  Choosing just eight from the list was a bit challenging, but eventually we settled on a good mix: chocolate, hazelnut, nougat, passion fruit, Grand Marnier, lavender, honey from Provence and basil.

The presentation hadn’t changed since my first visit.  The assortment looks so pretty you almost hate to dig in.  The balls of ice cream are adorned with whipped cream, fruit and edible leaves made from sugar.  We discovered later much to our delight that the ice cream sat on top of a giant meringue cookie.

The taste was even better than I remembered.  Each ice cream was more delicious than the last, and I couldn’t get enough of the non-traditional flavors.  Despite being full as we scooped out the ice cream-soaked meringue, I wished I could order eight other flavors to try.

Though a bit skeptical on the long drive in, my husband agreed — L’Art Glacier is worth a special trip.

For information on L’Art Glacier including directions visit artglacier.com.

Related Stories:
A Guide to Gordes
Festival of Wines in Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Photographs of Vineyards in Provence

Chocolate: Seed to Sweet Opens at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Bring your sweet tooth to the Atlanta Botanical Garden this fall for Chocolate: Seed to Sweet!

The new exhibition is fun for chocolate fans of all ages.  After passing through a giant cacao pod visitors learn how chocolate is made, starting with the cacao tree and ending with candy factories.

At this weekend’s grand opening kids could decorate chocolate cupcakes, finger paint with chocolate and sculpt chocolate scented play dough (recipe below).

Chocolate was the main ingredient in the cooking demonstrations at the Edible Garden Outdoor Kitchen.  Chef Christina Curry made a tasty vegan dark chocolate mousse, which gets its creamy texture from silken tofu (click here for the recipe).  It’s a healthier version of the decadent dessert that still satisfies your chocolate craving.

Local chocolatiers and chefs will be demonstrating chocolate recipes on the second Sunday of each month throughout the exhibition, which runs until January.  There will also be chocolate classes and activities including a truffle making workshop and holiday chocolate high-teas.

The garden’s popular Cocktails in the Garden event will be chocolate-themed in September.  At Mocha and Mudslides on Thursdays from 6pm to 10pm guests can sip drinks while checking out the new exhibit.  There will be additional sweet happenings on select Thursdays, from an adults only egg hunt to a chocolate market.

By the time you finish your chocolate tour you’ll certainly be craving some of the sweet stuff.  Not to worry — each guest gets a complimentary Dove chocolate square in the gift shop at the end of the visit.

Chocolate: Seed to Sweet at the Atlanta Botanical Garden runs through January 2, 2011.  For more information visit www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org.


Chocolate Scented Play Dough

1¼ cups flour
½ cup cocoa powder
½ cup salt
½ tablespoon cream of tartar
½ tablespoon cooking oil
1 cup boiling water

Mix flour, cocoa powder, salt and cream of tartar together.  Add cooking oil and boiling water to mixture.  Stir quickly and mix well.  Cook over low heat until dough forms a ball.  When cool, mix with your hands.  Store in airtight container.

Cup-Free Inhalable Coffee

There’s a new way to get your coffee fix any time of day without burning your mouth or staining your teeth.

Le WhifIntroducing Le Whif, a coffee that you drink by breathing.  With Le Whif you inhale the coffee into your mouth (in the form of hundreds of milligrams of tiny particles), and taste it without swallowing or chewing.  Perhaps best of all, you get a kick of caffeine without any calories.

Le Whif was developed by Harvard Professor David Edwards in collaboration with students, designers, engineers and entrepreneurs.  It uses particle engineering to form particles of natural food substances that are small enough to become airborne though too large to enter the lungs.

Each Le Whif has about 100 mg of caffeine, similar to drinking a light espresso.

If chocolate is more your thing, Le Whif makes inhalable chocolate as well.  Since each Le Whif has less than 1 calorie, you’ll get all the taste without any guilt.  In addition to chocolate Le Whif comes in raspberry chocolate and mint chocolate flavors.

A three-pack of Le Whif costs around $7.  To learn more about Le Whif and to purchase it visit www.lewhif.com.

Image from Le Whif’s website

An Interview with Chef Eric Ripert

Chef Eric Ripert needs no introduction. A French native and world-renowned chef, Ripert is truly a master in the kitchen.  Just one visit to Manhattan’s Le Bernardin where Ripert is executive chef will turn you into a passionate and devoted fan. You may not need an entire meal — I was hooked after a few bites of my first course.

Chef Ripert has won many awards, published several books and made numerous television appearances, including his show Avec Eric on PBS. This February he’ll be participating in the Tribute Dinner honoring Daniel Boulud at the 2010 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

I had the opportunity to interview Chef Ripert and found out he’s just as passionate about enjoying good food as he is about creating it.

The Amateur Gastronomer: I have been a huge fan of yours since dining at Le Bernardin years ago and have really enjoyed watching Avec Eric. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions!

Chef Eric Ripert: Thank you!

AG: What is the food experience or dish that inspired you to become a chef?

ER: Since a very young age I spent time in the kitchen with my mother and grandmothers. I always loved eating and thought about becoming a chef since I was a child.

AG: Do you have a favorite dish to cook for yourself and your family?

ER: Since I eat fish during the week at Le Bernardin, I love to cook steak for the family on the weekends.

AG: What are your favorite and/or must-have ingredients?

ER: A good set of sharp knives, fine sea salt and black truffles.

AG: What is your most expensive yet best value ingredient in your kitchen, either at home or in your restaurant?

ER: I would say Kobe beef. While it is a very expensive product, a small amount goes a long way and can be the foundation of a great meal.

AG: What seasonal ingredients do you most look forward to using over the next few months?

ER: I always enjoy the black truffle season. It’s probably my favorite seasonal ingredient, favorite ingredient, period.

AG: Do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to food?

ER: I have no guilt! I eat everything in moderation. I love dark chocolate.

AG: What food could you eat forever and never get sick of? Is there any food that you detest?

ER: Black truffle — I could eat it forever. And I must admit, tofu I tend to detest.

AG: Great food deserves great wine. Do you have a favorite bottle, varietal or pairing?

ER: I drink only Bordeaux!

AG: I know you’re a fan of tequila. Do you have a favorite style or brand?

ER: Lately I’m really enjoying Casa Dragones, really wonderful for sipping.

AG: How has your business been affected by the economy?

No question, the economic slump has been rough on restaurants but back in January 2009 when things were quite bleak, my partner and I decided to announce that we would donate $1 to City Harvest (a local food rescue organization) for every guest who dined with us throughout the year. We wanted to combat all the negative news we kept hearing about and try to do something positive. We ended up very close to our goal of raising $100,000 during 2009.

AG: What do you see as being the new dining trends?

ER: I think interest in Asian food is continuing to grow and in particular Korean cuisine.

AG: How do you feel about the movement to eat more locally grown and produced foods?

ER: I think it is critical that we continue to move in this direction.

AG: Is American cooking and are American diners getting more sophisticated?

ER: Absolutely, I think the interest in food in our country is continuing to grow and I love that American diners are really willing to try many things and aren’t tied to one culinary tradition.

AG: What are the differences between American and French diners?

ER: I’d say French diners may be slightly more traditional than Americans. Americans are very adventurous and there is so much diversity in food here.

AG: How has your profession changed with the popularity of the Food Network and shows like Top Chef?

ER: TV coverage of food is great, it gets people talking about food and ingredients and I think can only be a good thing for our industry.

AG: What has it been like to go from chef to celebrity?

ER: I always say, it doesn’t help in the kitchen!

AG: What other chefs do you most respect? Whose restaurants would you always want to dine in?

ER: A tough question. The list is endless — I’m constantly inspired by what other chefs do and create.

AG: At the South Beach Wine & Food Festival you will be participating in the Tribute Dinner honoring Daniel Boulud. Why did you want to get involved?

ER: Daniel is an amazing chef and a dear friend. When I got the invitation to be a part of the celebration there was no question I’d be there!

AG: Do you have any favorite restaurants in Miami or South Florida?

ER: I love Casa Tua in South Beach for its great food and beautiful ambiance.

AG: Do you think you will consider opening a restaurant in South Florida?

You never know, but right now I’m really focusing my energies on Le Bernardin and the three restaurants we operate with the Ritz-Carlton (Westend Bistro in Washington, D.C., 10 Arts Bistro & Lounge in Philadelphia and Blue in the Grand Cayman Islands).

AG: What advice do you have for home cooks and aspiring chefs?

ER: For home cooks, I always suggest investing in good knives (a chef’s knife and a pairing knife as a basis), and good quality cookware. And try to work with the best quality ingredients you can. If you start with good product, you are more likely to end up with something good.

For aspiring chefs, I recommend spending some time in a professional kitchen and thinking very carefully about whether it’s a life you want to lead. It’s very demanding physically and mentally and you have to be ready for it.

AG: I cook often at home but want to make a special meal for my husband’s upcoming birthday. Do you have any advice on ingredients or dishes?

ER: There is a recipe in my latest cookbook, On the Line, which is I think is quite simple but very luxurious and delicious. We call it for shorthand “pasta caviar” — kind of like a carbonara pasta topped with caviar, perfect for a celebration.

AG: Avec Eric is a great show for anyone who enjoys traveling or good food. Are you planning another season?

ER: We are locking in details for season two now and we hope to travel to Japan, Louisiana and the Grand Cayman Islands.

AG: How do your travels affect your cooking?

ER: Travel is one of the ways I find inspiration. It is a very important part of my life and influences my cooking heavily.

AG: Where in the world would you like to travel to, where you haven’t already been?

ER: I would love to spend more time in Asia, maybe Vietnam, Thailand, Bhutan and Japan.

AG: What projects are you working on next?

ER: Continuing to evolve the menu at Le Bernardin and season two of Avec Eric.

AG: When you’re not working or cooking what do you enjoy to do?

ER: Smoke cigars!

Visit Chef Eric Ripert’s official site at aveceric.com.

For details on the 2010 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival visit sobefest.com.

Meringue Kisses

Put off that New Year’s resolution to eat healthier for a little bit just so you can enjoy these delicious meringue kisses!  Light as air with a nice crunch, these cookies can almost pass as a guilt-free treat.

This recipe from my mom has always been a hit with family and friends.  Just be careful when sharing these cookies with others — they’ll demand you make them again!

Here’s what you’ll need:

4 egg whites
1½ cups sugar
¼ tsp. salt
one 12-oz. pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
2 tsp. vanilla


Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Cover cookie sheets with brown paper or parchment paper.

Beat egg whites, salt, cream of tartar and vanilla until soft peaks form.  Add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.  Fold in chocolate chips.

Drop a teaspoonful of batter on paper for each cookie.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until cookies lift easily from paper.  Allow to cool before removing from trays.

If you like an extra crunch, you can add ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans.  Just fold these in when you fold in the chocolate chips.

Wine and a Performance at Aureole

For a unique wine experience in Las Vegas dine at Aureole, where you get dinner and a show.

At the heart of the restaurant is a four-story, temperature controlled wine tower.  Bottles are retrieved by “flying wine angels,” women clad in black spandex who soar up and down the tower using an elaborate pulley system.

The playbill for this performance is in the form of the eWinebook, an electronic wine list.  With a few taps of the pen you can search through the thousands of bottles in Aureole’s wine collection.  It’s so much fun to play with you’ll forget that you came to the restaurant to eat.

The eWinebook groups wines by type, country, region, varietal and vintage.  It’s great for people who aren’t as knowledgeable about wine; in selecting the characteristics you want, you create your own smaller and more manageable list to choose from.  And of course if you’re completely lost a sommelier can assist you.  My one complaint is that you can’t search by price, which would be helpful in removing wines that aren’t in your desired price range.

Each bottle on Aureole’s list is assigned a number so the wine angels know exactly where on the tower to find it.  The wines are arranged randomly and not by price, so a less expensive bottle may make for a more exciting show.

Though the wine tower can hold up to 10,000 bottles not all of Aureole’s wines are kept there.  Older reds are kept in a rare wine cellar and white and sparkling wines are stored in a cold room kept below 40 degrees.

Fortunately, this show of selecting and retrieving the wine isn’t meant to distract you from the food.  Aureole’s menu is a mix of progressive American cuisine with the theatricality of Las Vegas.  I really enjoyed the seared black cod, which was served with beluga lentils and pomegranate juice.  The Pinot Noir braised lamb shank was tender and delicious.  For dessert the tiramisu parfait is rich and creamy, served with a warm chocolate brownie and salted caramel ice cream.

Aureole Las Vegas is located at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. The three-course prix fixe menu is $79.  The full menu is available a la carte in the lounge and bar area.  If you want to search through Aureole’s eWinebook ahead of time you can browse it online.

Champagne Brunch Buffet at the Wynn

You can’t visit Las Vegas without checking out at least one buffet.  My pick: the weekend Champagne brunch buffet at the Wynn.

For me, buffets can be dangerous — no matter what I tell myself beforehand I always eat way too much and leave uncomfortably full.  I never seem to learn that my eyes are always bigger than my stomach.  But with 16 live action cooking stations and a wide variety of dishes I just had to try a little bit of everything, right?

The Wynn buffet has all the traditional brunch fixings.  There’s a fresh fruit station, salad station, breakfast pastries station, and omelet station alongside all the usual hot breakfast foods.  I skipped all these so I could fill up my plate elsewhere.  There is a seafood station with three different kinds of ceviche and an assortment of sushi rolls (I filled up on spicy tuna hand rolls).  There is a dim sum section with steamed pork buns, dumplings and egg rolls.

Among the many options for the -unch part of the buffet are pasta, enchiladas, pizza, salmon, game hen and a delicious lamb risotto (my favorite).  Another highlight is the carving station, which features a large slab of meat normally prepared as bacon that is instead covered in spices and roasted.  It has a great taste and a soft, slightly chewy texture.  It’s a decadent treat for anyone who likes bacon.

At the Wynn buffet you’ll definitely want to save room for dessert.  There’s a separate room just for sweets.  My first stop was the ice cream bar, where I got a scoop of chocolate and coffee (I couldn’t pick just one).  Then I moved on to the cakes and pies.  The pecan pie and bread pudding were yummy and I really liked the Oreo and chocolate mousse cake, though it was so rich I could only take two bites.  I wanted to take some cookies to go but decided not to.

For an extra $7 you can get a glass of Champagne.  Bonus: unlimited refills.  When I went they were pouring Freixenet Brut Nature, a crisp and dry Cava that went well with the mix of flavors on my plate.  During my two hour grazing session I easily drank an entire bottle, thanks to our enthusiastic server Kevin.  When our glasses were half full there was Kevin, ready to fill them up.  When we were finally ready to leave he even brought us to-go cups.

The Buffet at the Wynn is open for lunch, breakfast and dinner.  The weekend brunch costs $30 without Champagne.  If you go, get there early.  I arrived around 9:30am and had no problem getting a table but two hours later there was a very long line.

For more information visit www.wynnlasvegas.com.