The Art of Chocolate

February 6, 2009 (CHICAGO) Valentine's day is just one week away and certainly chocolate plays an important role this time of year.

In the world of chocolate, the big dogs include Valhrona from France and Callebaut from Belgium. The latter has set up chocolate academies all over the world, including a new one in Chicago. They usually teach professionals, but once a month, they open up the school to novices. So in anticipation of next Friday night's "chocolate date night" class, I got a tasty little sugar-induced preview.

They come from all over the country to better understand how to work with chocolate. At the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy - housed in the former Montgomery Ward's building on the Chicago River - the goal is to teach an appreciation for Belgian chocolate.

"We're primarily a continuing education center for professionals, so pastry chefs, chocolatiers, professionals in the food and candy industry, come here to learn more about chocolate; improve their skills, gain more knowledge, exchange ideas," said Dora Gonzalez, a Director at the Callebaut Chocolate Academy.

And covet the storage room, filled with every imaginable type of mixer, silicone mold and chocolate.

Yet even novices can get in on the learning. About once-a-month, they open up the school to amateurs. Next Friday, it's a Valentine's Date Night where chef Jerome Landrieu will show enthusiasts how to make something both memorable and edible.

"We want to do something special, a little bit sensual and for both people and I create a box like a lips, lips shape and to bring it home to share with your partner after," said Chocolate Instructor Jerome Landrieu.

Landrieu gave me a little preview. Using a portable, directional heater, we melt the sides of a few chocolate rectangles, helping to form the walls of our box. Then, using some melted chocolate, we fill-in the cracks and crevices, almost like caulking. Careful, temptation may get the best of you.

A pressurized spray gun is loaded with colored chocolate, and is sprayed evenly over the surface of the chocolate "lips."

A tiny handle goes on the box. The box is placed on the lips, and a number of tiny, homemade truffles and other candies are gingerly placed into the edible container. It's a study in chocolate that would make Willy Wonka proud.

"It's going be an interactive, hands on chocolate class," said Gonzalez.

And if you can't wait until next weekend, the prestigious French pastry school in the Loop is having its "For the Love of Chocolate" gala on Saturday night at the school. That event begins at 6:30 p.m.

Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy
600 W. Chicago Ave., suite 860

"For The Love of Chocolate" gala
Feb. 7
French Pastry School
226 W. Jackson
6:30 - 10 p.m.

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