Field Museum brings back chocolate exhibit

October 19, 2011 (CHICAGO)

And after a decade of sending the show around the country the Hungry Hound says it's back with a few new features.

Chocolate is known around the world as a sweet indulgence, a treat. But for centuries, it has been used in various cuisines as both a sweet and savory ingredient.

The new exhibit at the Field examines not only chocolate's history, but also how it is consumed.

At Xoco, in River North, cacao beans are roasted and ground into luscious, pure chocolate, for a series of Mexican-inspired drinks that go well with fried churros. Meanwhile, up in Logan Square, Geno Bahena regularly makes mole negro - the complex Mexican sauce embedded with chiles, seeds, spices and Abuelita chocolate - for any number of savory dishes, including roasted lamb.

"Moles means fiesta Moles are celebratory and festive. Moles are not an everyday meal because of the complex preparation required," said Bahena, the owner of Real Tenochtitlan.

And since chocolate has such international appeal, the Field Museum has brought back its popular exhibit on the subject, except this time, it shows how this crop is consumed all over the world. The genesis of this elixir is rooted in ancient Mayan ruins.

"Over 3,000 years ago they were drinking chocolate. And then the Mayans, of course, were the first one's to really glorify chocolate. Making it out of vessels and drinking it. Actually, everyone in society is drinking it," said Tom Skwerski, the Project Manager at The Field Museum.

The exhibit traces the evolution of the crop, from seed to spicy drink to something more elegant, once the Spaniards brought it back to Europe with them.

"Well, actually when the Spanish invade Central America and one of the things they take back from the Aztecs are these cocoa beans with other things like vanilla, chiles.. things like that. They bring chocolate back to Europe and that's where they add sugar to it and it becomes a sweet drink in Europe," said Skwerski.

One of the most interesting parts of the exhibit shows how chocolate is literally transformed.. from a bland, bitter seed, to a rich, sweet indulgence.

"There's a whole process that gets involved of the grinding and the tempering and the conching to produce a smooth chocolate that they can then turn into candy bars. In fact, the first candy bar doesn't show up the scene until 1847," said Skwerski.

The exhibit shows how chocolate is consumed around the world, and even better, in the requisite gift shop on the way out, they've curated an impressive list of single origin chocolates with all kinds of characteristics. There's even a weekly chocolate demonstration at the end of the exhibit, from a local pastry chef, showing the versatility - and creativity - that chocolate seems to inspire.

"We wanted to create space where the visitors could enjoy demonstrations of chocolate making; anything from sculptures to painting with chocolate. And that's going to happen at the weekends at the Field Museum," he said.

Chocolate Around the World runs at The Field Museum until Jan. 8, 2012
Field Museum

1400 South Lake Shore Drive

Chicago, IL 60605

(312) 544-9526


449 North Clark Street

Chicago, IL 60654-4500

(312) 334-3688

Real Tenochitlan

2451 North Milwaukee Avenue

Chicago, IL 60647

(773) 227-1050

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