Thursday, March 05, 2009

Dark (chocolate) secrets explored in Fremont
Although you probably won't see any Oompa Lumpas commuting to work in Fremont, there is the Theo Chocolate Factory in the Center of the Universe. Now add to that chocolately goodness some food for thought in the form of the Theo Chocolate Academy, a series of classes in all things chocolate from the bean to the bar. I was invited recently to join a small group of other foodies to hear more about TCA. With course names like "Chocolate for Nerds," "History of Chocolate," "Factory Secrets" and "Exotic Erotic," how could I not be intrigued?

We started out with a mix and mingle amidst samples of Theo's current choco-offerings. (Hello, 3400 Phinney Fig, Fennel & Almond Dark Chocolate!) A true bonus for the evening was having sommelier extraordinaire David LeClaire of Seattle Uncorked on hand pouring sumptuous reds and whites to complement the chocolates.

Next, we donned our hair nets and went down into the factory, past a door marked "Super Secret," and into a huge kitchen. There was Autumn, Theo's original chocolatier, who gave us a quick demonstration of what's going into a new offering - a chocolate and hazelnut ganache inspired by an old Italian recipe. As the confection melted in my mouth, so did any thought of chilly, grey days. We also got a taste of chocolate hot cakes which Autumn sells at the Ballard Sunday Farmers Market. Pick up your local produce there but do not forget the hot cakes if you're a chocolate lover.

Then we got a whirlwind tour of the actual chocolate factory. Entering the production area we were enveloped in a warm, temperature-controlled atmosphere of chocolate. In a chocolate world, the air you breathed would always a carry a slight fragrance of cocoa, not cloying or irritating, just choco-nutty. Having worked in a pineapple factory, I can tell you that aroma is not something you want to be smelling of everyday. This chocolate air, however, I wouldn't mind.

That "super secret" door turned out to be the entrance to the laboratory of the resident "mad scientist" Dr. Andy McShea, a biochemist mad about unlocking the secrets of chocolate. No lickable wallpaper here, just beans, beans and more beans from around the world and all kinds of science lab gizmos and stuff.

The tour was prelude to what will be going on at Theo Chocolate Academy. TCA will be offering a series of informal courses divided into four themes: Chocolate Science, Chocolate in the World, Art of Chocolate Making, and Chocolate Connoisseur.

Chocolate Science is Dr. McShea's take on the culinary science investigation (a totally different kind of CSI) of chocolate, including what makes chocolate a superfood that's actually good for you. Chocolate in the World is lead by Kristy Leissle, PhD, whose official title is TCA's Dean of Beans. Dr. Leissle earned her doctorate from UW studying the origins of chocolate and traveled the world learning about the cultures of chocolate farmers. Theo Head Chocolatier Autumn Martin will dish out cooking demos and recipes in the Chocolate Connoisseur series. A tag team of Theo choco-experts will lead you through the Art of Chocolate Making.

A Fremont Troll-sized thanks to Deb at Theo Chocolate and Keren of Frantic Foodie fame for all their work in putting together this event. A hat tip to David LeClaire who served several excellent wines, especially the Tempranillo and the Big Smooth.
Photo: Theo Chocolate

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