At the Chocolate Show: The Vanguard
The allure of the Chocolate Show is that you get to look the chocolatiers in the eye and have them place holy morsels on your tongue. You get the candymakers' unlimited attention—that is, until the chocolate wonks swoop in.
The chocolate wonks are very serious people. They're working the show, but they have no official status. They're like politicians on the campaign trail, taking meetings in hallways and while waiting in line. They have chocolate bars to sell, chocolate investment deals to negotiate, research on chocolate fermentation to carry out, and chocolate articles to write. Listen, and you'll hear them.
The wonks are small-batch bean-to-bar manufacturers like Steve DeVries of DeVries Chocolate (who came to check up on the competition) and Alan McClure of Patric Chocolate (who came hoping to be the competition). The wonks are people like Citibank's pastry chef Rob Valencia, who makes a swinging Elvis-inspired choco-peanut-butter bon bon and is no doubt shopping for a larger audience.
The definitive chocolate wonk used to be Clay Gordon, who started working the aisles of the show when he launched Chocophile.com six years ago. But with a book out from a major publisher this month, Clay has ascended to a more legitimate status, sitting in a booth of his own (at least during signings). The chocophile's natural successor in wonkiness might be David Arnold (right) who's been tasting and shaking hands every day at the show. He neither produces nor sells chocolate, but he's taken a year off from his day job to dedicate himself to the mysteries of cacao.
"I'm trying to figure out what's not out there and where this is going," David said. "Because I'm convinced chocolate will be different in the future."
And then there's me. Many apologies if I swooped in in front of you.