Did you ever notice there are no recipes for leftover chocolate? That’s because it doesn’t exist, at least not in my family. When Rich first started coming to our summer reunions, he showed up with a two-layer box of See’s Nuts & Chews for each of my sisters. “I’m not saying I can be bought,” one said. “But this is a good down payment.”
Over the years I’ve written about chocolate’s surprising health benefits, how the French use it to lose weight, and the heady delights of a Nativity scene composed of 1500 kilos of chocolate. But now I find I’ve just been scratching the surface. Canadian journalist Doreen Pendgracs has been traveling the world digging deep into the history, cultivation, production, and joys of cacao in all its many forms. In the spirit of selfless research, she’s even gone to spas where she was bathed from head to foot in warm, molten chocolate. (I know! That’s my idea of heaven, too!)
I felt I owed it to you, my readers, to find out more about Doreen’s fieldwork, which is chronicled in her award-winning book Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate. This first volume of her trilogy covers Europe; the second, due out in March, focuses on the Americas and the Caribbean.
What made you decide to write about travel and chocolate?
I embarked on my freelance writing career in 1993, and fortunately one of my editors assigned me a story that opened the door to travel writing. It was about a lodge up in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada—Polar Bear Capital of the World. I remember going dogsledding in Churchill when it was -66 degrees Celsius (that’s almost -87F with the windchill factored in!). I was never colder in my life. Not every trip of a travel writer is glamorous!
Later I decided to combine my love of travel writing with my love of chocolate; I would make it my mission to educate the travelling public and chocolate lovers around the world about all the different aspects of chocolate travel. That includes interviewing hundreds of chocolatiers, visiting cacao plantations in various growing regions, attending chocolate festivals, attractions, and events, and discovering every delectable aspect of chocolate around the world, my favorite being chocolate spas.
What spa experience was the most drop-dead fabulous?
I’ve had some pretty decadent chocolate body treatments in some pretty fancy spas, but the one that stands out for me most was at the Pure Jungle Spa in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. The cocoa was so fresh that the entire experience was totally intoxicating. The aroma of the freshly pressed cocoa beans was pure and intense, and as the cocoa seeped into my pores, a beautifully natural high overtook me. Cocoa beans release serotonin and dopamine into the body, and whether we ingest it orally or through our pores, we become overtaken by a natural high if we consume enough of it. So there I was — in the outdoor jungle shower — trying to wash off the cocoa that had been slathered onto my body while laughing hysterically in a totally joyous state.
Where have you found the most amazing chocolate culture?
I’d have to say Switzerland. The Swiss live and breathe chocolate. They are the highest consumers of chocolate in the world, chocolate festivals and events are common, and the quality of Swiss chocolate is superb. But I think you have to go where cocoa is grown for completely authentic cocoa culture, and the best chocolate spas and cocoa cuisine I’ve encountered (to date) are in the Caribbean. Hotel Chocolat Boucan in St. Lucia is a perfect example. They grow the cocoa close to the resort, the on-site spa specializes in treatments that feature cocoa, you can learn how to make chocolate right from the cocoa beans, and cocoa cuisine is the basis of the menu.
An all-cocoa dinner? Is that too much of a good thing?
Absolutely not! When done well, each course features a different side of chocolate. There will be courses that are savory or sultry. A couple of the best I’ve ever had were in Winnipeg: chocolate ravioli and cocoa-rubbed ribs (chocolate ravioli filled with orange and thyme, and duck finished with a Frangelico cream sauce garnished with cocoa nibs, hazelnuts, and pea shoots).
You’re gearing up to lead chocolate tours around the world. What’s the plan?
Yes, I would indeed like to lead small groups on chocolate travel tours — to be the ambassador and guide who helps educate, entertain, and entice chocolate lovers to experience the ever-changing world of chocolate in a fun yet meaningful way. Up until this point in time, I had family obligations that prevented me from being away too much. And at present, I am working on volume II of my trilogy. But within a year, I do expect to lead the first-ever Chocolatour customized group adventure abroad.
What about the worrying articles suggesting climate change may endanger the world’s chocolate supply?
Climate change may be wreaking havoc in some growing regions like Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, where hurricanes have completely ravaged cacao crops on occasion. But climate change has also seen cacao being grown in regions where it previously did not grow like Hawaii, and more recently, Miami, Florida. So I don’t think we chocolate lovers have to panic at this point in time. It is quite likely that the price of quality chocolate will continue to rise, but I don’t think we’ll run out of it any time soon.
Whew! Looks like chocolate isn’t headed for extinction (yet). But just in case, I have added it to the modest stockpile of survival food in my Catastrophe-Preparedness Kit. And I’m keeping plenty on hand in my snack cupboard, too. Because in these uncertain times, one thing I know I can rely on is the healing power of chocolate to sustain me during dark days and add joy to everything from family reunions to world travel. Bon appétit!
Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I do not accept sponsorships or product placement of any kind. Any products or services I mention in my blog, books, or website are there solely because I believe you might find them interesting and useful in planning your own adventures.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain and currently visiting my home state of California.
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