Chocolate lovers rejoice at Silicon Valley’s International Chocolate Festival

By TATIANA SANCHEZ | tsanchez@bayareanewsgroup.com | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: April 21, 2018 at 1:58 pm | UPDATED: April 23, 2018 at 4:55 am

SAN MATEO — In a scene straight out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — endless trays of decadent chocolates filled the San Mateo Event Center Saturday for the inaugural International Chocolate Festival, much to the delight of elated chocolate lovers.

The artisan chocolates — from salted caramel to passion fruit, chili and mint — were crafted using ingredients from all over the world, proving that the art of chocolate goes far beyond candy racks at grocery stores, theme parks or movie theaters.

Martin van Almsick, general manager of Al Nassma chocolate, of Dubai, surprised guests — and raised a few eyebrows — with the company’s unique creation: chocolates made out of camel milk.

Al Nassma, the first company to ever use camel milk in chocolate, according to van Almsick, makes powder out of the milk and pasteurizes it. With the powder, they make chocolate using four key ingredients: coco and vanilla from Africa, honey and a bit of sugar.

“The milk is very low in fat and it’s also very salty, and a little minerally because the camel feeds off salty plants in the desert,” he said. “You really can detect that in the chocolate.”

Carlos Pantoja, who attended the festival with his wife, Carolina and daughter Sofia, said the camel milk chocolate was “pretty interesting.”

“My mindset was like, ‘Camels? Yuck! They spit at people!’ But it was good,” said Pantoja, who celebrated his 55th birthday Saturday.

“I’m eating chocolate for my birthday, a nice morning breakfast,” he joked.

The event — which continues Sunday — went far beyond sampling. It included educational classes, panels and cooking demonstrations, all focused on the art of chocolate-making.

For nearly 10 years, “Chocolate adventurist” and travel writer Doreen Pendgracs has traveled the world for chocolate. Her book, Chocolatour, details her rich adventures as a chocolate connoisseur, a world filled with tastings, events and tours. On Saturday, Pendgracs shared these adventures with attendees in a keynote address.

“The mission of a chocolatour is to educate, entertain and entice chocolate lovers to travel the world for chocolate,” she said. “That means attending chocolate events like this, it means going to attractions like chocolate museums and chocolate-themed parks, hotels and spas.”

What many people forget, she said, is that chocolate — when consumed properly — is a health food.

“If you eat pure dark chocolate, that means 70 percent cocoa or higher, you’re actually doing your body a favor. It’s good for your skin, for your hair, for your teeth believe it or not. And it’s very good medicinally for the rest of your body.”

And, said Pendgracs, it even makes you happier.

“When you eat chocolate, it releases dopamine and serotonin into the body, so you actually get a natural high.”


Tatiana Sanchez 

Tatiana Sanchez covers race, demographics and immigration for the Bay Area News Group. She got her start in journalism in the California desert, where she covered the marginalized immigrant communities of the eastern Coachella Valley. Before heading north, Sanchez spent a year as immigration reporter at the San Diego Union-Tribune, where she covered the region's multicultural communities, social justice topics and life on the U.S. -Mexico border. A Bay Area native, she received a master's in journalism from Columbia University. In 2017, Sanchez was part of a team of East Bay Times reporters awarded the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. She's based in San Jose.

Daryl Zeis