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Food Festival Talk, Chocolate Week and the Case of a Hot Chilli!

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Chocolate Making Demonstration & Talk


Our day at WI Food Festival Day

I look straight ahead of me. Staring back are the expectant faces of at least seventy WI members of the massed ranks of various West Sussex associations. Why? Because in a few minutes we’ll be giving a Chocolate Truffle demonstration in a village hall in the beautiful and historic village of Buckden, near Eastbourne.

Only, the previous speaker, Peter Bayless, the winner of Master Chef in 2006, served up the audience with entertaining tales of cooking for the camera. And that was just for starters. His main course consisted of a story about cooking for the captain’s table on the QE2, no less. And then for desert, he finished up with an anecdote about cooking with Heston Blumenthal, for a rich family in the Alps, where the dessert well and truly went up in flames.

So, follow that! No pressure then! Not only that but free from the time constraints of TV, Peter’s practical demonstration overran by at least 10 minutes and has eaten into the ladies’ lunchtime. Literally, although they have already tasted some of his exquisite cooking during the demo. 

Only, we’re watching, enthralled from the back of the hall, behind our stand, and slowly realise that no-body’s cleared away his cooking equipment and ingredients from the table and Peter’s gone to the kitchen to wash up.

Only, there’s now less than 20 minutes until we’re due to start and we need all of that time to get set up ourselves.

Only, the WI organisers didn’t think to bring a charged up body mike, so several of the members complained that they couldn’t hear Peter properly at the start.

Only, his table is directly in front of the first row and so people at the back can’t see his cooking properly.

No matter. Magdalena and I charge up to the tables and experiment with putting them on the raised stage behind. Now, we tower over the audience. It feels like we’re in the Gods and the rows of seats are that much further away.

We put the tables back and Magda quickly takes charge. ‘I’ll hold the organiser’s mike in my left hand and demonstrate with my right hand,’ she says, assessing the situation. ‘When I need both hands, you hold the mike for me to talk into.’ With Peter’s two hour presentation, he was forced to do a double act with the organiser talking into the mike and giving a running commentary on his cooking.

We begin to plug in the microwave and set out our equipment, materials and chocolate. Meanwhile, the good ladies of the WI are streaming back into the hall from their own ploughman’s lunch and some are even congregating around our stall.  I race down the hall to ensure we make some sales while Magdalena finishes preparing for the demonstration.

A few minutes later, I’m reaching for some change, and putting decorative chocolate buttons into a bag, when I hear the organiser clearing her throat into the mike. We’re on! I race back to the front of the hall and dutifully stand by my woman. The organiser says that she’s grateful she doesn’t have to keep holding the mike as her hand is starting to feel numb. Cue a nice little joke about last night’s final episode of The Bodyguard with a spoiler alert for those who haven’t yet watched it yet!

I’m still politely chuckling when I realise that Magdalena’s already grabbed the mike and started talking. It’s the post lunch graveyard slot where audiences tend to nod off and she’s intent on grabbing and keeping their attention throughout.

Wisely, Magdalena doesn’t try any anecdotes of her own, but gets straight down to demonstrating the fine art of fine chocolate truffle making. At first, I’m only required to help her open a couple of bottles of flavouring for the ganache. Magdalena holds the bottle out in her right hand, I unscrew it and all the while she keeps talking into the mike in her left hand. I find it impressive and from the appreciative tones out front, so does the audience.

There are samples of white, milk and dark chocolate to hand out so I’m kept busy working the members or is it the only way round? They seem interested and we take several questions. At this stage, Magdalena’s expertly tempering the liquid chocolate on a marble slab. So she needs both hands to manipulate the cocoa mass.

There’s no other option than for me to try and answer the questions. Fortunately, they’re mostly about the cocoa plant itself and the various stage of cocoa production – prompted by a box being passed around –with different compartments for cocoa beans, nibs and butter. I reel out a few facts about how many beans are in a pod, how many pods on a tree, how long trees produce pods and which part of the world produces cocoa beans. I hope I sound vaguely convincing and marvel at how effortless Magdalena seems with a pallet knife in one hand and a mike in the other. I’ll just filling in while she’s busy making the filling.

There’s no time to wonder, though, because Magdalena’s finished tempering and I hold the mike close to her face as she talks into it, all the while mixing and preparing the chocolate.  

Towards the end, I take the truffles now in their tray to the fridge to set. We finish on time, although I know Magdalena would have liked to have demonstrated a few more techniques. Later, the members come over to our stall to see the finished truffles complete with decorative painted colourful transfers on top. We hand round the tray for them to sample. Everyone leaves contented.

I leave exhausted and that’s before we have to clear up. Grateful thanks are exchanged and the car is loaded. We say farewell to the other exhibitors – two young chaps with their cheese and charcutier stall, a man selling homemade honey and wish good luck for the future to the guy next to us with his selection of hot chilli relishes and pickles.

‘How did it go,? ‘ Magdalena asks as she pulls out. ‘You were hotter than his relish’ I reply. 

Other chocolate news that caught my eye this week:

Elsewhere, the chocolate industry events is busy gearing up for the UK’s annual chocolate week, which takes place between 15-21 October.

The confectionery celebration is now in its 14th year, and kicks off with the Brighton Chocolate Festival, (13-14th October), held at the Hilton Brighton Metropole, which a wide range of producers and artisans within the sector will be offering live demonstrations and industry insight.

This year’s chocolate week grand finale will be the Canopy Market takeover by Cocoa Runners (18-21 October) – in which over 20 bean-to-bar chocolate makers from around the world will gather at Kings Cross in London, including Friis-Holm from Denmark, Fu Wan from Taiwan, Krak from the Netherlands and Fruition from Woodstock, New York as well as some of the UK’s finest chocolate makers.

British names such as Duffy’s, Dormouse, Solkiki, Chocolarder, Chocolate Tree, Islands Chocolate and Forever Cacao will all be attending in London to offer a slice of confectionery tastes from across the world. The event will feature a series of tastings and pairings that visitors can take part in.

Watch out for chocolate celebrations near you or just treat yourself to some delicious chocolate to celebrate the chocolate week. Magdalena is convinced that celebrating chocolate week means eating chocolate pretty much all the time during that week!

Until next time


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