After exploring the eastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico last month, we headed south into the azure blue waters of the Cayes off the Carribean coast of Belize. Having spent the previous 4 days on Caye Caulker; sunning ourselves, relaxing and diving, our next excursion took us to Belize Chocolate Company – an inspiring little chocolate shop in San Pedro, on a tiny spit of land known as Ambergris Caye. Run by a husband and wife team, Chris and Jo make it their mission to inspire and empower Belizian youth to work with one of the country’s award winning exports – CACAO!
When embarking on an international chocolate adventure across the Americas, what better place to start than Chocolateria Isla Bella, or The Chocolate Kitchen, situated on 5th Avenue, on the stunning island of Cozumel, Mexico?
This is the story of two women’s journey to preserve the ancient cacao of Mexico and bring it to the fore in the Yucatan, Quintana Roo peninsula of Mexico; from the bean, to the bar – hand tempering every batch they make!
On such a tiny island many great things happen in the world of chocolate. After an enlightening and revitalising start to the The Grenada Chocolate Festival, with cocoa meditation, cocoa beauty product making and an intense ‘hash’ through the jungle for the first official day, followed by a truly inspirational day two up at Zabuco Estate with Aaron from Tri Island chocolate, it was now time to get down to the business of cocoa. From the macro companies to the micro, past to present it was now time to discover the other influential cocoa growers of the Grenadian (and Caribbean) chocolate scene.
Grenada is known as the Spice Isle of the Caribbean and is famous for its heady blend of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg that wafts around the island pretty much year round – you think it’s a myth until you are actually there, and it wraps you up in a fuzzy blanket of aroma as soon as you step off the plane – or was that the bug spray they doused us in before we left the aircraft? Anyway, what is still relatively unknown to many is that Grenada is also in the world’s top 10 countries for producing Fine Flavour Cacao – quite a feat given how small it is – see map below! It is also home to a very interesting man with very exciting plans for his ancestral cocoa farm!
After four long years I’m finally heading out to the Grenada Chocolate Festival, on the Caribbean island of Grenada (not the southern Spanish town of Granada – spelled and pronounced differently). My plane stops in Barbados for a few hours (it’s the Virgin Atlantic one and about £150 cheaper than the direct route or the one that stops in St Lucia to refuel), giving me just enough time to make a beeline for Oustins – a touristy foodie strip en route to Bridgetown frequented by burnt English people and pissed Aussies. As it turns out I’ve arrived for Friday Night Fish Fry, so it only seems right I settle for a grilled Mahimahi with rice n beans and fresh plantain, dressed with extra hot pepper and cocoa nib sauce and a rum punch to wash it down.
A little prop plane awaited my return to the airport, a drastic transformation from the jumbo I came over on, and in less than one hours I touched down in Grenada.
Since I’m fascinated with where food comes from, the next logical step in my ‘farm-to-table’ ‘bean-to-bar’ chocolate adventures was to try growing my own cacao trees…in London!
It was a challenge, with the first hurdle being to get fresh pods back from Ingemann in Nicaragua through US customs. After enduring a good hours’ worth of questioning by a typically Texan border enforcement official, the pods were let through!
When you’re asked by the Academy of Chocolate to attend and speak at the Finnebrougue Fine Food Fair in Killyleagh Castle, Northern Ireland, courtesy of Food NI 2016 – the obvious answer to this request is ‘yes’.
The trip was all planned out by Food NI, and after an exhilaratingly turbulent 55 minute flight from Gatwick, I touched down in Belfast City Airport, greeted at the airport by Sharon Machala of Food NI – my chauffeur for the next 28 hours (this was very much a flying visit).
August Bank Holiday weekend saw the boy whisk me off to Venice for a belated birthday surprise! Arriving close to midnight, we stayed in the San Sebastiano Garden Hotel; a little out of the centre, but easy walking distance to the action.
Like most trips, I like to research the destination as much as I can, and create a little map with timings and things to do at each location. Very geeky, I know, but it means that if time and/or funds are not on your side, you can still let the place get under your skin, just about.
Hotel Chocolat are probably what most people think of when considering well-known chocolatiers in London, and although they are a ‘highstreet chain’, their chocolates (and hot chocolates) are not only divine award winners, but also inventive! My favourite is their classic hot chocolate, with a bit of a twist. Whilst a classic hot chocolate with chocolate shavings on top is an option, there’s something really special and a bit naughty about adding a shot (or two) of rum into the mix, and topping it off with the extremely flavourful cacao whip.
York! A medieval walled city in Northern England with a vibrant history dating as far back as Roman times and beyond. Defined by it’s medieval cathedral or ‘Minster’ – built in the 13th Century, and extensive Roman wall (since rebuilt in various places), it is also famous for playing its part in the chocolate and candy revolution of the British Isles.