You know those advertisements where the players suddenly feel invincible and capable of achieving anything after saving a ton of money on their insurance? Or how about the ones where they feel suddenly super-smart after spending a night at a particular hotel? Well it is kind of how I feel – sort of – after delighting in the Jade Mountain Discover Chocolate Festival last weekend. Suddenly, I fancy myself a chocolate connoisseur. And, well, sleeping in a room at one of the world’s finest hotels does impute that revitalized emboldened feeling as well. This, especially after my vacation had been interrupted a couple of times. But again Jade can suddenly allow for the forgiveness of all lapses and infelicities, if you know what I mean.
Jade Mountain’s annual Discover Chocolate Festival, held this year October 10-14, was a truly unique experience – fun, yet quite stimulating and educational as well. Yes I can hear some of you saying – education while on a vacation at Jade Mountain? But it is true and it comes at you in such thrilling doses throughout this festival, you may not even notice it at first.
The Chocolate Festival draws guests into the whole fascination of chocolate from “Tree” to “Factory” then onto plates and into stores. The truth is, it is all interactive and not done via some video streaming or text book experience. You see, Jade Mountain has discovered a secret – or maybe two or three – and is sharing some of this chocolate magic.
Right here in Saint Lucia, in Soufriere where Jade Mountain is located to be precise, can be found the world’s richest cacao plants. I really did not know back then that as a college boy jumping the fence at Vigie after school to grab a couple of Belizaire Cacao pods to suck on the seeds and throw them away that I was throwing away a potential investment. Well it would seem years later neither did some cacao farmers or the authorities. But that as they say is for another story.
Cacao history in Saint Lucia dates back to the 1700s. Today, the owners of Jade Mountain (and Anse Chastanet) possess one of the many estates in Soufriere that still grow hundreds of cocoa trees. At the Emerald Estate the resort not only grows these plants but uses the organically grown cocoa and chocolate in many of its dishes. Today Jade Mountain is manufacturing its own organic high grade chocolate; a first for Saint Lucia.
During the five day festival the architectural beauty and wonder of Jade Mountain was part of the setting as guests got up close and personal with the cacao bean from the tree to the store with the help of Jade Mountain’s consulting chef Allen Susser and the resort’s very own director of pastry Wouter Tjeertes. Susser has pioneered a signature intense chocolate taste with exotic tropical aromas and his first chocolate class that I attended was quite engaging. Of course, he wouldn’t share the secret of the slow roast process their beans go through to bring out such rich aroma and flavor. But that was okay. Having a few samples to go with to my room – sorry my sanctuary – would suffice. No doubt, the surprise truffles waiting for me made things all the more pleasurable. Ahh! Sunset. Chocolate. Wine. The Pitons. I couldn’t wait to see how the rest of the festival would unfold.
Day two: after a sumptuous breakfast, the “lab” would host our next class which involved actual chocolate making. I would like to think of that room as a sort of magic cubicle since the “lab” was the very place where the designs for Jade Mountain were birthed by Nick Troubetzkoy. And now, first-class chocolate made from the best cocoa in the world, from right here in Saint Lucia. Amazing!
So we were also allowed to make our very own signature chocolates. How cool or sweet is that? And a little chocolate dessert after a lobster dinner did go a long way.
On the third day, director of pastry, Wouter Tjeertes hosted the Emerald Estate Cocoa Tour, showing from whence it all began. There, participants got a lesson in the history of chocolate in the Caribbean, the various types of cacao and the production process. Several other plants including cinnamon and vanilla were also pointed out at the estate. The tour also included tasting raw cacao while discussing the fermentation, sun drying and polishing of the beans to the transporting of the beans back to the hotel lab. There the more technical aspect of chocolate making was explained and the various qualities from 60% to 92% bars were introduced. A complimentary bar of Emerald Estate Organic Chocolate of one’s choice completed the day. Well there was also the choice of indulging in one of the treatments from the chocolate spa menu, including the chocolate citrus body polish, mocha massage or chocolate facial among others. Heavenly!
Armed with some literature, a first-hand experience and my own chocolate creations, I now felt empowered. And please don’t hate if I suddenly snicker when someone refers to those candy bars as chocolate. I now know better and I’ve certainly kissed those notions goodbye as easy as 1-2-3 or as fast as you can say -“ohhh-Henri”. So now excuse me while I kiss the sky and enjoy the rest of my vacation enjoying my own chocolate creations with some fine wine … Oui Oui!