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Wednesday, 14 March 2007 00:00

Chocolate sensation

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By Michael Beadle

Come March 24, sink your teeth into blueberry truffles, fudge cookies, and mocha cheesecake.

 

The annual Taste of Chocolate dessert-fest will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Laurel Ridge Country Club in Waynesville with professional and amateur chefs competing for prizes. Guests can sample from a wide array of fine chocolate treats, enjoy live music from the band Simple Folk, and partake in a silent auction — all to raise money for the Haywood/Jackson County Volunteer Center.

“It’s really a great social event,” said Leslie Merrell, co-owner of the Adger House Bed and Breakfast in Waynesville and chairperson for Taste of Chocolate for the last three years.

Now in its 8th year, Taste of Chocolate started at Grace Episcopal Church in Waynesville and drew such a crowd that it was eventually moved to the Laurel Ridge Country Club. Billed as a fun winter interlude scheduled before the flurry of local spring and summer festivals, Taste of Chocolate welcomes chefs from local restaurants, bed and breakfasts, inns and home kitchens to create their best desserts with a chocolate theme. The categories of competition range from professional to amateur and junior amateur (16 years old and younger, with supervision). Entries will be judged according to taste and presentation.

“We have a very large amateur category this year,” said Merrell.

With about 40 chefs lined up so far, it’s one of the largest gatherings of participating chefs in the event’s history. Among the delicious entries will be Venetians (layers of cookie and cake with white and dark chocolate), espresso ganache (chocolate cake layers filled with espresso), chocolate pecan fudge, chocolate caramel oatmeal bars, chocolate cookies and chocolate peanut butter cups.

It’s amazing how much work goes into the presentation of these desserts, Merrell said.

Chef Philip Mohr at Haywood Regional Medical Center and his assistant Kathy Laxton have been working on a lovely truffle to enter in the competition. Mohr estimates their single entry will take about 20 to 25 hours of work when you add in the table preparation and the test runs of truffles.

The hospital’s chefs have won two awards at previous Taste of Chocolate competitions. This will be Mohr’s first experience with the event. In addition to being great notoriety for the hospital, it’s a fun opportunity for fellow chefs to work together.

I’m really looking forward to it,” Mohr said. “We’re going all out for this thing.”

The Dillsboro Chocolate Factory will have four entries in this year’s event — fudge, peanut butter cups, coconut haystacks, and a specialty made with chocolate, caramel and pecans. According to co-owner Todd Sessoms, Taste of Chocolate is a way of letting more folks know about their store and what they have to offer. Sessoms owns the chocolate business along with his wife Tammy and his aunt and uncle, Bob and Tonya Williams. Dillsboro Chocolate Factory sells custom made chocolates, old-fashioned candy, Jelly Beans, and assorted gift baskets for those with a sweet tooth.

What makes Taste of Chocolate truly decadent is the wide variety of fine chocolate arrangements available for the public. Once the judging is over, the eating begins, and guests can sample as much as they’d like.

“There’s so many different sensations on the palette when you’re eating chocolate,” Merrell said. “The quality of the chocolate is really important, but it’s also important what you blend it with.”

Sharon Gallimore, an avid chocolate lover in Waynesville who has previously attended Taste of Chocolate, decided this year to enter a chocolate peanut butter bar recipe in the amateur competition. She’s inviting some friends from Greensboro to come to the event.

In addition to the rich dessert items, there will also be a wine bar, door prizes and a silent auction full of donated pampering packages (massages and pedicures), home decor items, artwork from local artists (pottery, paintings and a fine wood carving), and gift certificates to local businesses. And if you haven’t had your fill of sweet treats, one of the silent auction donations is simply called “chocolate bomb.”

Proceeds go to support the major clearinghouse for placing volunteers in Haywood and Jackson counties. These volunteers are used in programs like Meals on Wheels and help check on homebound and elderly residents. The Volunteer Center also coordinates special projects such as Youth in Action, the Human Race (an annual 5K in Waynesville), and the Homeland Security and Disaster Preparedness Consortium.

“Certainly in times of crisis, they’re there,” Merrell said, recalling the floods of 2004.

Last year’s proceeds from the Taste of Chocolate raised about $5,500, according to Merrell, and she’s hoping to see that figure rise this year thanks to sponsors taking care of publicity and the cost of behind-the-scenes preparations for the event.

Tickets for the one-night event are $15 and can be purchased at the Haywood/Jackson County Volunteer Center (828.456.6456) or from Osondu Booksellers (828.456.8062). In case of inclement weather, the event will be held on Sunday, March 25.

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