How Sweet It Is: A Report from the Salon du Chocolat
- Published on Tuesday, 06 November 2012 00:00
- Written by David Jaggard
You Wanna Eat It or
Mom, I’ve good news and bad news. The good news is, I got a job. The bad news is, thousands of people are going to see me at work.
In preparation for this article, I found myself reflecting on a well-known philosophical tenet. First outlined in Plato’s Republic and later elaborated upon in detail in The Confessions of Saint Augustine, it states one of the basic precepts of Western thought: “You can always find something to ridicule at a trade show.”
Having gathered sufficient material for previous C’est Ironiques simply by wandering aimlessly around the Salon de l’Agriculture and the Foire de Paris, I decided last week to head for the Salon du Chocolat, Paris’s annual chocolate fair.
According to its Web site, the salon is “the world’s largest event dedicated to chocolate.” If that’s true, it must not have much competition, because the whole thing was contained on one floor of one building at the Porte de Versailles convention center.
On the other hand, maybe they mean “largest” in terms of attendance: it was so crowded when I went on Friday afternoon, you’d think they were giving away free samples of some kind of popular, widely consumed food item.
Actually, most of the stands were not giving it away for free, although for a modest investment, visitors could sample chocolate in a stupefying variety of forms. In fact, for a slatternly investment, visitors could purchase enough of the stuff to build a house out of chocolate logs:
... paint it with chocolate:
... tile the floors with chocolate:
... hang chocolate art on the walls:
... and when it’s all finished invite their friends over for a chocolate glass of wine:
... some chocolate cheese:
... and a game of chocolate Scrabble:
... keeping score with a chocolate pencil:
... on a chocolate tablet:
... and then sit on a giant chocolate suppository:
In addition to chocolate in uncommon shapes and colors, the exhibits also featured chocolate in unexpected combinations, like mixed with olive oil:
And spread on bread with foie gras:
I tried both of these novelties, and here’s what I thought: olive oil and chocolate is a blend that says, “Ahh, the exoticism of the tropics meets the flavors of the Mediterranean,” whereas chocolate spread and foie gras is a blend that says, “Hey! Who’s the jackass who spilled chocolate all over the damn foie gras?”
After about an hour of roaming the stands, sampling most of the delicacies and all of the oddities, I was reaching the point of “too much of a good thing.” I started to feel like I might as well just smear chocolate all over myself.
Which turned out to be an option: one exhibitor had set up a row of cabins and was offering chocolate facials and massages. And the next stand over was offering hair removal treatments using melted chocolate instead of hot wax:
But not in a cabin — the treatment bed was just sitting there in plain view. Strangely, they didn’t have any takers. And I should know: I hung around there all afternoon and not one single customer stepped up for a bikini sundae.
I also noticed that this same stand had a red plastic drum marked “depilatory waste” sitting off to one side, right next to a nearly identical red plastic drum from which the vendor next door was scooping powder to make hot chocolate. He wasn’t getting any customers either. Go figure.
From drinkable to chewable to smearable, the exhibits covered the entire gamut of uses for chocolate, both real and imaginary, including the ostensibly smokable:
And the ostensibly wearable:
And even the literally wearable. I refer, of course to the highlight of the Salon du Chocolat: the Chocolate Fashion Show. There was a stage set up in the middle of the space where, every afternoon at 5pm, a dozen models would step into the spotlights sporting specially designed outfits consisting largely of chocolate. Although not entirely — after all, who wants to wear chocolate socks?
This was by far the salon’s biggest draw. By the time it started, there was a huge crowd packed in front of the stage — hundreds of women wondering what the participating fashion designers could possibly come up with in the way of cocoa-based ensembles, and hundreds of men wondering if a sudden noise or temperature rise could somehow trigger a wardrobe malfunction.
In fact, the crowd was so crowded, my view of the fashion show looked like this most of the time:
Although toward the end, I did manage to get one distant photo of this cocoa butterfly:
Yes, that’s an all-chocolate brassiere. And yes, another minute under those hot lights and it probably would have melted into an all-chocolate hernia belt, which is probably why so many of the guys in the audience kept yelling “Encore!”
However, despite its many attractions, both real and imaginary, the fashion show was esthetically eclipsed by another regular feature of the Salon du Chocolat: the annual Charles Proust Competition, a sculpture contest for pastry and chocolate chefs.
Each year, the entrants are asked to interpret a specific theme, which for 2012 was “The Fables of La Fontaine.” As any French schoolboy can tell you, but won’t because he’s such a little snot, Jean de La Fontaine was a 17th-century writer who penned classic versions of ancient cautionary tales like “The Ant and the Grasshopper” and “The Tortoise and the Hare.”
Apparently, foxes are considered to be chocogenic, because many of the entrants chose to depict “The Fox and the Grapes”:
But that wasn’t the only tale retold in cocoa, sugar and food-grade colorants. Other famous La Fontaine fables were also on view, including “The Creepy Staring Dude and the Bumblebees”:
Also “The Dead Parrot and the Stripper”:
And of course that great classic that has been enchanting youngsters for countless generations, “The Elephant, the Rhinoceros and the Giant Slugs”:
Strange as they were, those entries still weren’t quite as disconcerting as the fox sculpture shown below, which I would have picked as the paws-down winner of the competition:
What exactly is going on here? Is this what the fox did to console himself after not getting the grapes? Oh wait — I know: this is a scene from La Fontaine’s oft-neglected fable “The Fox and the Chocolate Brazilian Depilatory Treatment.”
Art! Literature! Fashion! Hyperglycemia! As Saint Augustine could have predicted, the Salon du Chocolat proved fruitful, and fructoseful, for me. In fact, so fruitful I have applied to be an exhibitor next year. I’m going to set up a stand next to the fashion show stage. Selling battery-powered blow dryers.
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© 2012 Paris Update