Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Travel the World for Chocolate

Sisters and Brothers, how many of you would love to experience chocolate from around the world, meeting the creators, and tasting the uniqueness of each culture?  Doreen Pendgracs has done this and she continues to do this for her multi-volume book series, Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate.  The first book is due out later this year and we hope to bring you a book review of it when it becomes available.  Doreen has been kind enough to take time from her busy travel and writing schedule to answer a few questions for us.  Please leave any other questions (or comments) you might have for her below.

Doreen, you have been a published author now for several years but when did you get the idea for your book Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate?

The idea for Chocolatour came to me in early 2009, after I had visited a cocoa plantation while on vacation in the Dominican Republic. I didn’t realize it at the time, but tasting those raw, unprocessed cocoa beans right out of the cacao pod planted a seed in my brain!    

Did this book evolve out of your love of travel, your love of chocolate, or a bit of both?

Chocolatour is a project that allows me to feed my passions for travel, fine quality chocolate, and passionate people.

When you started traveling and researching for Chocolatour did you start in Canada or immediately look elsewhere to begin?

My research began in the top three countries known for their chocolate: Belgium, France, and Switzerland. The following year, I visited Holland, Italy, and Spain. The next year, my focus was the UK, highlighted by a trip to England. And last year, I stayed on cocoa plantations in Peru, Ecuador, and St. Lucia. In between those overseas trips, I have also been exploring the chocolate scene in Canada and the US.  

How much of your research has been literature based versus personal experiences?

My research has primarily stemmed from the in-person interviews with chocolatier, chocolate makers and chocolate event planners in the destinations I have visited. In addition to that, I have been able to gather research for the A-Z Guide for Chocolate Lovers in my book via tastings of chocolate that has been sent to my home.

If there was one book you would recommend to chocolate lovers, what would it be and why?

I think every chocolate lover should read the book, Chocolat by Joanne Harris. This book was the foundation for the much-loved movie, Chocolat that starred Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche and taught us that our personalities determine which chocolates we will prefer. This is the premise for my book as well.

Doreen at Jade Mountain Chocolate Festival in St. Lucia
Let's focus now on your experiences around the world.  I see from your website, Chocolatour, that you have been to North and South America, the Caribbean, the UK, continental Europe and even the Middle East.  Do you have plans to visit Africa or Asia for this book or perhaps a sequel?

Absolutely! Africa and Asia will be covered in the third edition of Chocolatour, along with Australia, New Zealand, India, and the Middle East. The second edition will primarily focus on the Americas and the Caribbean.  

Has your travel been planned around chocolate since you started this book or do you look for chocolate where you travel?

It’s a bit of both. Most of my major trips are planned around chocolate, whether it be to interview amazing chocolate makers that I have met online (and later tasted their chocolate) or to attend chocolate-focused events. But wherever I go, you can be sure that I am researching chocolate in every community large or small. You’d be surprised at the quality of chocolate or chocolate festivals and events you can find in communities that may only have a few hundred people!

Do you find differences between technique used by or attitude of the chocolatiers you've met around the world?  If so, could you summarize some key differences you've noticed?

Absolutely. There are different growing, harvesting, fermenting, drying, and roasting techniques applied to cocoa depending on where it is grown. Similarly, the chocolatiers (those who create their chocolates from couverture made of processed chocolate) and chocolate makers (those who make their chocolate creations from cocoa beans they have roasted themselves) each have a very unique method to making their chocolate. That’s why a sea salt chocolate caramel made by one chocolate company will taste completely different from one made by another.   

In a similar vein, have you noticed regional differences or has chocolate become more universal in terms of taste, texture, cacao percentage, or form?

Think of the importance of terroir (growing conditions) with respect to wine. The same is very true for chocolate. Once you have trained and educated your palate, you’ll be able to tell which country the chocolate comes from when you eat pure chocolate. The nuances are very different from growing region to growing region. 

When you started this book did you have a certain number of chocolatiers who wanted to include?

No. I had no idea as to exactly how my research would progress. I certainly hadn’t planned to write a multi-volume book when I began in 2009. But I quickly learned that the world has far too much excellent chocolate to try and combine it into just one book. 


At this time do you foresee stopping at three books or are you planning more volumes?

If there is demand for it, I may publish a mega-volume that will update and combine the three geographically specific editions. But that’s a long-term project that wouldn’t happen for at least five years. 


What has been the most pleasant surprise you've encountered as you've found chocolate around the world?

The greatest pleasure has been hearing the chocolatiers and chocolate makers tell me their stories. I’m sure that people who work with chocolate must be the most passionate people on the planet! 

Were you ever turned away by a chocolatier or company that simply didn't want you writing about their chocolate?

I haven’t been turned away by anyone. However, I have been quite surprised that some (a very small number) have not seen the value in giving me some of their time, or sharing samples of their chocolate with me. For the most part, I’ve found chocolatiers and chocolate makers to be very generous with their time, knowledge, and chocolate.  

Are you still looking for donations for publication of your book?  Where can people find that if they want to support you?

Although the official fundraising campaign for my book is over, and I’ve raised enough for small print run, I would still welcome any philanthropic donations in support of what I am doing. I have a lot more travel to do for the upcoming editions of Chocolatour, and I have considerable expenses in producing and printing the book. But I know it will all be worthwhile, as my goal is to share my knowledge with chocolate lovers so that they will want to travel with chocolate in mind, and that they will seek out artisanal chocolate wherever they go. It tastes nothing like mass-produced commercial chocolate. So to answer your question, if folks would like to donate, or subscribe for updates, I’d love for them to visit http://chocolatour.net. Thanks for the opportunity to connect with your readers, and members of the Chocolate Cult!  

Thank you, Doreen for answering our questions.  We look forward to your book.

What do you think, Sisters and Brothers?  Please leave Doreen some comments and questions below and check out her website.

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