Click to view caption|
Chocolate dolls and chocolate dolphins vie for the attention of chocolate aficionados adoringly taking in every creation of the contemporary chocolate
Last Friday was the first time I saw my little daughter with tufts of her hair between her lips. I did not scold her and was not surprised because she was trying to savour the last licks of chocolate stuck to her hair after playing at the kids corner at City Stars InterContinental, where the renowned Le Salon du Chocolat was held for the first time in Cairo.
Chocolate is an indulgence and addiction which most people share and a passion that unites their taste buds. Indeed, chocolate has a unique effect on one's mood; in hard times, it lifts you up, and in happy times it is a staple for celebration. Jin Caldwell, one of the top ten chocolate chefs in North America told Al-Ahram Weekly that before coming to Egypt, she read up on the culture and religion so as to avoid ingredients which she could not use in the recipes.
After 15 years as a chef, Caldwell is now experimenting with different chocolate flavours such as spices, lemon, ginger and bacon. "One of the recipes I tried at home is salmon with white chocolate and vinaigrette," she revealed. Another is couscous with white chocolate, and vinegar with salmon. "It is very good," she assured me.
But the celebrated American chef is not the only one experimenting; chocolate inspired other exhibitors to create such delicacies as sushi with chocolate. Tamer Adel, sushi chef at Mori Sushi, told the Weekly that his team worked for 20 days ahead of the exhibition to combine various sushi flavours with chocolate. It was my first time to taste sushi -- and with chocolate at that. I sampled salmon with chocolate, salmon with cheese and chocolate, as well as fried shrimp with konafa. I took a bite: "But I can't taste the chocolate, chef..." He smiled: "I haven't put the chocolate sauce on yet."
One of the guests of honour at Le Salon du Chocolat was Karthi from India, whose talents at carving detailed chocolate creations attracted many visitors. He is essentially a pastry chef who abandoned carving clay for etching on chocolate. To demonstrate his skills to an enthralled audience, he carved the face of one spectator into a chunk of chocolate.
The four-day event also showcased for the first time chocolate made with camel milk by the United Arab Emirates-based Al-Nassma. A fashion show of dresses made of chocolate was also a highlight, demonstrating that chocolate can mix with any food or any material.
"Chocolate is the secret word which is sure to attract Egyptians to this exhibition," asserted Jeanarwa Bardy, international representative of Le Salon du Chocolat around the world. Bardy added that holding the exhibition for the first time in Cairo is a milestone for the delectable expo.
According to Hatem Salem, president of Media Organisation which produced and organised the event, Le Salon du Chocolat was launched in Paris 15 years ago and has since been held in several European and US cities. Salem considers it a personal and national achievement that the chocolate extravaganza came to Egypt. "Cairo is the first Arab city to host the Salon," he beamed, despite strong competition from the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. "Egyptians thirst for such events." This desire was the pillar of the publicity campaign for Le Salon, employing digital media, Facebook, radio, television and text messages.
Wafaa Atta, a librarian visiting the expo, found out about the event on Facebook and came with her children because her son is a chocoholic. Atta declared that the event is a great idea. Meanwhile, Amal Mohamed, a housewife living in Saudi Arabia, came with her daughter to sample and rank exhibitors. Mohamed remembered back in the 1960s and 1970s the chocolate market in Egypt was very different: "At the time there were few national chocolate manufacturers, and the taste was completely different from imported chocolate." Today, it's a different story. "I can find many chocolate brand names in Egypt which we are fond of in the Gulf countries -- which is a huge chocolate market."
The local chocolate industry has indeed evolved in the most tasteful way. One of the leading brand names in Egypt is Passionalle, which was represented with full force at Le Salon. Nashwa Zaki, vice-president to Akram Torki, the owner and founder of Passionelle, told the Weekly that since the company launched in 1996 it has been using only imported ingredients. The biggest obstacles facing the industry, according to Zaki, are the same the world over: natural disasters or disease which infect the cocoa bean crop. More specific to Egypt is a weak local currency on the global market.
She noted that Egypt has opened up investments for many international brands in the chocolate industry. One such brand is Mars, Egypt, which had a strong presence at Le Salon. It exhibited under the name Galaxy, which represents 60 per cent of company sales. Mars, Egypt, is the regional hub for markets in North Africa, the Levant and East Mediterranean.
The company's regional country director Karim Chabara told the Weekly that working at a chocolate factory makes it important to maintain a balanced lifestyle (and weight). "Eating chocolate and exercising is my daily routine," Chabara laughed, and his son is especially proud of his father's job.
According to Fady Abi Nader, Galaxy marketing manager, chocolate is a very popular commodity in the Egyptian market. "There are many more international brands than before, and today consumers are seeking good quality," Abi Nader stated. He noted that despite the global financial crisis, chocolate sales rose because it is cheaper to buy chocolate for the family than to go out.
One of the main players in the chocolate industry is Edward Seguine. Wearing a hat and a big smile, he reminded me of an orchestra conductor as he briefed visitors on the journey and history of cocoa beans. Seguine is one of three master cocoa testers in the world, a member of the American Association for Candy Manufacture Technology and the American Cocoa Research Institute. He revealed that every cocoa bean has its own flavour, and a chocolate maker has to choose the one which evokes the taste he is seeking. "Chocolate makers have their special beans which are kept secret," Seguine noted.
He is very concerned about the challenges facing cocoa farmers, most importantly the lack of training that causes them to produce 400kg per hectare annually, although they can more than double that to 1,000kg. "A cocoa farmer's income is $1-2 per day," Seguine stated, asserting that the solution is to teach them that cocoa farms don't have to grow only one crop. Farmers should grow high value trees which take about 17 years to grow, then cut one down for $3,000 and send their children to school, he suggested.
Father of six and grandfather of 18, Seguine smiles: "I am 63 years young," and the secret behind his happiness is chocolate. Making chocolate is a passion for quality and perfection at all stages, starting with farming, fermenting, drying the beans, shipping and storage. "The standard of chocolate manufacturing of the cocoa bean must be high," he asserts, "to ensure you deliver a product which conveys all the richness, smoothness and flavour that chocolate lovers want."