Central Market's Chocolate Festival: A Guide

Central Market's annual chocolate festival starts today and lasts through February 14. Some of the best chocolatiers from around the world will make appearances over the next few days and, as always, there are some interesting back stories. If you can fight through the crowds, don't take lightly the opportunity to learn about their beans and how their cocoa is cultivated, processed and paired with other flavors. Then, of course, sample. And sample. And sample.

Looking at the schedule, I've a devised a plan to hit some of the big names and avoid the insane crowds that will descend upon the demos this weekend.

Our own local girl Andrea Pedraza of Oak Cliff's CocoAndré will be in the Dallas store Thursday, February 9, from 4 to 6 p.m. Pedraza made the special shoe molds for the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the DMA. She cut her teeth at Rex Morgens making European-style truffles, but has had her own shop since 2009. She's a local chocolate gem.

Alan Patric McClure of Patric Chocolate was studying religion in France when he got distracted by the country's chocolate. It happens. He spent the next few years perfecting his own chocolate recipes. It's said that his PBJ OMG bars are life-changing. In December Chocolopolis wrote that it's like the "peanut-butter and jelly sandwich of childhood dreams dunked in dark chocolate." Patric will be at the Dallas store on Friday, February 10, from 3 to 6 p.m.

Askinosie Chocolate is a small shop out of Springfield, Missouri. Founder and chocolate maker Shawn Askinosie works directly with farmers from Ecuador, Honduras, the Philippines and Tanzania, which allows him to trace the cocoa beans to their source and thus is considered "authentic single-origin chocolate." It also allows him to profit-share directly with those growers. Askinosie Chocolate will be in Plano on Monday, February 13, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Tim McCollum of Madécasse Chocolate sources all of his cocoa beans in Madagascar, where he and the company's co-founder were in the Peace Corps. Their chocolate is made entirely in Africa, including packaging and production. There is a fascinating story in the WSJ about starting their business in Africa -- including traversing a river in a canoe carrying a ton of cocoa, embezzlement, walking three miles for a cell phone signal and so on. Friday they're in Plano from 11 a.m. to noon, then in Southlake from 4 to 6 p.m., where the cell phone signals are great and it's never necessary to transport via canoe. (They'll also be Dallas on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., but that'll be a zoo.)

There are several other chocolatiers in town -- the full schedule is here. This is just a sampling of the samplings.

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