How to Build Dallas' Reputation as a Chocolate City

Every chocolatier at next weekend's Chocolate Conference, sponsored by DallasChocolate.org, is slated to participate in a roundtable discussion of "the state of chocolate in Dallas." Panel members will presumably debate the quality and quantity of artisanal chocolate available in the DFW area.

But what exactly is the measuring stick for a thriving local confection scene? I asked the panel moderator to define -- and not in the way Ray Nagin meant it -- a chocolate city.

According to Clay Gordon, the New York City-based chocolate critic behind the popular Chocolate Life blog, cities with admirable chocolate communities are generally places where shoppers prefer homegrown chocolates to Godiva and chocolatiers collaborate to burnish their industry's reputation. They're also not typically located in the South.

"When it's hot and humid, people go after chocolate ice cream and milkshakes instead of confections," Gordon says. "But, hey, there's a lot of refrigeration these days."

While Gordon concedes advances in freezing and shipping could be used to import chocolates from northern cities with more dynamic chocolate traditions, such as Portland, San Francisco and New York, he says locally made chocolate has many of the same advantages as local corn and goat cheese.

"There's something ineffable about local," he says. "Things produced locally always directly reflect the local culinary culture. There is something about Texas barbecue made in Texas instead of New York."

Gordon says Dallas is "underserved" since its artisanal chocolate makers are so spread out, but hopes the upcoming event will lay a foundation for local chocolatiers to work together to grow their market.

"The competition is chains -- the Godivas, the Rocky Mountain Chocolates -- not each other," he says. "Dallas Chocolate has the opportunity to bring chocolatiers together."

"Being in New York, Dallas as a chocolate scene doesn't really call attention to itself," he adds. "I look forward to seeing if we can make it something the rest of the country knows about."

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