The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and Mars Chocolate North America sponsored an evening program and reception in advance of the Power of Chocolate Festival in March. In the interest of testing the theory that there can never be enough chocolate (only a week after the chocolate tasting event at the Italian Embassy), we were in attendance.
The Evolution of Chocolate: A Special Chocolate Lecture and Tasting, featured Rodney Snyder, Chocolate History Research Director at Mars Chocolate North America. The big open space at NMAI was filled with tables and exhibit stations, giving a little preview of the weekend’s activities.
First, we were introduced to Chef Will of the Mitsitam Cafe, who described the dishes we would sample after the lecture. Among them: pork marinated with chocolate and chili, grilled with a chocolate rub, and chocolate and cherry mousse (in honor of Cherry Blossom season).
Then Mr. Snyder treated us to an amusing treatise on the evolution and uses of chocolate in the New World. For instance, did you know chocolate can be found in the periodic table of the elements?
(But seriously, folks,) the cultivation of cacao trees began 3,000 years ago and spread to an area 20° north and south of the equator. Native Americans fermented the pulp surrounding the beans and drank the liquid, in addition to harvesting the beans.
They had a bouquet of ingredients to flavor their chocolate drinks, including agave nectar and bee honey, annatto, allspice, and red pepper. One of the samples was mixed to be very close to what the Aztecs would have drunk. It was so rich, just a little was quite enough!
It was almost as thick as the chocolate at the Spanish Crafts event. Another “flavor expression” of chocolate, this time as a solid, contained the same ingredients as the drink, but provided a completely different experience in the mouth.
The last taste, providing a contrast to the historic style, was a Dove dark chocolate miniature. We were asked to notice how the Dove provided a “silky smooth melt.” It did indeed!
Then we were welcome to try the dishes prepared by Chef Will and his team. In addition to the pork and mousse, there was some mole and chili made with chocolate, fruit and cheese (nice complements), and sparkling wine. A truly sweet event!