This year’s For the Love of Chocolate event at the Merchandise Mart was a colorful revelry of fine food and inventive performance entertainment. Hosted by LuxeHome Kitchens* on February 25, the black tie and sold out event benefited the For the Love of Chocolate Foundation, which awards scholarships to students in full-time programs taught by the French Pastry School at City Colleges of Chicago.
The event featured some of the best restaurants, bakeries, and pastry shops in the Chicago land area, all with a focus on dessert and, more specifically (and not surprisingly), chocolate. Everything served, typically with little to no line, was exceptionally good. Celebrity chefs, including Chicago favorite Rick Bayless, chatted up fans. And a theater group roamed the showrooms, adding an element of mischievous fun with costumes ranging from the bizarre – Death with a spotlight and a gondolier rowing a girl in a bathtub – to the useful – a bicyclist serving wine and a woman wearing a napkin dress.
While all the food was delicious and splurge-worthy because, let’s be frank, this event was far from healthy, there were a few restaurants that really excelled. And, just because its Oscar season, I’ve taken the liberty of determining the “best of” from the event:
Best Overall Dessert: The Peninsula’s dark chocolate mousse in a chocolate waffle cone. Beautifully and creatively served, the creamy mousse was decadent, intense, and rich. There was also white chocolate mousse, but I do not believe in white chocolate.
Best Savory Dish: The Peninsula took home another “best” with its deeply flavorful dragon prawn shu mai. A perfectly cooked shrimp nestled in ground-spiced pork and then surrounded by an open dumpling, it was three bites of simple exquisiteness.
Best Supporting Savory Dish (Runner Up): The beef dish from Calihan Catering. The tender, fall-off-the-bone meat made it good, the side of quail egg over egg brioche made it exceptional. I’ve never heard of Calihan Catering, but if I ever need a caterer, I know who I’m calling.
- Tender Beef with Quail Egg
Best Cookie: The Espresso Noms by Julius Meinl. A cookie skewer, the noms were made of stacked espresso cookies separated by caramel buttercream, milk chocolate fudge, and toffee. As if that wasn’t enough, the whole thing was then topped with gold leaf. Wonder if they’ll serve these at their new location on Ravenswood?
- Julius Meinl's Espresso Noms
Best Original Display: I’m a sucker for s’mores, and I loved the make your own s’mores spread from Lilly Cakes & Desserts. There were several component options, and I went for the homemade peanut butter marshmallows, which melted perfectly over the open flame, and the dark chocolate covered graham crackers. These are not your standard fireside s’mores (dare I say they were better?).
- Lilly Cake's S'Mores
Best Supporting Original Display (Runner Up): First, a mad scientist-like device distilled dark chocolate into solids and liquids. Second, the solids were combined with that most beloved of childhood ingredient: pop rocks. Third, the chocolate was shaped into little half moons of chocolately fun so that even after the chocolate had dissolved in your mouth, the pop rocks kept going. Brilliant.
- Chocolate Pop Rocks
Best Door Gift: Hazelnut pocket cookie from Eli’s Cheesecake. We each received four as we headed out. Would you judge me if I told you we took them to a birthday party we went to next?
*Special thanks to LuxeHome for providing me with a free ticket to the event.