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From chocoholic to chocophile

(article, Clay Gordon)

Editor's note: We welcome Clay Gordon, who will blog occasionally on the topic of chocolate.

I've just returned from a week's trip to our nation's capital to promote my new book, Discover Chocolate. By day's end I will have hosted 10 tasting events featuring a wide variety of wines and chocolates (plus one with balsamics, Parmesan cheeses, and air-cured meats, and one featuring chocolate ice creams).

One question asked at virtually every tasting event I go to is, “You have the coolest job. How did you discover your passion for chocolate?” I do have one of the coolest jobs — ever. I am a professional chocolate critic and educator, and my job involves tasting a lot of chocolate, writing about it, and educating people about how to better appreciate chocolate, alone and in conjunction with other gourmet foods. Tough, I know, but someone has to be willing to make the sacrifice.

The short answer to the question of how I got my job is that I saw a market opportunity and went after it. In 1994, when I first discovered origin chocolates —  chocolate made from beans from a defined geographic region — I quickly realized that no one was talking about chocolate the way people were talking about wine, cigars, microbrew beers, etc. I literally said to myself one day, “I am going to become the Robert Parker of chocolate.”

What I did not know was that while I could take classes to become a sommelier or master of wine, there was no place for me to go to learn what I needed to know to become a credible chocolate critic. I spent seven years educating myself and developing my own rating system because I felt the ones developed for wine did not do chocolate justice. My educational background — I have a BFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design — and my history of working in tech startups having to explain complex technology have both had an influence on the way I approach chocolate and talk about it. My love of — and for — chocolate grew out of my teaching myself to be a critic; I did not become a critic because I loved chocolate.

I have a fond place in my heart for the chocolates of Bonnat, the French company whose chocolate bars propelled me to begin my own journeys of chocolate discovery. Today I still use their bars in my tasting classes, and my own personal favorite among them is the Hacienda El Rosario, a single-estate 75 percent dark chocolate powerhouse made with beans grown in Venezuela.

Care to comment? Please share your favorite chocolates and what you like about them.

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