Hot Chocolate

Really just the pulverized, roasted and melted-down by-product of the humble cacao bean, it's when blended with mounds of butter and sugar that chocolate takes on that glorious, sexy sheen. And that's where the trouble begins--just ask the people who make it.

"It is one of the four main food groups," swears Boulder restaurateur and caterer Peggy Bittner.

In fact, chocolate will be practically the only food group this Friday at the annual Chocolate Lovers' Fling in Boulder, a combined chocolate tasting, competition and auction that raises funds for Boulder County Safehouse.

Several of the area's best professional and amateur chocolatiers will be whipping up their most decadent inventions to date for the Fling. Contest coordinator Connie Dollaghan says she's seen everything from chocolate castles to chocolate swans over the years. Last year's professional trophy went to a gigantic white-chocolate pig fashioned by chef Randy King of Trios.

There's something about this stuff, isn't there? Let the chocolatiers try to explain it:

"It's a comfort food," says Bittner, who has been creating chocolate concoctions for the Fling for years. "Chocolate appeals to all the senses. A nice ganache torte tastes good, it looks good--it just makes you feel good."

"I love chocolate," sighs pastry chef Melonie Fusilier of A Taste of Heaven. Watch out--she's starting to muse: "More than anything, it hits all your senses in so many different ways--the smell, the flavor, the taste."

And this love never diminishes. "They laugh at me in the kitchen," Fusilier says, "because even though I've had the same thing so many times, I still say, 'Oh, that's wonderful. Oh, that's so-o-o good.'"

Like most other chocolate artists, she cites the legendary aphrodisiac quality of chocolate as one of its greatest charms.

"It's like a gift of something decadent, of lavishness," she says. "That's what chocolate is--a gift that says 'I love you so much I lavish this on you.'"

Fusilier seems to favor big, chaotic, sinful desserts that practically melt on the platter, but she won't divulge what she plans to enter in this year's Fling: "My staff said, 'Don't you dare tell!'"

Newcomer Mary Powell, a self-taught artist-turned-confectioner who says her entry into the chocolate business was a fluke, runs a wholesale business, Blue Chocolate, with partner James Osborne. They specialize in non-traditional, handmade, sculptural works that are not only beautiful and delicious but also provide an outlet for her art-schooled talents.

"I use chocolate like paint," says Powell, "making filigree or lace designs using white, milk and dark tones." She then finishes off her hand-dipped, individually formed creations with personal touches such as hand-drawn cards and sugared edible flowers.

How does Powell explain chocolate? She thinks people are drawn in by a certain mystique and romance, but she also grants that it's partly chemical. "It reacts with people's minds," she says.

Powell swears that she's not an addict, but she's seen plenty of them, like "the woman with chocolate oozing down her chin" at one tasting event.

After all, the stuff is not only addictive, it's destined to disappear.
As a painter, Powell says, "the hard part is to see it being eaten."

--Susan Froyd

Chocolate Lovers' Fling, a benefit for Boulder County Safehouse, 7-10 p.m. Friday, February 6, Glenn Miller Ballroom, University Memorial Center, CU-Boulder campus, $20-$25, 449-8623.