Grenada Chocolate Fest 2016 can be likened to the experience of tasting exquisite fine chocolate: flavours, notes and tones appear and disappear and fade into each other in perfect harmony.
This year the 9 day long festival was celebrated under the theme “Creating Generation Cocoa”. This theme was chosen with the intention of inspiring the youngest generation of Grenadians to take an interest in cocoa and chocolate related career paths, especially cocoa farming. The average age of a cocoa farmer in Grenada is in between the ages of 65 and 70.
It was also a platform for launching the colouring story book “The Grenada Chocolate Family” a publication of Grenada’s only public and free library, the Grenada Community Library. This library was founded by acclaimed Caribbean author Oonya Kempadoo, Groundation Grenada, Uprising and the Mt. Zion Full Gospel Revival Ministries Intl. The local and international publicity which the festival receives was used as an opportunity to highlight the fact that the library is at threat of being closed down due to lack of funding. All the proceeds from the sale of the colouring story book go to the library (this book is available on island and on Amazon). Silent auctions were held at the opening and closing ceremonies with items donated from various local and regional businesses. The silent auction raised EC $7000.00!
The festival was off to a lively start with a well attended Grand Opening held at True Blue Bay Resort’s, Dodgy Dock. Attendees included our Governor General Dame Cecile La Grenada, Minister of Agriculture Hon. Roland Bhola, Minister of Tourism Hon. Yolande Bain-Horsford and Minister of Implementation Hon. Alexandra Otway Noel, the Swedish a Chinese Embassadors, local and international chocolatiers, chocolate enthusiasts, bloggers and even a journalist from the BBC.
The festival continued on a rainy Saturday morning with a Yoga Chocolate Meditation. This relaxing yoga practice and meditation was followed by a “Healthy Benefits of Chocolate Workshop” facilitated by Mexican Chocolatier and founder of Mucho Mondo Chocolate Museum in Mexico City, Ana Rita Garcia Lascurain. The notion that chocolate is an unhealthy sinful treat was dispelled as we were educated about the various healthy benefits of pure cocoa. We used hand crushed cocoa to make beauty treatments including an exfoliating body scrub which left our skin feeling soft and smelling delicious.
We spent a relaxing Sunday at Aquarium Restaurant located on the picturesque Pink Gin, where festival goers had the opportunity to pair Grenadian Chocolate with local rum from Grenada Distillers. On Monday we headed north to Belmont Estate in St. Patrick. There we experienced a delightfully informative and interesting bean to bar tour with Dr. Sukha from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Cocoa Research Centre. A farmer’s lunch with chocolate notes infused into every course preceded an amazing chocolate tasting again led by Dr. Sukha. As we sampled our way through fine and bulk chocolate Dr. Sukha explained the difference between the two and helped us identify the different flavours, tones and notes that one experiences when sampling a single chocolate square which, as we learned, has the capacity to express its full genetic flavour potential.
When sampling chocolate one can identify so much about what went into the process of crafting that chocolate bar. From the vegetation the cocoa tree grew next to, the method used to roast cocoa beans, to the amount of time the nib core of the bean was refined and conched.
Our International Chocolate tasting scheduled for Tuesday turned into a delightful chocolatier and chocolate enthusiasts fellowship where chocolatiers from Grenada, the UK, Canada, Jamaica, Mexico and the US tasted each other’s delicious creations. Sitting in the sunny yet cool Dodgy Dock, veteran chocolatiers commented and critiqued the creations of the novice chocolatiers who eagerly soaked up all the wisdom that was being dished out.
We then put on our aprons and cooked up a delicious chocolate beef chilli under the guidance of Food Channel’s cooking sensation; the authentically Grenadian and humorous Esther and Omega. Some chillies stayed true to title and were on the spicy side while others were more chocolaty, some very “Grenadian” and others a harmonious balance of chocolate and chilli (yes there was a secret yet rather opinionated tasting table).
In the evening we attended the Susan Mains Art Gallery in the Spiceland Mall for a Cocoa Chocolate Art Exhibit. The gallery curated an interesting array of cocoa and chocolate inspired pieces from an open call. Local and ex pat artists interpreted the theme in paintings and sculptures using a range of media.
On Wednesday festival goers headed to the north west of the island to St. Mark. We drove along the scenic west coast passing through Grenada’s fishing capital, Gouyave, St. John. Some festival goers opted to have an exclusive tour of Diamond Chocolate Factory, while others joined adopted Grenadians Kim Russell (originally from the UK) and Lylette (originally from Guyana) at Crayfish Bay Organic Estate, origin of the beans used to make the exclusive single estate award winning Pump Street Bakery Crayfish Bay 70% Chocolate Bar, for a hands on home-style chocolate making workshop.
The following day, activities that inspired the theme of this year’s festival took centre stage. The National Museum, housed in a historic building on Young Street St. George’s, graciously hosted 44 Grade 3 and 4 girls accompanied by 2 class teachers from the St. Louis RC Girls School, and eager festival goers for chocolate talks and a junior launching of the colouring story book “The Grenada Chocolate Family”. The girls of the catholic primary school entered the museum’s upstairs parlour dressed in their bright blue and white uniforms with matching bobbles and ribbons decorating their beautiful and in some cases intricate hairstyles. They sat in perfect silence as they awaited the start of our program.
Caribbean author Oonya Kempadoo opened with an explanation of how the book came into being to her youthful audience which actually included some of the book’s authors. The girls then listened attentively to local cocoa farmer William September, local chocolatier and co-founder of The Grenada Chocolate Company Edmund Brown, and Zara Snell 20 year old British chocolatier and winner of the Great British Spiced Chocolate Challenge. They explained their day to day work and the experiences that eventually set them on their chocolate and cocoa related career paths. This was followed by the girls reading “The Chocolate Family” aloud in unison and then taking a historical tour of cocoa and chocolate at the adjacent recently opened House of Chocolate.
Friday ushered us up to the tranquil Crayfish Bay Organic Estate once more. This time to experience the work of a cocoa farmer first hand. It was a warm and humid day but the shade from cocoa trees provided us with much appreciated refuge from the elements and the noise of our ever increasingly connected, sometimes intrusively so, age of social media. With each gentle breeze it rained tiny soft cocoa flowers.
Accompanied by seasoned cocoa farmers and armed with large fine bags and cutlasses (also known as machetes) we set about the business of the day. The cocoa farmers picked cocoa pods by thrusting a cocoa knife, which is essentially a long stick with sharp edged blade at the end, at the base of the cocoa pod which connects it to the tree. Cocoa pods fell into the brown leafy forgiving soft foliage and festival goers searched through the leaves with cutlasses to recover them and place them in their bags, it was somewhat of a treasure hunt.
The cocoa at Crayfish Bay grows among mango, coconut and nutmeg trees which shade the cocoa plant and infuse the cocoa and resulting chocolate bar with their essence. As Mexican Chocolatier Ana Rita Garcia Larscurain so aptly articulated:
“You can taste a piece of landscape in a piece of cocoa”.
While some of us were very hands on; collecting fallen cocoa pods, cracking them open and scooping out the moist white core of raw cocoa beans. Others simply took in the natural healing and mental headspace which the environment so generously gave. All while Bob Marley tunes from someone’s back pocket, and the energetic rustling of cocoa leaves, a noise created by Ratty and his doggy gang, provided us with none intrusive background sounds.
After a hard, and in some cases not so hard, few hours in the land we all sat on the spacious verandah of the estate’s small cottage at long wooden tables and enjoyed a vegetarian farm style lunch of a light callaloo soup accompanied by home made bread and a hearty salad. Friendly chatter turned into interesting conversations among festival goers who were slowly starting to form friendships as a result of their common interest in chocolate, nature and travel. The day ended with a lively sunset bonfire beach party at the Mt. Cinnamon Beach Cabana on world famous Grand Anse Beach.
The festival ended with a yoga practice in the morning, and a Chocolate Extravaganza last day party, complete with a cocoa and chocolate inspired fashion show and Bazaar at True Blue Bay Resort in the evening into the night. While the adults shopped and sampled their way around Dodgy Dock the children of the Grenada Community Library shared their new cocoa and chocolate stories with each other, ground cocoa and sampled Grenadian Chocolates on True Blue Bay Resort’s Deeker Deck.
What was most remarkable about this year’s festival was the brilliant chocolate connections formed among chocolatiers, chocolate experts and chocolate novices both local and international. It gave us, the organisers, a glimpse into the future of Grenada Chocolate Fest and the direction it appears to organically be heading into. To the 2016 Grenada Chocolate Fest Crew: we thank you for spending such a beautiful week with us and for all your support and lovely feedback. We hope to see you for next year’s festival as we celebrate our cocoa farmers under the theme “Honouring our Chocolate Roots”.