I've been craft-obsessed my whole life, experimenting with everything from jewelry and metalsmithing to fiber arts, writing and cooking.
My top inspirations are:
*My grandma (who taught me all about crochet and Chilean cooking)
*Colors and shapes
My beau is also an artist specializing in Dichroic Glass fusing and ceramics. He has had his own sterling silver jewelry business since 1986 and together we've gone on buying trips to Bali, Thailand and Tucson (not to mention other places--travel is a passion of ours). Visit his page here: http://venusianartglass.etsy.com
Between the two of us we've amassed quite a large collection of surplus jewelry making supplies. I'm listing those here: http://malenamaggi.etsy.com
We currently have our own artisan chocolate shop in Berkeley where we hand-make sweets fresh on site. For that, visit http://thexocolatebar.com
For my own jewelry and other crafts, visit http://Malenajewels.etsy.com
This is the second installment in the series "Places and Tastes," about places from which I've drawn inspiration. You can see the first installment here.
Paris: Deep Dark Truffle, Fleur de Sel Bar, Perfect Sipping Chocolate
Chocolate sculpture at Salon du Chocolat
Ganesh mold scored at
Salon du Chocolat
It was last October that Clive and I spent a week in Paris for a whirlwind chocolate immersion. We timed our visit with the Salon du Chocolat, a ginormous chocolate salon at which all the premier European chocolatiers and chocolate makers exhibit. The flavors on display were mostly classic, but their presentation was inspiring. Tables overflowed with marshmallows, candied fruit, pralines, truffles, and beautifully packaged bars. There was an impressive gallery of skillfully constructed chocolate sculptures which I'd love to try my hand at.
The Salon hosts a "World Chocolate Masters" competition where teams of top chocolatiers from various countries work at break-neck speed to prepare chocolates, pastries and showpieces for an ominous panel of funny-hatted chefs. I can't remember who won, but my favorite was the Mexican chocolatier, Oscar Ortega. He was the only one who dared present the stuffy judges with exotic flavors like pink peppercorn and chipotle (a man after The Xocolate Bar's heart).
Marzipan with chocolate core
We nearly broke our feet with the amount of walking we did, but it was worth it to witness a true chocolate mecca. Almost every block of Paris has an exquisite chocolaterie with its own house-made, fine quality confections. The window displays are like art galleries, each with its own distinct and luxurious style. While not the most innovative of chocolatiers when it comes to taste, the Parisians do set the standard for traditional flavors. At the Salon du Chocolat it seemed like every single vendor was sampling the same flavor: hazelnut praline. It was good, but not inspiring. Still, being there taught me the importance of having some well-executed classics available. Before I went to Paris we never sold a plain dark truffle (bor-ring)...but now I've come to accept its place in the chocolate universe.
The second flavor was hatched at a Monoprix supermarket when I happened to be behind a French woman who was buying a stack of Lindt Fleur de Sel bars. I hadn't seen those stateside and though I'm not a fan of Lindt, I decided to give it a try. The texture was luxuriously smooth and I loved the hidden bursts of salt that lured my tongue to the next bite. The downside was the flavor of the chocolate, which in my mind has a distinctly fecal aftertaste. I decided to recreate the bar with our house blend of chocolate when I got home.
At La Charlotte de l'Isle
The puffy jacket and rosy cheek weather had us craving the perfect cup of sipping chocolate, which we found at a whimsical little shop called La Charlotte de l'Isle. Papier- mache figurines suspended from the ceiling made me feel like I was in the movie Being John Malkovich. The decor is eclectic, to say the least--probably in an effort to distract you while you wait in the hour-long line to sit down. Collapsing off of our aching feet, we hunkered down at a wobbly table, smashed beside a tourist from New York. We could have easily been disappointed, but as soon as we took the first sip the black clouds moved from over our heads. Poured from mismatched vintage vessels into demitasses, rich, dark, decadent, deeply chocolatey and hardly sweet at all, it truly was the perfect hot chocolate. We hoped for the same thing at the much ritzier and more famous Chez Angelina, but alas the chocolate was a bit too sweet.