The Chocolate Expo makes for a sweet time

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Local restaurants and shops bring together some of the region’s best chocolates.

Sweet smells traveled through the air as thousands of people lined up to enter the annual Chocolate Expo in Edison, NJ on Sunday, March 11. The Chocolate Expo is a convention filled with local chocolate and sweets as well as cheese-makers and winemakers who sample and sell their products.

The Chocolate Expo was founded by Marvin Baum, who created a similar event for the Official Woodstock 35th Anniversary Celebration. In this celebration, Baum contacted the New York State Museum to house the event. However, the State of New York did not have enough money to have an opening reception at the museum, so Baum decided to contact wineries, breweries, cheese makers and specialty food producers in New York to participate in the event. This event snowballed into a chocolate event that Baum created for Governor George Pataki’s annual holiday celebration for the Make-A-Wish foundation in 2006. Since 2007, the Chocolate Expo has expanded to New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The Chocolate Expo in New Jersey housed over 80 vendors selling everything from cookie dough to pickles. Once entered into the convention, the consumer could stay for the duration of the event, which lasted from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and try as many samples as they wanted.

Each vendor specialized in their own set of products that correlated to the chocolate theme. Additionally, each vendor had their own story to tell. Tania Molina, the founder of Villakuyay Chocolate, strives to remain true to her grandmother’s wishes by selling the cacao that she remembers as a child. She entered the Chocolate Expo three years ago when she sampled her dark meal chocolates to Baum. Since Molina was the only producer of dark chocolate, Baum incorporated her in all of his conventions, helping her grow her business. Her company revolves around Ecuadorian dark chocolate, which combines multiple ingredients to create a peculiar new taste of chocolate.

“We have a different flavor and aroma typical of Ecuador, said Molina. “It’s different. When you try it, you try the pure kind, and you are going to feel the flavors of the cacao.”

The Chocolate Expo does not only attract chocolate vendors; it also includes nonprofit organizations. One such organization is Popcorn for the People, which sells a variety of popcorn ranging from caramel to double espresso to raise funds for adults with autism. The organization also hires employees with autism to help make the popcorn.

“We come to fairs and festivals to spread the word and sell our popcorn,” said Steve Frank, a former New York Times Reporter and a volunteer for Popcorn for the People.

In addition, the Chocolate Expo invites guest speakers. This Sunday, the Expo Center housed several star chefs, including Chef Jessie Riley, Chef Larry Rosenberg and Chef Tony Albanese. They performed demos and gave tips on baking and how to incorporate chocolate into recipes. Alongside the chefs, Paris Themmen, the childhood actor of Mike Teevee in the original Willy Wonka movie, gave out autographs and photos to fans.

The Chocolate Expo gave chocolate lovers and their friends and family the chance to spend a day filled with local flavor. In addition to its chocolate, it featured a wide selection of food and games for family fun. There was a Kid Zone Center filled with face paint and smaller activities for the younger kids at the convention. The convention’s intention is not solely based upon chocolate; it is also to unite the community and engage them with the businesses around them.