Traditions aren’t necessarily hard to come by – do anything long enough and it can become one – but even if you restrict the set to include only things that are genuinely rewarding to experience again and again, the metro has no shortage of recurring wonders. You know what you should do, though? Seriously? You should go to the Firehouse Art Center’s Chocolate Festival, which turned 41 this year.
It naturally lends itself to kids, the more so thanks to the youth-oriented artistic activities on-site, but childless couples like us were in abundance too, as well as … well, basically everybody. Love of chocolate is universal, I suppose.
We arrived on a reasonably clement February Saturday at the National Center for Employee Development (NCED), the big ol’ hotel/conference center on Highway 9 that’s hosted the event for the last couple of years. (Which is, by the way, a considerable improvement over its previous far-too-compact digs at the OU College of Continuing Education.) And the moment you step in the door, you’ll encounter, as we did, one of the main reasons this event is such a consistent success: the Firehouse has fantastic volunteers. Throughout the building and the duration of the Festival, smiling people in matching t-shirts are everywhere to greet visitors, point them in the right direction, thank them for coming and even press handfuls of Hershey’s Kisses on them just in case they might want a few more calories.
“More calories,” I say? Indubitably. There is a clue in the title, after all: the Chocolate Festival essentially hands you an empty box and a ticket with ten blank squares on it and turns you loose into a vast reception hall lined by local vendors and restaurateurs. You wander around, the tables offer you their wares, and when you see a sample you like it’s yours for the price of one square. There are, sadly, several more possibilities than capacity, so I can’t relate a complete list, but check out these selections:
Legend’s – chocolate amaretto cream cake
Amy Cakes – an all-chocolate layer cake
Local – a sliver of buffalo tenderloin (one of the only proteins in evidence) with a daub of chocolate sauce and a shot glass of seriously rich ganache
Crimson & Whipped Cream – chocolate cupcake with peanut butter topping
La Baguette – a chocolate mousse layer cake in the shape of a clover (they also had cake pops)
The Candy Basket – a choice of individually wrapped truffles
The Custard Factory – cup of chocolate custard
The Melting Pot – a bite-sized brownie, cube of strawberry cake and actual strawberry, all drizzled with chocolate fondue
Sweets & Spurs – a sliver of chocolate chip pie
Michelangelo’s – a mint chocolate square accompanied by a mouthful of wine; I think they said it was a Malbec
Abner’s – truffle flavored with Guinness
There was a ballot box on the way out to vote for best entry; I wrote Michelangelo’s, but not without seriously considering Sweets & Spurs – I said “sliver” above because I was genuinely disappointed after finishing it that I couldn’t go on eating it for three or four more helpings. And as it turns out, I backed the wrong horse anyway. I didn’t even try it until I got home because I was a bit full, and because I had used my last square on it after feeling bad for the vendors who were having trouble selling passerby on the concept … but those passerby were wrong, and I was wrong to put it off, and the people making it were the rightest of the right, because it was the best thing in the building.
Chocolate Festival 2013 winner:
THE DINER – CHOCOLATE CHILI
Thick and meaty with a rich, savory flavor and slow-building heat level – it was tremendous. If it were a regular menu item, I would be a regular consumer. Bravo, The Diner … and the Firehouse for making the whole event happen. Hopefully you’ll see me there next year.
STEVE GILL is unusually tall, has a B.A. in Letters and a minor in Classics from OU, drinks a great deal of coffee and openly delights in writing, editing and catching the occasional typo for Slice – especially since his dream career (millionaire layabout in a P.G. Wodehouse novel) is notoriously difficult to break into. He's probably trying to think of a joke about pirates right now.