By Michael Laiskonis — Creative Director

Long before we turned on the lights — and all of the machines — in the ICE Chocolate Lab, I began formulating a mission statement of sorts. In addition to exploring the fundamentals of chocolate-making and sharing that knowledge with our students, I also wanted to create a space that fostered a sense of community beyond our four walls. Over the years, we’ve opened up the lab to chocolate and pastry professionals of all stripes, not to mention scores of guests who just love tasting our efforts. As we’ve learned to make better chocolate, we’ve also added our own voice to conversations within the industry. This February, we’re taking advantage of our unique venue to promote the exchange of ideas with our inaugural chocolate symposium, Roots of Cacao.

Test Roasting Cocoa Bean Samples

Roasting Cocoa Bean Samples

I’m excited to announce that the ICE Chocolate Lab will host a one-day series of demonstrations, tastings and panel discussions on Sunday, February 4th. The title, Roots of Cacao, evokes not only the rich cultural history of chocolate, but also the growers and origins responsible for supplying their precious harvest. We can also trace the journey from cacao bean to finished chocolate bar by exploring the many flavors hidden within and the processes that unleash them. As much as chocolate reflects tradition, its evolution is also dependent upon innovation. While we ponder the complex path that chocolate has taken, we must also address the opportunities and obligations to foster a sustainable future.

To help us navigate these varied topics, we’ve enlisted a roster of expert presenters to share their knowledge — from industry insiders and academics, to pastry chefs and passionate connoisseurs. Featured presenters include Bill Yosses, founder of Perfect Pie Company and former White House pastry chef; Maricel Presilla, restaurateur and author of “The New Taste of Chocolate;” Clay Gordon, author of “Discover Chocolate;” and Roger Rodriguez, pastry chef and partner of Cacao Prieto (also an ICE alum!). Together, we’ll discuss how post-harvest processes at the origin lay the groundwork for the flavors in a finished chocolate bar, and how a pastry chef might harness those flavors in a finished dessert. We’ll explore the emerging culture of “craft” chocolate and how the industry is addressing sustainability on a larger scale. Attendees will taste the spectrum of chocolate’s expressions, from artful modern confections to the alluring drink our ancestors enjoyed. I, for one, am looking forward to all of the information and inspiration on tap. In the coming weeks I’ll share more about the presenters with further details on their sessions.

Laiskonis_Chocolates_Hazelnut

Chef Laiskonis’ Hazelnut Chocolates

Roots of Cacao symposium is open to the general public and the sessions have been designed to be accessible to all, no matter one’s knowledge of or experience with chocolate. I would recommend it to anyone who’s curious to learn more about the roots of our favorite confection. Plus, the more we understand where chocolate comes from and how it’s made, the more we appreciate those efforts. But a word of warning: as someone who has taken the deep dive myself, I often say that the more we learn about chocolate, the more we realize what we don’t know! Hope to see you there.

Space is limited — register today for Roots of Cacao.

 Want to take a deep dive into Pastry Arts? Learn more about ICE’s career training programs.

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