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Craft Chocolate Experience Interview: A Global Gathering in S.F.

Next month, Craft Chocolate Experience returns to San Francisco, gathering the world’s finest bean-to-bar makers for tastings, talks, workshops, a marketplace, and more. It’s open to the public, April 26th through the 28th at...

Next month, Craft Chocolate Experience returns to San Francisco, gathering the world’s finest bean-to-bar makers for tastings, talks, workshops, a marketplace, and more. It’s open to the public, April 26th through the 28th at the Palace of Fine Arts. We’ll have many more details in next month’s newsletter. You can buy your tickets here— save 20% with discount code NEWS20 if you make your purchase by April 16th.

San Francisco’s chocolate legacy dates back to the Gold Rush (when Ghirardelli got its start, and Guittard soon followed), and it remains a city sought after for specialty chocolate. We sat down with Arcelia Gallardo of Mission Chocolate in São Paulo, Brazil; Kathy Johnston of Mirzam Chocolate Makers in Dubai, UAE; and our chocolate “Sourcerer” (and event co-founder) Greg D’Alesandre in Hawai’i, to discuss Craft Chocolate Experience, and why all three are looking forward to convening in S.F.

You’ve all been to several chocolate festivals. What makes Craft Chocolate Experience unique among them? 

Kathy: There are chocolate festivals all over the world. What sets Craft Chocolate Experience apart is that it is led by chocolate makers. It’s led by Dandelion. It’s not so much about selling tables of chocolate — it’s really about relationship building and this community of food makers who are interested in flavor and quality.

Arcelia: I’ve been to more than fifteen chocolate festivals, in many different countries. For me, the Bay Area is, strangely enough, almost where it all started. You have Guittard, Ghirardelli, Scharffen Berger — this movement began before chocolate festivals even existed. I was gathering with the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) in San Francisco before craft chocolate had taken off, so it’s like going back to its roots. 

Greg: For me, San Francisco was home for many years. But it also was, as Arcelia said, where I met and built relationships with a lot of craft chocolate makers. People come to San Francisco to see what’s going on in the craft chocolate scene. So one reason to have a festival there is to create an opportunity for everyone who wants to come anyway. It’s a reason to get together with the industry. 

Kathy and Arcelia, can you give our readers a preview of what you’re bringing to the festival?

Kathy: We’re working on some different varieties of single-origin milk bars, which we’ll launch at the end of Ramadan. The storyline is around milk and pairing it with other flavors — cookies and cream, coffee and cream. We’re playing with these combinations as well as different milks and levels of fat. There might be some brown butter. There might be some camel milk. 

Arcelia: I want to bring three new things: One is a 40% Italian chocolate bar. Here in São Paulo, your Christmas isn’t a real Christmas unless you have a panettone. If you dip that in chocolate, it’s called a chocottone. I created a bar where we make a panettone, dehydrate it, and put it in chocolate. It sold out quickly, and we decided to keep making it because it’s such a nostalgic flavor. It really does taste like a nice citrusy, yeasted bread.

Greg: Speaking of panettone, we’ve confirmed that Roy Shvartzapel, who is basically the Godfather of panettone, will be coming to the festival. 

Arcelia: That’s great. There’s a popular area in Brazil known for making cheese, so I’m bringing my first cheese bar. It’s a dark milk chocolate with a dehydrated cheese that’s similar to Parmigiano Reggiano. I’m also planning to bring brigadeiros. They’re delicious and unique to Brazil. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like them. 


Greg and Arcelia, you both used to live here. What is it about San Francisco’s culture that makes it a fitting place to celebrate chocolate? 

Arcelia: There’s this magical scene of pastry chefs, chocolatiers, and chocolate makers in San Francisco. There’s no better city in the world because of that combination. There’s Socola, Miette, Christopher Elbow. Then you have the stores — every chocolate maker in the world wants to see Chocolate Covered. There’s also Bi-Rite Market, Rainbow Grocery, and these interesting smaller groceries. 

Greg: Because the Bay Area is where a lot of craft chocolate makers got started, people care about this stuff a lot. FCIA did a study on consumers’ understanding of chocolate. They found that San Francisco, of all the places surveyed, had the most educated population around understanding different aspects of chocolate. It’s exciting to go to a place where the customers are informed.

Arcelia: You don’t have to educate customers in the Bay Area as much about the chocolate or the process — it’s more about them experiencing new flavors.

Chocolate makers from at least twenty countries are expected to attend this year. Who are you excited about?

Arcelia: Is Goodnow Farms going?

Greg: Yes! 

Kathy: Ooh, their maple sugar bar. They also have a white chocolate bar sweetened with cacao pulp.

Arcelia: What about ​​Fjåk?

Greg: They are! 

Arcelia: She has a great cinnamon-roll bar — she makes cinnamon rolls and puts them into the melanger. 

Kathy: Is Baron Hasselhoff’s coming? 

Greg: Yes, from New Zealand!

Kathy: I love her breakfast bar — coffee and croissant with dark chocolate.

The festival will have more than sixty chocolate makers. This is an opportunity for the public to taste and buy chocolate they wouldn’t otherwise be able to find.  

Greg: I think we’re going to have four chocolate makers from India. There’s a lot more Indian chocolate out there, which is cool and interesting. One of the makers, Manam Chocolate, ferments cocoa beans with ginger, and then makes a bar out of it and adds candied ginger. It’s delicious. We’re also going to have a contingent from Thailand. The Thai chocolate industry more or less didn’t exist four years ago.

Arcelia: Which chocolatiers are coming?

Greg: Recchiuti’s coming. Charlotte Truffles. Socola will be there. Another I’m really looking forward to is Likkle More, a Jamaican chocolate maker with really great stuff. We have a number of pastry chefs participating too. 

CCE Chocolate Makers

What’s this we hear about Stephen Durfee making the world’s largest s’more? 

Greg: It’s true. He’s making an eight-foot-by-eight-foot s’more.


For someone who’s into chocolate but isn’t in the industry, what might they get out of attending the festival? It’s designed for everyone — families, hobbyists, not just serious chocolate makers.

Greg: There is so much to do and taste. The first session of our programming on each day is an introduction to craft chocolate. Friday night there’s a festival-wide pairing event. There’ll be demos and panel discussions. There’s always this question upon arrival of “Where do I go first? What do I want to taste?” We’re doing tours this year, to help the people who don’t necessarily know what they want to explore.


Is this the only chocolate festival that’s co-produced by a chocolate maker? 

Greg: In the U.S., I think so. There’s also EuroBean, which is organized by Choco Del Sol. It takes place at a castle in eastern Germany!


You all were at the first Craft Chocolate Experience in March of 2020, just days before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. What was that like?

Greg: We had to cancel the demos and space the chairs out. You couldn’t do any sampling. Everyone had to run away right after the festival, because countries were shutting down, so we all kind of disappeared. 

Arcelia: For years!

Greg: The industry was on a pretty good path of momentum building, and the pandemic shattered that in a lot of ways. One of our goals with the return of this festival is to rebuild that relationship. I’m excited to be able to get back together and have conversations to move the industry forward. This time, people can relax and chat, instead of racing to the airport. 

How has the craft chocolate scene changed since 2020? 

Greg: People had time during the pandemic to figure out how to make their chocolate better.

Arcelia: My chocolate has improved since 2020. We’re looking at a caliber of better products. 

Greg: Over the course of the pandemic, chocolate makers shifted what they were doing and how they were selling. People got a better sense of place, of what makes Mirzam or Mission Chocolate a unique chocolate maker.

Arcelia: That’s right. I’m doing a lot more Brazilian flavors and Brazilian-focused bars.

Would you say there’s been an increase in makers focusing on who they are or where they are geographically? 

Greg: Definitely, and people at Craft Chocolate Experience will be able to taste bars highlighting that. Kathy and Arcelia are both very much leaders in their regions. Arcelia’s been in the industry for twenty years, and opened Mission Chocolate ten years ago. Kathy has built this amazing chocolate factory in Dubai. Mirzam opened in 2016, and people come from all over the Middle East wanting to learn about what they do. 

Kathy: I think the Middle East is a region where there’s a lot of enthusiasm for food and for specialty, quality ingredients — particularly coffee. Chocolate less so, but there are so many different spices and flavors. Because of the close alignment with coffee, there’s a lot of excitement around specialty chocolate. Some people, once they figure out it’s seven steps, not just roasting the beans, back off or return to coffee. But they’re still very excited about it. 

Greg: Arcelia, you moved from the U.S. to Brazil at a time when the Brazilian chocolate team was, I’m gonna just say it, a bit all over the place. You went down there and started bringing in equipment and helped enable this very complex chocolate scene that now exists in Brazil. 

Kathy and Arcelia, if people can’t make it to Craft Chocolate Experience, where can they find your chocolates (short of traveling to Dubai or São Paulo)? 

Kathy: You can find our chocolate at Chocolate Covered in San Francisco, or online at www.caputos.com

Arcelia: We’re also at Chocolate Covered, and online at www.barandcocoa.com


Thanks everyone. Reader, you can see which chocolate makers are coming to Craft Chocolate Experience here

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