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Food for thought

Cassie Pence

VAIL – The Maya Indians’ appreciation for chocolate was way ahead of their time. The tribe used its main ingredient, the cacao bean, as currency.Chocolate is one of those indulgences in life that we just enjoy without thinking about its origin, yet chocolate’s history is long and fascinating. John Scharffenberger of Scharffen Berger Chocolates traces the history, flavor, technology, nutritional value and future of chocolate during a Taste of Vail seminar Friday at 4 p.m. at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa in Lionshead. His company is one of 12 in the United States, Scharffenberger said, that makes its chocolate starting from scratch with the cacao bean. “I have a degree in food history, and I’m very interested in where things come from, how did olive oil begin, how did butter come to us,” Scharffenberger said. “I’ve taken chocolate a lot further to understand the tradition behind chocolates.”He will talk about everything from when sugar was added to chocolate to fair trade and organic chocolate. There will be plenty of samples, including exquisite chocolates that go for $45 a pound.”I like everything about chocolate. It’s good for you, it makes you feel good, it’s nutritious. It wakes me up in the afternoon and makes me more alert,” said Scharffenberger, who promises the talk will be entertaining.”I am very funny,” he admits.The chocolate seminar is one of seven seminars during the Taste of Vail, which begins Wednesday. The seminars serve as the educational portion of the four-day culinary extravaganza. The talks are food for the thought and the palate.Chris Chantel of Vail Mountain Coffee and Tea Company kicks off the learning sessions with a seminar on tea Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at the Marriott. He will take you on a journey through the different tea blends and producing regions around the globe.”Tea is probably the fastest growing segment of the beverage industry. It should be enjoyed like you enjoy a fine wine and should be treated in the same respect you treat a fine wine,” said Chantel.People will taste five different teas: a rare white tea from Sri Lanka, green tea from China, an oolong from Taiwan and a classic black tea from India. Chantel will point out what goes into creating the different varieties.”I want to show how a white tea is a white tea, a green tea is a green tea and then have an informal opportunity for people to ask questions,” said Chantel.Jerry Comfort of Beringer Blass is teaching The Progressive Food Menu Thursday at 11:30 a.m. at the Vail Marriott. The Progressive Food Menu is a tool he has been developing for the last 14 years that helps diners to understand what creates a good food and wine pairing. The tool first determines a food’s dominant tastes, like sweet, salty or spicy, and then suggests a complementing wine based on the wine’s style, not varietal.”It’s a user friendly, at a glance tool that helps people understand the dishes listed, which wines would be recommended with them and why they would be recommended with them,” said Comfort.The seminar is an interactive tasting experience. Attendees will use their own palate to taste six different foods representing the dominant tastes and four styles of wine.”We try to keep it simple and demystify wine and food pairings, but we also get into the nitty gritty of the chemistry between wine and food, too. Everybody comes away with something new that they learned,” said Comfort.From tea to cigars and whiskey to pinot noir and cheeses, the festival seeks to educate its attendees on all the culinary trends. For more information on the seminars, call 926-5665 or log on to http://www.tasteofvail.com.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 618, or cpence@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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