“The greatest reward is when people enjoy it. Working with chocolate, I love to make people say ‘wow’. When I get that ‘wow’ out of someone, that’s it. It’s like it’s all good.” – Dayleen Coleman, owner of D’Liteful Chocolate
From La Tapatia’s Dark Chocolate Mole Enchiladas (a chili and chocolate flavored dish), to local craft brewery Lost Abbey’s Tropical and Juicy IPA (an explosion of fruity citrus hops), there was an abundance of wonderful things to eat and drink at the recent Escondido Chocolate Festival.
With 24 stops on the tasting tour, visiting them all was a challenge! Red roses and heart shaped balloons greeted participants as the tour zigzagged through downtown Escondido, with horse-drawn chariot rides adding a romantic touch.
Cute Cakes, a local bakery, has been a part of the Escondido Chocolate Festival since moving into their current location on Grand Avenue in 2015. They offer casual dining, cupcakes, and custom cakes for events such as birthdays and weddings. “We paired the red velvet (cake truffles) with our zinfandel, because they just go so beautifully together,” store owner Jill Reilly said.
Restaurants on the tour created their own culinary confections, while stores partnered with local companies to provide refreshments. Simply Grand – Home Décor partnered with D’Liteful Chocolate, an up and coming chocolate start-up located in nearby San Marcos. Less than a year old, they are operating out of a commissary kitchen space that is shared with other enterprising firms. “We are looking at the San Marcos/Escondido area for a facility to start expanding, because we are outgrowing where we’re at,” said Coleman.
For the festival, D’Liteful provided participants with rich dark chocolate raspberry ganache truffles alongside Columbia Crest: Cabernet Sauvignon wine (a Pacific Northwest vineyard). The strong dark chocolate and raspberry flavors were tempered by the chocolate and whipped cream ganache filling, leaving a balanced flavor profile. Coleman gushed over her love of chocolate: “I love it. I understand all the chemistry of (chocolate) and how it works, and you can do so much with it, it’s art, it’s a medium for art. You can create anything with it, big structures or really dainty bon-bons.”
In covering the Chocolate Festival, it became apparent how much effort and creativity these different businesses put into making the event a success – and how much they cared about the downtown Escondido business community. “I take real pride in Grand Avenue specifically, and making Escondido more of a place where people can come and spend their whole day,” Reilly said. “We welcome people who run businesses out of their homes, to come in and meet with their clients here and have a nice environment to do that.” While downtown Escondido has become a nice environment to spend a day, that is not the case in other parts of the city.
Escondido is a neighborhood in transition, from a politically conservative and predominantly Mexican-American enclave to what is becoming a gentrified suburb. Driving down Centre City Parkway it’s hard not to be struck by the divide of shiny new three-story apartments and condominiums near downtown to the east, and the run down manufacturing and office buildings to the west.
Yet chocolate knows no boundaries; it is loved in Mexican, American and European cuisine. The Xocovca Mocha Stout, a spicy chocolate-coffee craft beer that was one of the pairings at the festival, is the perfect expose of this blending of culture.
Stone Brewing Company manufactures the beer locally in Escondido, where the multi-national craft brewing company’s headquarters are. It was designed by a local craft brewer who won the right to have it become a seasonal Stone beer by winning their annual craft brewing competition. Stone Brewing is involved locally in more than just crafting delicious beer – they also invest in ArtHatch, a nonprofit organization that shares a space with Distinction Gallery in downtown Escondido. ArtHatch’s mission is to empower teenagers to learn about art and get involved in the creation of art, as well as provide a platform for up and coming artists to create artwork to be displayed and sold.
Multiple art galleries were a part of the tour, including Distinction. The arts are a big part of Downtown Escondido, from performances at the Centre for the Arts Escondido, to the glass blowing workshops at Stone and Glass, to the art galleries on Grand. My favorite gallery was Distinction Gallery, which is known for its modern and surreal artwork.
The exhibit was made up of surreal 8”x8” pieces of artwork, snapshots into the different artists’ minds. From curator Kelly Vivanco’s unique character portraits, to Matt Gordon’s Alice in Wonderland-esque psychedelic diptych, to Yellena James’s stunningly beautiful ink and gouache underwater worlds, the exhibit was incredible. Further back in the building, studio rooms and open wall space are rented to up and coming artists. The Chocolate Festival gave these galleries and their artists a lot of exposure!
The Escondido Chocolate Festival was a potpourri of decadent desserts and delicious drinks – a melting pot of culinary customs and culture. It showcased local businesses hard at work transforming Escondido into a more vibrant city. As Reilly put it, “I think that we’re quickly becoming a place where people can come and meet up with friends. (Cute Cakes) gives them a relaxing, warm environment that they feel comfortable in.”
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Eric Heumann is a freelance journalist. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.