Sep 242014
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Doreen Pendgracs

Doreen Pendgracs teaching about chocolate

Learning about and exploring the many tastes of chocolate with chocolate travel expert Doreen Pendgracs

What could be finer than an evening learning about chocolate over a three-course dinner, each of which features chocolate? 

Earlier this year, I interviewed chocolate travel expert Doreen Pendgracs about the “Exploring the Many Faces of Chocolate” dinner classes she hosts at the McNally Robinson Booksellers Community Classroom in Winnipeg, Manitoba. On September 20, 2014, I had the opportunity to attend one of these dinners myself. It was fantastic.

Doreen started the evening by talking to us about how chocolate grows and where it comes from. She continued to share chocolate information over the next three hours in between dinner courses. The menu had been prepared by Prairie Ink Restaurant’s Chef Karen Neilson.

Orange and onion salad

The starter: Orange and Onion Salad with candied pecans and dark chocolate balsamic dressing

Chocolate comes from the cacao tree. The cacao tree is grown on mountainsides within 10 to 20 degrees from the equator. The trees produce cacao pods inside which you’ll find cacao beans, commonly called cocoa beans today. Like coffee and chocolate, cacao is a terroir plant, meaning the area and the terrain in which it is grown gives the fruit a distinctive flavour. Cocoa beans from Ecuador have a different taste than cocoa beans from Peru, for example. 

cacao pod and cocoa nibs

A cacao pod and cocoa nibs.
A cacao pod can contain 30 – 50 cocoa beans.
Cocoa nibs are roasted cocoa beans crushed into smaller pieces.

Doreen let us know that chocolate in its purest form has many health benefits. But it has to be a high-percentage dark chocolate that has not been heat-processed. Flavonoids are preserved when the cocoa beans are roasted at low temperatures. She suggested we look on the chocolate package for ingredients of cocoa mass, cocoa butter, and a small amount of cane sugar or honey. Organic is best. The more cocoa butter, the creamier the chocolate. Milk chocolate is made by adding milk to the ingredients. Most of the chocolate bars we are familiar with are actually chocolate candy with a high percentage of sugar. 

The cocoa powder we use in baking is crushed cocoa with the cocoa butter removed. It may still contain flavonoids providing it hasn’t been Dutch-processed, a commercial technique which uses an alkalizing agent to reduce bitterness.

Chocolate and coffee crusted New York steak

The main course: Chocolate and coffee crusted New York steak with
with a milk chocolate cognac peppercorn cream sauce

We learned about chocolatiers and chocolate makers. A chocolatier creates artisan, hand-made chocolates from processed chocolate. A chocolate maker works directly with cocoa beans to create chocolates. 

chocolate creme brûlée

Dessert: Triple chocolate creme brûlée with cookie.
Chocogasm sounds were heard around the table as we savoured this dish.

Doreen Pendgracs is the author of Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best ChocolateChocolate Travel Diversions is her chocolate travel blog. You can read the interview I did earlier this year here.

Doreen Pendgracs and Donna Janke

Doreen poses for a picture with me


This was the fourth “Exploring the Many Flavours of Chocolate” dinner. New menus were created for each one, except for two that were held very close together and shared the same menu.

The food was superb, the company of the other guests pleasant, and the information Doreen enthusiastically shared about chocolate and her own chocolate travel experiences fun and information. All in all, a delightful evening.

Doreen and McNally Robinson have hosted other dinners since I attended this one. To find out if future dinners are planned check the McNally Robinson Booksellers Community Classroom. I’m told the classes fill up quickly. After attending one, I am not surprised.

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  47 Responses to “Chocolate for Dinner”

  1. Thanks so much for this account of last weekend’s chocolate dinner in Winnipeg, Donna. It was great having you and your husband there. And it was great chatting about chocolate and sharing my knowledge with other chocolate enthusiasts. I hope to see you again soon. Happy travels …

  2. Hi Donna and all: McNally Robinson has just confirmed Sat, Feb 7th as the next chocolate dinner in the classroom. Registrations online are now open. They always sell out, so I recommend that anyone who’s been wanting to go but was putting it off to now enrol and we can eat chocolate together! Cheers, and thx again for your lovely post.

  3. I love Chocolate but I never ever thought from where it comes. OMG! I do not know that it comes from a tree. I loved the information about chocolate the way I love it. I was thinking it is commercially made with some reactions but at least it has something natural in it.
    I have heard a lot about dark chocolate and its benefits and always decide to use it but its hard for me to start.
    It is now understandable that how the taste is different as if we take example of fruits from different parts of the world the taste is always different.
    Between I loved Orange and Onion Salad, I will search its recipe and try to prepare this.
    Thanks for a great post. BTW it was nice to see you and Doreen together.

  4. If I was in Canada I would love to attend this dinner; always up for a little learning with my chocolate. The dishes looked superb and how can you go wrong when you take a steak and cover it in chocolate; delicious.

  5. I completely agree with you, Donna. I did suggest a chocolate tasting event to Barb King, who is the coordinator of the Community Classroom. Perhaps you would like to do the same, and then hopefully, she will have me arrange one. I guarantee that it will be terrific!

  6. Chocolate for dinner sounds like my kind of meal! That’s good to know about cold processed chocolate and how to buy good dark chocolate. I will definitely be using that information!

  7. I am completely jealous! Loved Doreen’s book, too. Who knew there was SO much information about chocolate:) But this dinner looks wonderful…maybe even worth a trip to Canada. SO original and creative!

  8. Doreen, You know how I love Chocolate. :D. Now I’m truly jealous that you and Donna had the chance to meet and share what appears to be an awesome meal. :-)))

    • After getting to know each other online, it was fun to meet in person.

    • It sure was awesome meeting Donna, and prior to that, Susan Cooper and Suzanne Fluhr from this list. A really awesome group of travelling women that I’d love to see all in one place sometime!

      And thanks to everyone for your interest in the chocolate dinners, and to Jacquie for the thumbs up about my book. Much appreciated!

  9. Sounds like a great event, and the food totally amazing and unusual. The pictures here are fantastic too. I can only imagine what a great job Doreen did on her presentation.

  10. Interesting stuff. The steak with the chocolate cognac peppercorn cream sauce looks awesome. Can’t quite imagine what that combination would taste like.

  11. Oh my! It all sounds and looks fabulous. I’d love to try the steak with the fabulous sauce. I’m drooling and that’s not pretty!

  12. After reading many of Doreen blogs, I have such a different view of chocolate. I think is wonderful that you met up with a follow blogger. That had to be fun. I love the looks of the salad

  13. Hi Donna. Stopping by from Bloggers Helping Bloggers. I’ve never been to a chocolate tasting event, but your post has convinced me to put it on my to-do list! Your photos beautifully capture the different flavor pairings one can create with chocolate. Thanks for sharing.

  14. That dark chocolate balsamic dressing sounds delicious! In fact I’d love to eat everything on that chocolate-inspired menu! Congratulations Doreen on a successful evening!

    • Thanks, Michele. This was the 4th chocolate dinner and we already have a 5th scheduled, plus I’m working on lining up some future dates in other cities and destinations. All the world loves chocolate, and it’s my job to help share information about how chocolate lovers can have a more enticing and satisfying experience involving the many flavours of chocolate. I job I must say I love very much!

  15. What a fabulous menu – each course using chocolate in such a creative, yet believable way. Would have loved to have enjoyed it with you!

  16. This looks like so much fun! Doreen knows her chocolate, and I’ve learned a lot from following her blog. Wish I could attend the February dinner. Maybe another year. 🙂

  17. It all looks great, and it is fun how chocolate was incorporated into the entire meal… but the dessert is what it is all about! 😉

  18. I haven’t read Doreen’s book but I would truly love to attend one of these dinners. I’m guessing Valentine’s Day is the next one?

  19. We attended an introduction to chocolate class when we were in Granada, Nicaragua this winter and, like another commenter, I was surprised to find out it grew on a tree in pods and the number of steps required to take the bean to the final, edible stage. I would love to attend one of Doreen’s classes and dinners – the starter salad with oranges, onions, pecans and chocolate balsamic dressing looked AMAZING!

  20. What a lovely sounding way to learn something new — eating and learning is far better sounding than just sitting in a classroom. Donna you did a beautiful report, I felt as though I was there. And Doreen, I am sorry you won’t be heading to Seattle this fall – do let me know when you come this direction. . .we’ll tour chocolate factories!!!

  21. Mmmm Donna, this post is making me hungry!! I would love to try the savoury dishes to see how chocolate tasted in that context. Coming to Calgary Doreen?

  22. Chocolate for every course sounds like a dream come true. Love the picture of the two of you together~

  23. I can’t imagine anything made with chocolate tasting badly. If anyone knows how to make something with delicious with chocolate it’s Doreen Pendgracs. I love the photo of you two together!

  24. Sounds like a wonderful chocolate dinner with chocolate expert Doreen Pendgracs. I wonder how many people are like me, and do not like dark chocolate but are nuts for milk chocolate?

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