Smooth, silky and sinful

If you were anywhere near the campus bookstore last Thursday afternoon you probably noticed the mouthwatering and unmistakable aroma of chocolate overpowering the clean scent of new books.

If you were there between 1 and 2 p.m. you undoubtedly saw a large clump of spectators ages 16 to 60 packed shoulder to shoulder among the clothing and souvenirs. Their attention was focused on the tall gentleman in the chef’s hat behind a table at the front, who was talking a mile a minute as he juggled bowl after bowl of glorious, glistening chocolate.

No, he’s not Willy Wonka. But he is the next best thing: the UAA Culinary Arts and Hospitality Department’s own personal chocolate guru Chef Wolfram Vern. As the dessert and baking instructor, Vern has presented “Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate,” an hour-long whirlwind introduction to chocolate, twice a year for the past 11 years.

Vern demonstrated how to temper chocolate, a process whereby chocolate is melted to a smooth liquid and prepared for molding. He also discussed the difference between white chocolate and the confectionary coating that is used as a substitute for white chocolate in many commercial candies. White chocolate is made from coco butter while the coating contains a substitute like palm or vegetable oil that makes it easier to handle.

“There’s a big difference in color,” Vern said, while discussing how to tell the difference. “Coco butter is naturally yellow in color. The confectionary coating is pure white.”

The tables in front of him were laden with a mouth-watering array of gingerbread houses and cookies, white chocolate masks, and enormous slabs of dark and semi-sweet chocolate.

Periodically throughout the presentation, four of his students made rounds through the crowd passing out samples of white, dark, milk and semi-sweet chocolates and slices of Italian Ciabatta bread.

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“The bread is not chocolate,” Vern explained. “It’s to cleanse your palate in between the dark chocolates. It’s kind of like tasting wine.”

As his assistant Becky Chiariello weaved in and out of the crowd, silver serving platter in hand, distributing the first of the samples of Belgian Callebaut chocolate, Vern explained the proper way to taste the treat.

“The best way to do it is to let it melt in your mouth. You don’t want to chew it, unless you just can’t wait,” Vern said, but he is no chocolate snob. With a sheepish grin he admitted an affinity for Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cups.

“I don’t think I’ve ever gotten sick of it,” Vern replied when asked. “There’s always room for chocolate.”

“It’s fun because you’re making something that sparkles and smells good,” Chiariello, who is in her fourth semester with the culinary arts program, said. “In fact, the average weight gain for students in the program is 25-30 pounds.”

“Thank God tasting spoons are so small,” fellow culinary arts student Sasha Bonk said.