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The Chocolate Exhibit Returns

Ancient Mayans were the first to use chocolate.
Justin Kerr
Ancient Mayans were the first to use chocolate.

Sweet Indulgence Back At TheNAT

The Chocolate Exhibit Returns
GUESTS: Michael W. Hager, Ph.D.President and Chief Executive Officer, TheNATBrooke FeldmanCommunications Director, Chuao Chocolatier

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Still ahead the more you know about chocolate, the better your taste buds will feel this holiday season we will talk about the new chocolate exhibition in Balboa Park. That is next as KPBS Midday Edition continues. Here are some headlines to keep you up to date this hour. Israeli warplanes made 80 strikes against Gaza today and more rockets were launched by Hamas militants toward cities in Israel as violence continued for a sixth day. Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit Myanmar. And Twinkies may be saved. The private equity firms Sun capital says it wants to buy bankrupt hostesses foods. Listen for the news right here on KPBS it is 1240 and you are listening to KPBS Midday Edition. This is came PBS addition I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Just in time for the holidays the San Diego natural history Museum is celebrating the most festive foods, chocolate. The exhibit traces the history of chocolate from the bitter drink of Aztec kings to the multifaceted indulgence we love today. I'd like to welcome my guests. Dr. Michael Hager is president and chief executive officer of the San Diego natural history Museum and Michael Hager, welcome to KPBS Midday Edition. MICHAEL HAGER: Thank you pleasure to be here MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Brooke Feldman is communications officer of chow chocolatier which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year Brooke welcome thank you for coming in. BROOKE FELDMAN: Thanks so much. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now chocolate exhibition was first shown at the Museum seven years ago. Why did you decide to bring it back? MICHAEL HAGER: It was such a popular exhibition and her chocolate consumption has just grown exponentially. So we just thought it would be a good thing to bring back for the holidays. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As a change from the original exhibit at all? MICHAEL HAGER: Elizabeth there have been a few more artifacts added the bigChange we've made that the is the chocolate store at the end is just filled with everything you ever wanted to know about chocolate and chocolate product is in there. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you to take us through this just a little bit. People will not be able to really experience unless they go to the exhibit, but many people can't even imagine a world without chocolate, but that's what it was like for most of the world until the 16th century. Register could come from? MICHAEL HAGER: It comes from Central and South America basically 20°, 1300 miles either side of the equator is where chocolate grows into lesson plans the first use chocolate and even the everyday my hands got to use it and it was a frothy drink without sugar. They would sometimes add chilies and a little bit of honey. But, and it was a drink enjoyed by even the common class of the Mayans. It was then traded to the Aztecs and the Aztecs were not in an area where you could grow chocolate so there it was prized by the rulers, the Kings and the priests and so on and used in religious ceremonies and was so valuable that they used the seeds for money. You could actually pay your taxes with cacao seeds. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now I read that when the Spanish first came in the Aztecs basically gave them some chocolate drink basically they hated it. MICHAEL HAGER: They didn't like it very much and it was in 1521 when the Spanish conquered the Aztecs and they began taking the seats back to Spain. And that is where chocolate met sugar. And it became very popular and in fact the Spanish nobility didn't say much about it for about a century. They kind of kept it to themselves. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see, it was a secret drink. MICHAEL HAGER: It was and did not exhibit you will see special porcelain they may just for consuming chocolate and all kinds of kitchen utensils. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: These chocolate as a drink primarily in the first part of its explosion in Europe? MICHAEL HAGER: That is correct and in 1657 the first chocolate house opened in London and soon after by the mid-1600s there were 2000 chocolate houses and in fact coffee and really only gotten to that stage about three years before chocolate, so the first coffeehouse open in 1654. So chocolate and coffee were both widely confused, consumed as a drink. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Life was getting better in London. Brooke has been chosen solvent with the exhibit? BROOKE FELDMAN: We've been very happy to be involved with the exhibited everything from sponsored chocolate for the VIP events the member events, making a presence in the story of even had the entire staff go through the exhibit to learn more and become immersed which has been MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You know when most of us are growing up there were only a few prints of chocolate Hershey's, Nestlé, Whitman sampler box, you know. BROOKE FELDMAN: Yes I remember those very well. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now there's been an explosion of artisanal chocolatiers. Why do you think that is? BROOKE FELDMAN: I think that people are wanting to connect with their food. They want to know who has made it, where it comes from, what's in it, because there a lot of things in foods these days that we should be scared of and it's all about celebrating the craft as well to know how much goes word into the bug bombs you would be amazed. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There are bonbon sitting in front of me I want everybody to know and it's extremely tempting. Who creates the chocolates for trial? BROOKE FELDMAN: Chef Michael Antonorsi founded the company with his brother Richard, and he lives and breathes chocolate and everything comes from him and we have a fabulous production team that handcrafts everything we do. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Michael Hager are you a chocolate eater? MICHAEL HAGER: I certainly am, along with most Americans. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Have your taste changed in recent years because of all the new chocolates and chocolate companies? MICHAEL HAGER: Actually they have I've gotten a lot more refined in my tastes and like you as a kid it was Nestlé and Hershey and things like that and frankly you know, I'm still pretty autumnal chocolate, but I do like their chocolates and I've just come to really appreciate the many different nuances of chocolate and a lot of wonderful chocolate sauces and so on. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I asked Dr. Hager that question, Brooke, because it seems to me that the American palate has probably changed over recent years to find that to be the case? BROOKE FELDMAN: I do think it probably goes back to the education. We talked about the more people find out the more they find out when things are palate when I started five years ago I would eat any chocolate in front of me like palate has 90% changed by each round a couple of other chocolatiers people hear constantly that they need to eat dark chocolate so they might track their chocolate so as where's before they will need milk chocolate your Paladin learns things that were things you expose it to the better it's going to go MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is it because when you take a chocolate now that you previously would've liked you can taste what in it or one is not in it, or something like that? BROOKE FELDMAN: It is to fix it is the quality of the could I can tell the difference now and the other thing is what Sen. Should not be any fat in the chocolate epidemic, or and unfortunately a lot of the chocolates on the market have hydrogenated fats and fillers that really make your wacky and not tasty chocolate. It is not good quality. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How do you go about making the chocolate? Do you start fromMeans the way we see the exhibit at the natural history Museum? BROOKE FELDMAN: We actually don't so you have two different types of chocolatiers, you have those that are means to bar, the gulf between all the way to the process of making chocolate and then you have what we call melters and natural chocolate your we are melter so we have our own preview bend of chocolate also American that is Venezuelan cacao, the owners are from Venezuela and it is the best cook how in the world. We going make those into the bars, bonbons, truffles, chocolate everything we have. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is there any significance in the name Chuao? BROOKE FELDMAN: It is renamed after legendary cacao growing region and Venezuela culture is a commitment to our heritage and quality we do have a bar that uses the link account from 12 that the bar has two ingredients cookout and sugar and it's called the origins. It will knock your socks off. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What you hear, Michael will go through this exhibit? Is it, a lot of people bring their families and that sort of thing? MICHAEL HAGER: Oh yeah, lots of kids and whole families, they are pretty amazed at first of all the ancient origins of chocolate and then we go through the whole history of it and of the manufacturing of it, and so show videos of the manufacturing and different cultures throughout the world. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Know there was earlier this year a scientific American suggested there might be a cacao shortage. Is this something that you are concerned about, Brooke? BROOKE FELDMAN: Will enjoy how we negotiate multiyear contracts with our chocolate suppliers, so it's not something we've had to deal with risk, but sustainability in general is always going to be a concern. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What do you talk about when you talk about getting chocolate that is sustainable BROOKE FELDMAN: It goes back to how the farmers are taught and educated the way they grow the chocolate, the way we treat our habitat, you know we need to take care of our earth and that goes to everything from the way coffee is grown to the way chocolate is grown. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is there fair trade chocolate the way there is fair trade coffee BROOKE FELDMAN: There is absolutely. Chuao actually ethically sourced so we basically have the same practices but because the people who provide our chocolate do not have the certification, but basically all of the farmers that we work with are guaranteed a fair wage. It's very important to our standards and how we operate our business. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Michael, in the exhibit, does it go into if memory serves me correctly it kind of does go into how big an industry chocolate has become? MICHAEL HAGER: Yes in the US it's a $13 million a year business and I don't know what it is worldwide, but it's huge and it's traded on futures market and so, it is a big business and kind of a fun Americans 11.2 pounds of chocolate a year, Norwegians eat 22 pounds of chocolate per year and they have a higher standard of living so I think people eat more chocolate in the US we would raise our standard of living. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You see a direct connection there BROOKE FELDMAN: I'd like to say on the record that Dr. Hager is a brilliant man. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to go into some of the exotic flavor combinations that you have in your chocolates. For instance you brought with us today something called a potato chip, a chocolate potato chip what is this? BROOKE FELDMAN: That's one of the things I'm addicted to these days. It would basically take all-natural kettle potato chips that are lightly salted, roll them with a rolling pin until they are crunchy pieces, mix them into milk chocolate and and ladle them into the bar mold so it's a mini chocolate bar filled with little pieces of all-natural potato chips. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And that is not illegal? BROOKE FELDMAN: If it is wrong I don't want to be right MICHAEL HAGER: And it's really good it's crunchy. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are there any things that challenge her ballot, broke? I mean that you do not like to use it is the strangest combination of chocolate I've really ever come across? BROOKE FELDMAN: I am a really adventurous eater but when chef Michael first came out with a firecracker travel which is what we are known for, it has chocolate, caramel fudge and putting candy and seesawed, so he sub your throat and pops in your mouth. Right, it's hilarious. MICHAEL HAGER: It's really good BROOKE FELDMAN: I was like what is this guy doing I just started working there and I walked in and he's putting popping candy in his mouth and chipotle, he was putting everything in his mouth and putting chocolate and to see if the flavors would go well together so he keeps me on my toes for sure but he comes up with a lot of fun creations. They are never so out there that they are not enjoyable. He really knows how to layer the flavors a lot of people might be scared at the thought of spicy chocolate, not when you try it. You will have fun with it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You know Dr. Michael Hager I am ashamed I am asking you this, but, you know for a lot of people chocolate still is an indulgence that has to do with keeping things secret. I wonder, do you have any secret indulgence when it comes to chocolate? MICHAEL HAGER: Yeah. MICHAEL HAGER: Well it is pretty lowbrow, but I love milk duds. Can't do a movie without my milk duds. BROOKE FELDMAN: Going to replace those with something even better. MICHAEL HAGER: I know what it is I've had it is wonderful chocolate caramel and sea salt. BROOKE FELDMAN: No we're actually working on something that is MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It is like a milk dud? BROOKE FELDMAN: It is no dud, Maureen. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It is beyond your expectations? BROOKE FELDMAN: Absolutely. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When I was a kid I used to love a Nestle crunch bar with a Pepsi and I mean, I tell you, you hit the stratosphere with that. MICHAEL HAGER: Snickers and a Coke. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What was most interesting thing you learned from the exhibit, Michael? MICHAEL HAGER: I think clearly, the natural history in the early Aztec history of chocolate was to me the most fascinating. You know, chocolate, the origins of it is Central and South America. It grows underneath the canopy. And it is a free. A lot of people do not think of chocolate as a fruit, but it is, and these little tiny insects, midges pollinate it and they don't fly very well, so the flowers are all on the trunk and the lower branches of the tree so that the midge can reach into pollinate the other plants and to me that is fascinating. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Humble beginnings for something that we love so much. Really quickly Brooke my last question to you any suggestions for chocolate and Thanksgiving? BROOKE FELDMAN: Of course what hostess doesn't want to receive a beautiful box of bonbons or truffles. We have three stores if you want to come by, in UTC Delmar or Encinitas we have (inaudible) chocolate pairings with different types of wine, chocolate and craft beer from our local favorite Stone brewery. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Wonderful. The chocolate exhibit at the San Diego natural history museum in Balboa Park continues through March 10 of next year you have the holiday season and more to go see it. I've been speaking with Michael Hager president and chief executive officer of the San Diego natural history Museum Brooke Feldman with Chuao Chocolatier, thank you so much. BROOKE FELDMAN: Thank you, it's been a sweet time. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Be sure to watch KPBS evening edition weeknights at 6:30 on KPBS television and join us tomorrow on KPBS FM for discussion on San Diego's top stories right here on Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh and thank you for listening.

Turkey may be on most people's minds this week but TheNAT is serving up something sweeter with a return of its Chocolate Exhibition (running through March 10, 2013).

Earlier this year, Scientific American reported on the embattled cacao tree and speculated that it might not be able to meet the increasing demand for chocolate around the globe. Here in San Diego you can explore the story of chocolate with the return of the Chocolate Exhibition at The Nat. The exhibit was originally mounted 7 years ago and returns with some minor modifications, among which will be some family events.


San Diego-based Chuao Chocolatier is helping with the exhibit. The company, run by Michael Antonorsi and his brother, specializes in artisan chocolates and is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a rebranding campaign and new chocolate offerings.

The exhibit tells the story of chocolate from its origins as a bitter drink of the ancient Mayans to its transformation into a sweet indulgence by the Europeans. The museum gift shop is well stocked with a broad range of chocolate treats from Chuao's spicy Mayan hot chocolate mix to bacon chocolate bars.

The Chocolate Exhibit runs through March 10 of next year at TheNAT in Balboa Park. Chuao Chocolatier has 3 locations: Encinitas, Del Mar, and La Jolla.

And here is some suggested film viewing to go along with the exhibit: "Like Water For Chocolate," "Chocolat," "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," and "The Chocolate War."

Some additional chocolate websites:



Valrhona Chocolates


Green & Black's

Dagoba Chocolates

Smithsonian History of Chocolate

Hershey's Chocolate