MANCHESTER -- Just because Valentine's Day will soon be over doesn't mean you have to cut back on your chocolate intake ... and not just because you can stock up on discounted Hershey's at the drugstore. The HotChocolate Society wants you to come to Wilburton Inn on Feb. 24 at 5:30 p.m. to get a taste of gourmet chocolate for their 2013 Culinary Awards and Oscar party.
The HotChocolate Society is the brainchild of Michael Ellenbogen of the "experiential marketing" firm Eons Creative LLC.
"We bring people together and introduce them to chefs and chocolatiers and pastry chefs," Michael Ellenbogen. "It's about chocolate in more than the aspect of it being a sweet, candy oriented food product."
The day is split into two events, a chocolate tasting with chocolate connoisseur and founder of TheChocolateLife.com Clay Gordon from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and the Oscar party at 5:30 p.m. Ellenbogen said he made sure to put enough time between the end of the tasting and the party so that guests can return home to get dressed, because there is a fashion component to the party.
Thirty percent of ticket sales go to the Village Picture Show cinema in Manchester for its "Digitize Village Picture Show" project, which, as of press time, had raised $137,890 of the $175,000 needed by March 15 to stay in business.
The theater must raise the money to digitize or it will be unable to screen new movies after all film distributors switch to digital, a turn of events that may cause many theaters across the country to close down.
"It makes sense to connect (the Academy Awards party) with movies," Ellenbogen said.
The Culinary Awards
The Culinary Awards are a part of the Oscar party that challenges chefs to "explore the art of cooking with chocolate as an ingredient to create savory or sweet bites." Each bite will be judged by a jury of food and media professionals for the Jury Awards and by the party guests for the Audience Awards. Bennington mainstay Crazy Russian Girls won both the Jury and Audience awards for best sweet bite.
The wine and cheese tasting at 5:30 p.m. will be accompanied by live entertainment from Christy Baron and Jamie C. Ward.
Ellenbogen hopes to bring more culinary awards events more often and to other parts of the world.
"Now that I feel that the culinary awards have a sort of identity, he said. "That's why we're looking into different communities at different times of the year."
The HotChocolate Society
THCS was a brand developed by Ellenbogen in 2007 in New York City to create a social experience out of eating chocolate.
"It was the winter of 2006, I came up to Manchester to work on a screenplay that I was writing and I didn't have a car and there was a lot of snow that year," Ellenbogen said. "I didn't really get out that much. But I did have an Internet connection One day I got online and said ‘this year, I'm going to make the best hot chocolate.'"
Turns out there was already an interest in doing that online. Ellenbogen began talking to people on the Internet about their techniques and ingredients. This lead to the inception of the first Hot Chocolate Bowl, a sort of pub crawls of the restaurants that made the best hot chocolate.
In 2007, he put together the first Oscar party and in 2009 added the culinary awards to the event. But last year was the first time it was held in Vermont.
Eons Creative began in late 2011, when the Michael and his wife Carolina Ellenbogen, who had been doing marketing for years wanted to start a company that put an emphasis on experiential marketing.
"I basically call it ‘designing and producing events,'" Ellenbogen said.
Experiential marketing, a component of relationship marketing, is a type of advertising that goes beyond the traditional experience.
"From my point of view it's all about understanding what you are marketing and building a story around it," Michael Ellenbogen said. "In an experiential marking event or campaign you have a story, you build your components into this story."
Chocolate and the future
Ellenbogen has a dream to go to the source of the greatest chocolate in the world.
A year after creating the HotChocolate Society he met his wife, who was living in Maracaibo, Venezuela. A city famous for the export of the porcelana bean, a type of bean used to make amedei porcelana, the world's most expensive chocolate. It sells for about $20 for 50 grams, roughly size of an average candy bar.
"It's the holy grail of cacao," he said.
He said he would like to host a HotChocolate Society event in Venezuela, so that the farmers that produce the beans would have the opportunity to try the finished product.
"I thought it would be an interesting story to follow the story of the cacao bean," Ellenbogen said.
Tickets for the event can be purchased online at www.thehotchocolatesociety.com; at Village Picture Show and Zippy Chicks in Manchester; or at Crazy Russian Girls Bakery in Bennington. Prices are $45 for the tasting, $55 for the party, and $95 for a combined ticket.