Sunday, April 6, 2008

Review: In Search of the Heart of Chocolate

Can you be a chocolate addict? Can chocolate enhance your love life? Are the regulars who shop at Chocolate Covered more than just a little bizarre? These are the questions Sarah Feinbloom begins to explore in her "chocumentary," In Search of the Heart of Chocolate. The film was perfectly timed to be released on Valentine's Day, with chocolate tastings and discussions at the San Francisco premiere. And although I was out of the country that week, Feinbloom was kind enough to send me a copy.

The film's luxurious subject and humorous tone is far removed from the subjects Feinbloom usually tackles in her documentaries (e.g., child trafficking, youth violence, religion). While she could have focused on plantation slave labor or the rise of organic chocolate, she sticks to a more complicated topic - what is it about chocolate that provokes such passion, such intensity, such love? And the results are a lot of fun to watch.

After making the acquaintance of Jack Epstein, the owner of Noe Valley's Chocolate Covered, Feinbloom is introduced to a number of San Francisco chocolate aficionados whose interviews appear in the film. She intersperses clips of these interviews with slices of her own chocolate past and a bit of information on chocolate history and production. Feinbloom confesses that she is a chocoholic (and why we would trust this kind of film made by anyone else!) and dramatizes one pivotal event from her chocolate-laden childhood; her mother wakes her late at night and they sit at the kitchen table surreptitiously eating chocolate sauce with a spoon right out of the jar.

But rather than lecture us on her own chocolate preferences and habits, Feinbloom keeps us laughing by showcasing the quirky Chocolate Covered customers who seem to live for chocolate. Epstein, who admits he prefers greasy and salty foods like potato chips to chocolate, actually offers his own kind of "therapy" for customers who can't deal with the guilt or have no understanding of moderation when it comes to consuming chocolate. And although he encounters plenty of SF locals who can't go a day without chocolate, he is opposed to using the word "addict." I've read the studies too that show chocolate cannot be addictive, but Feinbloom's interviews do make me think twice.

Feinbloom introduces us to the "100 percenter," otherwise known as Richard, an ex-hippie turned serious chocolate connoisseur who approaches tasting chocolate with an almost scary intensity. As he suckles his 100% Domori (an acquired taste, he admits), Richard clues Feinbloom into the psychoanalytic qualities of this chocolate. He insists that the colors in his garden become brighter and more intense, as Feinbloom zooms in to capture this effect. Much like an interview on The Daily Show, Feinbloom need do very little but let her subjects talk. What we get is pure entertainment.

And then there is Suzanne, whose chocolate routine consists of eating chocolate in the morning, in the afternoon and at night. She begins by asking Feinbloom to sample one of her favorite dark bars, but it doesn't take long before she is pointing out the chocolate colored paints she favors and a new chocolate colored sweater - both testament to her obsession. She fingers the delicate brown beading on the sweater with as much care as the chocolate bars she buys nearly every day from Chocolate Covered. At the end of the interview, she says "I could stop though," but we all know the truth.

I encounter a wide range of chocolate lovers and fanatics on my Chocolate Tours, but never anyone quite as interesting as Suzanne and Richard. This is the gritty, authentic (and foggy) world of chocolate - a long way from the slick downtown boutiques we visit on my tours. Chocolate Covered is actually on the basement level, lacking artfully designed window displays or tables for late-night drinking chocolate parties. I thank Sarah Feinbloom for bringing us this nugget of San Francisco chocolate life.

If you're interested in watching the film for yourself, it's available for purchase on her web site for $19.99, plus shipping and handling. The film is 25 minutes long.
It will also be screened at the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon on April 13th. Feinbloom and I will both be members of the "Tasting Panel," and I'm looking forward to meeting her.

No comments: