By: Lynn Ogryzlo

I have a love affair with chocolate that has lasted as long as I can remember. I don’t eat the candy bar kind you find at the check out aisles, but the good quality stuff. I can give you names of some of my favourites; Vosges, Torres, Godiva, Ghirardelli and Valrhona. I don’t really mind if it’s brittle and dark or liquid and spiked, I just love the flavour of really good chocolate and the satisfying experience I get from savouring it very slowly.

So why am I bringing this up now? It’s chocolate season! That’s right; because chocolate melts at body temperature it’s really no fun to eat it in the hot summer months. But as the weather gets cooler and you want that warm wrap of velvety chocolate softness around you, you begin to look for chocolate choices and new experiences.

Everywhere I go around the world I look for different chocolate experiences. I remember the Bicerin I swooned over in Torino, Italy. The region that brought us Nutella has decadent coffee houses. Walk into any one of these ancient, posh establishments with their 14-foot, rich, gold embossed ceilings, opulent mahogany trim and lustrous mirrored walls with gleaming brass accents and you know you’re somewhere special. On one occasion I was served a Bicerin, a hot, layered chocolate drink.

The way it was explained to me was that dark, bittersweet chocolate is reduced down in giant copper pots for almost 6-hours. This black, pudding-thick chocolate was the bottom third of the drink. The middle layer was a double shot of espresso and the top was a slightly sweet, frothy cream. The reduced chocolate was so thick the espresso didn’t penetrate it. Served in a glass cup you could see the three beautiful, exciting layers. The ceremony was to pick up the tiny coffee spoon and stir slowly. The sultry liquid swirled brown and white like velvet. Take a sip and it seductively creams your tongue with strong coffee-like chocolate and you feel your body succumbing to the Bicerin’s vampish charms – wow!

That was my greatest chocolate experience and that was 20 years ago. Just recently I was meeting a friend for coffee. Val works across the street from a chocolate shop, SOMA Chocolatemaker on King Street in Toronto. Guess where we met for coffee?

I walked in and looked at the blackboard. Top of the menu of chocolate drinks was a Bicerin. The experience wasn’t as ceremonial as the Bicerin in Torino, but it was a fabulous drink! On my next visit, I’m trying their hot chocolate and gelato drink.

Just last year I spent Christmas in London, England. I’m seduced by the European Christmas markets and London’s was spectacular. I strolled the market listening to soft holiday music while looking at the specialty food and craft booths lined up and down the roads. Our hands were wrapped in woolen gloves; we could see our breath and the dampness reached down to our bones. My favourite way to enjoy this was with a hot mug of hot chocolate spiked with Bailey’s. There was something very addictive about the two flavours together and the experience of being warmed and comforted by layers of thick chocolate on a wet, cold December London day.

Back home in the thick of a Canadian winter, I continued to make my hot chocolate and Baileys. I discovered the better the chocolate the better the drink and don’t even think about buying a Bailey’s substitute. I used up all my Ghirardelli powdered chocolate so switched over to a tin of Whittard Luxury Powdered Chocolate. Just took the experience over the top, when I close my eyes I’m back in Hyde Park strolling the Christmas market. I can almost hear the Christmas music playing in the background.

Good food, in particular chocolate has the ability to play with your mind, dominate your physical body, ravage your senses and leave you begging for more.

I remember the time I visited the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory in San Francisco. It was May, near the end of chocolate season. Ghirardelli has moved their chocolate making activities to a new location and converted the original red brick factory building into condominiums. If you’ve ever dreamed of living in a chocolate factory here is your chance.

Their signature Ghirardelli retail store still exists at this location. Walk in and the air is soaked with strong chocolate aromas intermingled with vanilla, caramel and sweet cream. The aromas are so seductive and suggestive; I could have bought every piece of chocolate in the entire store. As I walked along the boardwalk away from Ghirardelli the wind blew my hair across my face and I realized my hair smells like chocolate – woah! I started to smell the rest of my clothes they all had a strong aroma of the dark stuff – I was one walking chocolate bar! To a chocolate lover, life doesn’t get much better.

In Paris, France there is a little café on Avenue de la Motte-Picquet named Pain et Chocolate. Simply translated it means, bread and chocolate, two foods to live by and yes, I visit it often. There is outdoor seating and in the winter you’ll find a blanket on each chair to ward off the damp cold winter air. The hot chocolate here is a secret recipe handed down through the owner’s family. She won’t say what is in it but a large cauldron of hot chocolate is brewed each day and when it’s gone, it’s gone. I always go in the early afternoon. It’s a magical drink, lighter than any other hot chocolate I’ve fallen in love with but layered with complex nuances of almonds, spices and vanilla that fade in and out. It’s simply a stunning and classy drink.

In Chicago, I visited a restaurant named after my favourite drink, Hot Chocolate. Pastry chef, Mindy Segal makes my all-time favourite Hot Fudge Milanos. No words can describe what happens when you bite down on these soft, tiny cookies. In your mouth, they transformed into chocolaty, buttery silk that slithers across your tongue and down your throat with paralyzing lusciousness and electrifying euphoria. After 15 of these delicious tidbits there was no achy feeling in the pit of my stomach, just sunshine and delight radiating from within – ahhh, I could keep eating. Mindy Segal has real talent. That’s when I discovered her Hot Chocolate Menu.

Yes, a menu like a food menu or wine list, Mindy has a hot chocolate menu with 7 different ways to enjoy a steamy cup of cocoa. After a long and agonizing conversation with the Chocolate Sommelier over the merits of which hot chocolate would be best on a warm but almost rainy spring day, he surprised me with a FLIGHT of all seven!! I love him!

My board included the following hot chocolates; Malted Vanilla, Medium, Mexican, Black & Tan, Dark, Chai and Half & Half. For a full description of these mind-blowing chocolate drinks go to my blog at The Ontario Table website.

Now that we’re entering the season for melted chocolate drinks, vow not to sip the empty calories of those dark, hot, faux drinks. Instead, find yourself some good chocolate, Callabaut or Ghirardelli and melt it slowly in a pot with whole milk. Whip it with a hand-held milk frother and taste. Now start to blend your own magical cup of irresistible chocolate. Add a drop of vanilla, a spill of Bailey’s or a sprinkle of vanilla sugar. You’ll know you’ve got your own sultry drink when your eyes roll back in your head and the weakness in your knees makes you reach for the nearest chair. Happy Hot Chocolate Season!

Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and regular contributor to REV Publications. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.com.