Di Burger is a woman with sparkling eyes and a passion for everything chocolate! Such a great passion that she first wrote a book about chocolate and then she set out on a mission to celebrate the masters of the emerging South African Chocolate industry under one roof with a smashingly successful and decadent festival celebrating chocolate in all it’s delicious glory. The first Winelands Chocolate Festival, held at Lourensford Wine Estate in July last year, was such a massive hit and we have been promised that the 2016 Winelands Chocolate Festival is going to be bigger and better than before. So best get yourself over to Webtickets and get yours….or pop over here and enter to win a set of double tickets! But be sure to get to beautiful Blaauwklippen Wine Estate, just outside Stellenbosch, either Saturday 20th or Sunday 21st August to experience hedonistic pleasure the likes of which you have never known.
I was privileged and honoured to meet Di at the 2015 Winelands Chocolate Festival and I recently interviewed her so that we could get to know more about what drives this energetic woman to do what she doesand about her passion for chocolate.
I recently discovered that you wrote a stunning coffee table book called “Chocolate’s African Odyssey”. When did you first discover your passion about the subject of chocolate and what made you decide to write and self-publish a book on the SA Chocolate Industry?
I have been a chocoholic all my life – no dessert was dessert unless it involved chocolate! I now eat much less but I am more discerning – and with all the good quality chocolate available, I can be!
Almost everyone has had at least one disappointing chocolate experience. But I want to celebrate the fantastic local chocolatiers who make good quality chocolate. There is good stuff to be had if you know where to get it – and what to look for. I shop around and I treat my family to the best chocolate I can get hold of, so no surprises that they are all chocolate lovers too!
I published coffee table books for a number of years and then I decided to do a book on the local MCC industry. What a joy that was – speaking to the people behind the brands and sharing their knowledge and their passion about real artisanal quality bubbly, in the French tradition. There is so much more to making quality Cap Classique than meets the eye. It is a complex process involving a skilful winemaker, first class base wine and top quality multi-cultural yeasts; and so on. Quality chocolate has much in common with Cap Classique in that it is also a specialist product with very complex production processes ; the quality of the end product is also about the provenance, type and the terroir, making it just as complex as wine or coffee – and the history is just as intriguing. It is also a very loved treat (like quality bubbly and quality coffee) and most people know very little about it – it was an irresistible research project!
What was your inspiration to organise the first SA Winelands Chocolate Festival in 2015? I am guessing that your journey of discovery that you went on for your book research would have helped. Any specific discoveries that inspired and hatched the idea for a festival?
Yes, the research from my book opened my eyes to the existence of the local chocolate industry which is made up of many small producers who mostly work in isolation. I felt that somehow I should attempt to rouse the attention of chocolate lovers everywhere to support these creative artisanal producers if we want them to continue providing us with intense chocolate experiences. They need to be able to earn a living from their trade if they are to survive – and how can they if so few people know about them? So, my aim was to raise awareness of the industry, through my book – and the festival has become the natural follow-up to that aim. It is time to honour the creativity, innovation and skills of these amazing entrepreneurs.
There is so much talent in the patisserie and baking fields too and more and more they are refusing to use anything but the best quality couverture for their products. So, this time I have included much more patisserie. It is interesting to note that much of the couverture is brought into this country but we already have three local companies who are making chocolate from cocoa beans – Cocoafair, DV and Afrikoa.
Never mind smelling the roses – it’s time to taste the chocolate!
What is your vision for the festival?
Firstly, I want to offer more people the opportunity to experience really good quality chocolate in all its forms, and to learn some things they didn’t know before – and to have a great time at the festival! We have worked hard on the ‘enjoyment and experience’ aspect this year – so there will be lots to do, to see, to eat and drink in a warm and spacious environment…even the children are well catered for this year.
This festival should be about flavour and freshness and seeing what new innovative products are out there. It is also about indulging yourself – taking a break from the hum-drum and hard work of life and just treating yourself because, as the expression goes, you’re worth it! I have brought in associations with other treat products like fashion, jewellery, wine and bubbly, fragrance and the best coffee and we even have sugar-free and low carb options. Because health is still important. Treating yourself doesn’t mean pouring chocolate down your throat!
Secondly and importantly, I would also really like to see our chocolate industry grow and flourish.
It would be wonderful if this festival inspires people to be part of the industry; to experience quality and then to demand freshness and quality at all times; to skill up and get creative and entrepreneurial. I would like chocolatiers to start sharing information and working together, to see bigger businesses helping to support the small and micro-businesses. That is how the wine industry became the formidable force it is today (Collaboration and support!). So that is my vision for chocolate. It is only just getting started!
It is pretty obvious that you are passionate about the subjects of gourmet chocolate and its history, the fashion industry that you trained in, as well as the winelands areas and Methode Cap Classique all of which you have authored books about. What is your aim in organizing the festivals and drawing these 3 gorgeous interests of yours together into one big, deliciously glamorous event?
I was a swimwear designer, formally, for 12 years. In those days the fashion industry was a great industry to be part of and I loved my job. I love the excitement of working on creative projects – projects that have a beginning, a middle and an end; like producing a range of swimwear, or doing the research and producing a new book, or creating and organising a brand new festival.
Why bring fashion (and jewellery), bubbly and chocolate together at the same festival?
There is a whole world of people who get absolute pleasure out of these very things, so this is an opportunity to share the joy with like-minded people! If someone brought me a bottle of Cap Classique, a box of chocolates and a beautiful new item of clothing – I would consider that a reason to celebrate!
What is exciting you most about this years planned festival?
Besides all our fabulous chocolate exhibitors? I love what the three young designers are planning for our fashion and jewellery shows. Being privvy to such creative people in operation is thrilling! Our demos are also another source of eee -excitement! Abigail Donnelly is one of the most creative foodies I have ever met. I don’t even know what she is making – I just know that it will be innovative with clever pairings of flavours (she has just come back from New York and is brim full of ideas). Alice Toich is giving the other demo. She was a real find! She is really gorgeous to look at (move over Nigella) and she bubbles over with creativity from her gorgeous paintings to the creative finishes of her chocolate desserts. Dimo Simatos shows everyone how to make truffles again this year. He is such a nice person and so talented (he and his team are making all the yummy Haute Patisserie for the LINDT Chocolate Teas. And this year we have an in-depth tea tasting some of which will be paired with von Geusau chocolates; an MCC master class and a brandy and chocolate pairing by the SA brandy foundation. Twenty creative cakes have been entered into our Cake competition. I have seen some of them already – amazing! So much to look forward to.
Last year’s festival was a roaring success that generated far more interest than you and your team imagined I believe, proving that there is a large chocolate following out there eager to learn more about this subject. How are you planning on accommodating the crowds of chocolate and wine lovers who will be flocking through the doors at this year’s event?
My efficient new partner, Darielle Robertson, is a seasoned festival producer. Her organisation skills are legendary and she will ensure that this festival runs smoothly. Between us we have doubled the number of exhibitors and are both intent on creating a quality festival that promotes the quality chocolate industry. This year we have an area specially for children’s activities (FREE entry for 6yrs and under!) and there is plenty for the adults to do, see or take part in throughout the day.
The festival is spread out over most of Blaauwklippen’s estate grounds, which is three times the space we had last year. We are using bedouin tents and all the estate’s buildings to accommodate the seating areas, exhibits, displays and the many activities. There will be an INFO stand in the foyer of the Chocolate Emporium and everything is clearly marked so you know where to go and how to get there! Contingency plans are in place should we need them and we are looking forward to sharing this exciting weekend with you.
And finally just an interesting question to end off this interview simply because I cannot imagine a world without chocolate! Reports emerged early in 2016 with alarming headlines like “The World is Running out of Chocolate”. Do you believe this is possible and what do you think the world in general can do about it?
Most cocoa is produced by small-scale farming families using farming practices that haven’t changed in years.
These small-time cocoa growers cannot be expected to supply the increasing demand for cocoa around the world. (Did you know that it takes 10 Theobroma Cacao trees to produce 10kg of chocolate – which is what the average Westerner eats every year!) So, in order to provide sufficient supply for the ever increasing growth in demand, larger companies have planted huge swathes of plantations, possibly destroying tropical forests in order to do this. However, the Fairtrade system was put in place to ensure that farmers are not exploited and that farming is done in an ethical and sustainable way. Most large companies are making a point of getting Fairtrade certification and the smaller reputable companies pride themselves in getting their beans directly from a single origin.
I therefore feel that the issue in in hand – (although that doesn’t stop them from planting the easier-growing cocoa bean varieties which provide cheaper chocolate with less flavour in the final product) So, more reason to get clued up and support only the chocolate that transports you to heaven and back because of the intense flavour and silkiness.
You can help to weed out the bad chocolate producing companies by not supporting them and by only buying from the true artisans who create the ‘food of the gods’ for your pleasure – while you have the choice. The world may well run out of chocolate – but we may also destroy our species long before that.
And in the meantime – life is simply too short to eat cheap chocolate!
I look forward to seeing you all at the Winelands Chocolate Festival.
Don’t forget there is a set of double tickets up for grabs right here on my blog. Winner will be announced on Wednesday 17th August.
Adults: R120 – includes a wine glass, a festival bag and a chocolate, plus 2 magazines
6yrs and under – Free
Chocolate Afternoon Tea: R250 – includes entry to the rest of the festival
Adult Demos 50 mins – R50
Tutored Tastings 50 mins – R35
Jumping Castle and jungle Gym Play Area – Free entry for age appropriate children
Disclaimer: All answers provided by Di Burger of Winelands Chocolate Festival. Images used with permission. Personal opinions are my own.