Chocolate Affair at M & T Stadium Bank Stadium

1,500 expected at benefit for the homeless

February 04, 2010|By Rob Kasper | Baltimore Sun reporter

Life is short and so is February, so let's eat lots of chocolate.

That could be the mantra of the 1,500 or so partygoers who are expected to make their way to M&T Bank Stadium tonight for the 18th Annual Chocolate Affair.

There, 50 area restaurants, caterers and chocolatiers will dish out food and drinks, many of them using the ground, roasted cacao bean as a key ingredient.

For fans of chocolate, this event is "like a fairly tale," said Susannah Singer of Hampden shop Ma Petite Shoe, which is serving sweet stuff at the event. "They feel like Cinderella at the ball, going to booth after booth that's serving chocolate," she said.

"You do get groupies, people who hang out at your stand," said John Walsh, executive chef for Chef's Expression catering, which will also be there. "People keep coming back to your stand, getting buzzed on chocolate," he said.

Proceeds from the event, now in its 19th year, benefit the homeless.

Rick Dempsey, former Orioles catcher and now a broadcaster on the Orioles TV Network with MASN, is the honorary chairman of the event. "The Dipper," as he was known in his playing days, will autograph a catcher's mitt, one of many items of sports memorabilia that will be auctioned.

Last year, sales of tickets and auction items raised about $165,000 for Health Care for the Homeless, organizers said, and Health Care for the Homeless used the funds to help provide services to 12,000 Marylanders at clinics in Baltimore City as well as in Harford, Frederick, Montgomery and Baltimore counties.

A panel of judges hands out awards for the best sweet and savory dishes. Area chefs have been busy crafting their offerings.

Singer's staff, for instance, will serve a "sipping" chocolate. Made with granules of dark chocolate and served in demitasse cups, it is "the espresso of the hot- chocolate world," she said. For those who like to eat their chocolate, Singer said she will also be passing out pieces of milk chocolate bars studded with bits of cranberry and melon made by Hachez, a German chocolatier.

Among the morsels that Walsh and the Chef's Expression crew will be dispensing are chocolate hazelnut milkshakes served in 2-ounce martini glasses, and a chocolate mousse served with an edible toffee spoon.

Maryland's state dessert, the Smith Island cake - nine layers of yellow cake intermixed with chocolate icing - will make an appearance. "It is real sweet," said Jill Williams, manager of SugarBakers, the Catonsville bakery, which has been readying 500 servings of the cake. Her staff has also been fixing 500 red velvet cupcakes, and 500 chocolate cups, ovals made with bittersweet chocolate and filled with tiramisu.

"People are welcome to try all three," Williams said, but, she added, usually people sample one or two items.

Even though the weather is cold, chocolate ice cream always draws an audience. Cold Stone Creamery is unveiling a new ice cream, a chocolate with strawberry swirls, at the event. Workers at the shop in Canton have been trying it out and, according to staffer Ashley Rytina, they like what they have been tasting. They asked their boss whether it can be dubbed a "shift treat," meaning the workers can feast on it during breaks.

After loading up on lots of chocolate dishes, many Chocolate Affair attendees welcome a taste of savory fare. Chad Gauss, executive chef of the City Cafe, is combining the sweet with the savory in his dish. It is a spinach salad made with deep-fried goat cheese that has been imbued with hazelnut chocolate. "We are going to serve it on a fork, so you will be able to eat it in one bite," Gauss said.

James Jennings, executive chef of the Belmont Manor House and Conference Center in Elkridge, said he, too, likes to play with sweet and savory flavors.

On the savory side he is serving pieces of sesame-crusted tuna on crispy wontons. To please the other side of the palate, he has made some bread pudding laden with a double serving of, what else, chocolate.

Hard as is for some to believe, people do eventually get their fill of chocolate dishes, he said.

"At the start of the evening, it is chocolate, chocolate, chocolate," said Jennings. "Then they see some normal food, like the tuna, and they go for it," he said.

If you go
The Chocolate Affair is 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m. today in the South Club Level Lounge of M&T Bank Stadium, 1101 Russell St. Tickets are $85 per person at the door, $75 in advance (at chocolateaffair.org). The $150 Chocolate Angel ticket, sold at the door, includes a pre-event reception with Rick Dempsey.


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