Ooh là là! The Volunteers of America gave chocolate bakers and artisans the perfect inspiration this year when the organization chose “Chocolat de Paris” as the theme for the 28th annual Chocolate Fantasia.
As always, the event was a chocoholics’ dream and a challenge for the judges. More than 70 amateur and professional chefs participated, and more than 700 people enjoyed the fruits of their labors. It took about 100 volunteers to plan and keep it running smoothly.
All told, the event raised more than $11,000 for the Durango Community Shelter, the Southwest Safehouse and the VOA’s new veterans programs.
Before I go any further, I must applaud everyone who baked, whipped, molded, blended and otherwise worked their magic in cooking’s most delicious medium. These folks spend a lot of time devising recipes as well as shaping and decorating the spectacular creations that are the hallmark of Chocolate Fantasia. They do it with generosity of spirit to help house the more fragile of our friends and neighbors. It’s pretty remarkable, year after year.
The judges are generous with the prizes, but there are so many things to choose from, I’m surprised there aren’t more awards given.
The ultimate winner was Cathy Cray, whose “Oh My Ganache” (OMG for you texters) was awarded the First National Bank of Durango’s Dessert of the Year. I’m guessing all her friends will want a taste before the year comes to an end.
And, with a drumroll, here are the rest of the folks who will have bragging rights until next February:
For the People’s Choice Award:
First Place – the Strater Hotel for “Together We Triomphe,” complete with a mini-Arc de Triomphe.
Second Place – Cream Bean Berry for “Stick It”
Third Place – Wines of the San Juan for “Cabernet Trumpette”
And Honorable Mention to Eolus for “Hazelnut Petit Fours”
The contest features both amateurs and professionals, and the amateurs are no slouches. The winners in the amateur taste category are:
First Place – Judie King for “Ooh-La-Lolly”
Second Place – Anna Kaufman for “Art-2-Eat”
Third Place – Betsy Clark for “Le Jazz Hot”
Amateur winners who nailed both taste and visual appearance:
First Place – Bethany Quimby for “Paris+Chocolate=Love”
Second Place – Annie Cox for “Madeleine De’Rango”
Third Place – Denise Spain for “Gateau Reine de Saba”
In the Just Kiddin’ Around category for the younger set, Bryce Mestas’ “La Tour Eiffel” was a hands-down showstopper.
And then there were the professionals. In the Visual category, Baskin-Robbins took first place with “La Crème Glace de Paris.”
In the Taste Category:
First Place – the Ore House for “Chocolate and Banana Croque Monsieur”
Second Place – Jean-Pierre Bakery for “Authentic French Macarons”
Third Place – Seasons Rotisserie & Grill for “Chocolate Expresso Pot de Crème”
And an Honorable Mention goes to Bread for “Gateau l’Opera.”
Leaving both the senses of seeing and tasting happy in the professional Visual and Taste category were:
First Place – Cocoa Euphoria for “Chocolate Love Affair”
Second Place – the Strater for its Triomphe
Third Place – Cream Bean Berry’s “Stick It.”
Third Place – Steamworks Brewing Co. for “Crêpes de la Gastronomie”
And the Honorable Mention goes to El Moro Spirits and Tavern for its clever “Pig Searching for Truffle”
Rave reviews go to event coordinator Deanna Jakino and Mandy Miller Winn of Celebrations.
Chocolate Fantasia seemed like a good time to catch up on the doings at the Volunteers of America because what its staff and volunteers do is so important to our community.
The Southwest Safehouse provides shelter, clothing, food counseling and life-building assistance to women and children fleeing domestic violence. In 2013, it sheltered 209 women and children for a total of 7,355 nights.
The Durango Community Shelter, which, in a community where the average rent is approaching $1,000 is more necessary than ever, provided 10,581 nights of shelter to 524 individuals, including 208 women and children.
The VOA is now knee-deep in its work with veterans. Housing support for veterans in the more rural areas of Colorado has been pretty iffy, and this is an important step.
The organization has two programs. The first, the Back Home Program, in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, helps veterans and their families who struggle with either housing loss or literal homelessness.
In the last year, VOA helped more than 60 households – more than 90 individuals, including children – maintain their housing stability, with a 92 percent success rate.
The other is called the Grant Per Diem Transitional Housing Program, which helps chronically homeless veterans through transitional housing. It’s not just a roof over their heads – although 24 veterans received housing at the Community Shelter last year – but also includes case management, referral services and a transition to permanent housing.
My thanks go to Cheryl Bryant, Cheri Murphy and VOA Executive Director Sarada Leavenworth for helping me pull a complicated story together.
Visit www.voacolorado.org and click on Southern Colorado to learn more; to donate, send checks to VOA, P.O. Box 2107, Durango, CO 81302.
Celebrating their birthdays with leftover chocolate and champagne from Valentine’s Day are Joey Kloepfer, David Wylie, Peggy Bull, Madeline Shaline, Dick Pearson, Maryann Fassett, Debbie Chilcoat, Bill Phillips, Patrick Cunnion, Mary Jane Hood, Ruth Micikas, Katy Pickard, Toni Senters, Mark Bauer, Glenn Bultmann, Jeff Ugai, Ru Huot, Susan Stuber, Connie Trautmann, Jane Maxey and Jo Etta Galbraith.
Special greetings go out to one of my favorite ladies, Carol Treat.
Whether you’re in the mood for German, Italian or Chinese, you’re likely to find it at the Durango High School’s Interact Club’s second annual International Dinner, which will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Durango Discovery Museum, 1333 Camino del Rio.
The inaugural dinner’s proceeds helped pay for club members to go on a service project to Guatemala. This year, they want to raise funds to brings members of a Guatemala Interact Club here on an exchange visit, and, if enough folks turn out, pay for a student in Zambia to attend secondary school.
Tickets are $25 for adults, and $12 for children 12 and under. There will also be a silent auction featuring local goods.
I know Durangoans like to do everything at the last minute, but I encourage people to get their tickets as soon as possiblebecause it will help the students plan. Tickets are available by contacting Haley Hudgens at email@example.com or 946-3217; or Laura Mummery at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-8772.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, raising our young people to be actively involved in making the world a better place is one of our responsibilities as a community. Supporting this kind of event is a fun way to do just that.
Continuing romantic celebrations after Valentine’s Day because now it’s their anniversaries are Thomas and Marna Burnett, Scott and Julie McCallister and Alan and Pat Stelter (30!).
Here’s how to reach me: email@example.com; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact information.