Photos by Bill Veale Graphics
Mexico has a rich history when it comes to chocolate. The search for it became a recent adventure heading south into Ensenada. Just outside the tourist avenue on Lopez Mateo is a well-known Chocolatier where locals of the city go for a taste of very fine chocolate. Walking through the front door you are instantly enraptured with the nearly overwhelming fragrance of cakes baking and warm thick chocolate being fashioned into delicate thin coin and heart shapes filled with sweet surprises.
The lovely young proprietor, Yanette Guillion, is a story in herself. A woman, bright and articulate in several languages was taking business courses in college. “This shop wasn’t a goal I set out on. I wanted to travel the world.” But she loved to bake little cakes for her college friends. “It started out as 3 cakes, then it grew to 7, 8. 9. And one day my friend and I saw that, ‘hey, there is a business here.’ Still I wanted to travel.” Visiting Germany, Italy and Paris, France, she loved to taste the food of the regions. What about chocolate, I asked, who has the best chocolate? With a look of heaven on her face, “Oh, Mexico has the best chocolate in the world and Paris is second to none.”
She reached up and pulled down from a top shelf “The Bible of Chocolate.” The first chapter told of the mysterious beginnings with a Cacao tree in the vast jungles of Mesoamerican. It is a fascinating thought, who was that very first Mayan that discovered nature’s gift. The Cacao nut has a dark complex history, going back 4,000 years. The tree was considered sacred as were the large brown nuts hidden inside the giant pods, dangling from trunks and branches. The nuts were traded as a currency and became a symbol of power and authority. When fermented it became a strong libation. Our sugar highs of modern times are nothing compared to a thick Mayan hot chocolate with a touch of chili pepper. But, it was bitter brew until the Spanish came along, adding honey to the concoction. The Cacao was so valuable, that counterfeiting them began, some things don’t change it seems. The empty cacao shells were filled with clay. It was also considered an aphrodisiac. This is easy to understand when you need a chocolate fix, best described by a line out the movie Chocolat; “One little taste, can’t do any harm, such innocence. Then it melts ever so slowly on your tongue and tortures you with pleasure.”
How unfortunate these days that obtaining the Mexican chocolate from Chiapas is nearly impossible. It is a matter of transportation, customs and politics that blocks Yanette from being able to rely on it as a main source for her business. Today she buys only the best Belgium chocolate for her shop and even then it takes three months to arrive. Yanette is a very wise business woman and watches the market trends. One, that is extremely important today, is the market for chocolate with less or no sugar, specially focusing on those dealing with diabetes. Yanette makes special order cakes with 80% dark chocolate and Splenda. All her confections use the finest ingredients. “People come here because I am not like the other bakeries in town, I am committed to using the highest quality in every thing.”
One of the reasons she has become a successful entrepreneur after ten years in business is that she keeps a small charming shop. She was enticed by friends in the US to develop a larger operation. “It was a turning point in my life.” The question was to expand into the US market or stay in Baja. Long ago her mentor, Ruth, a gentle and wealthy woman, told her she must do what she loved. The decision was not easy, as she admires the US, but she had to ask “What did I really want for my life? To be a big success or to live from the heart doing what I love?” She pointed to the tiny globe resting on her desk, again revealing her passion for travel. Success has many definitions. Yanette’s has a quality of life that includes a fair amount of freedom.
Yanette has the special touch and her presentation of chocolates, cakes and cookies show her attention to detail. She brought out the cutest little bunt cake, drizzled with swirls of creamy frosting, carmel loops and chocolate trails. The first heavenly bite called for a second and third. Such a sweet and unique gift this would make, if you could keep yourself from eating it before giving it. A small plate held thin coins of dark chocolate that were amazingly satisfying. It was the little white chocolate hearts that challenged me to go beyond satisfaction.
A glass of red wine is well-known now as having benefit for the heart. But more recently research shows that so does chocolate, as well as many other surprising benefits. What one has to be careful of, however, is that the chocolate must be of the highest quality. Most chocolate over the counter will not provide what the ancient Cacao does. Andrew Baker, writer for The Telegraph, Life Style, sighted a list of ten benefits, a few of them here: Dark Chocolate may improve brain function because it contains stimulant substances like caffeine does. It may also significantly improve cognitive function in elderly. Researchers in Finland found that dark chocolate consumption lowers the risk of stroke by 17%! Chocolate is the “ultimate comfort food, a sure-fire stand-by in times of stress.” By eating a small square, allowing to melt on the tongue, Neuroscientist site that it triggers the hormones in the brain that say “I’m full” cutting down on the amount of food you eat. After dinner, it reduces night snacking; a weight loss remedy? Now isn’t that something!
With the taste of chocolate lingering on the tongue, it dawns on me, as I bid Yanette goodbye, that Baja California has the right stuff for health and happiness. Consider this, life in Baja California paired with dark rich chocolate and luscious red wine from the Guadalupe Valley, a true pairing of love and happy heart.
Directions: Chocolart, # 343 in the urban area of Ulbrich. Take Reforma north, right on Novena, then left on 16 de Septiembre. Google map for more detail. Parking behind the shop.
Chocolart for events and weddings: chocolarteventos(at)gmail.com
Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com