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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Like a Kid in a Candy Store

Burlington’s chocolate bash

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Four days, an entire festival, entirely devoted to a single type of food: chocolate. How sweet it is…

This Memorial Day weekend, the city of Burlington is hosting its 23rd annual ChocolateFest, the first major festival of the summer celebration season. Thanks to its location between Milwaukee and Chicago, along with themed contests and activities, fireworks and a parade—oh, and the ridiculous amount of chocolate it offers—this family-friendly event attracts a considerable crowd. Last year, ChocolateFest welcomed more than 44,000 visitors over the course of four days, generating more than $171,000 for nonprofit organizations, local charities and youth groups in the area.

Nestle, the largest food company in the world, is a founder and active sponsor of the festival. Nestle USA, designated one of “America’s Most Admired Food Companies” by Fortune magazine for the 12th consecutive year, built its Burlington chocolate plant in 1965. The facility currently manufactures sweet treats like Nestle Crunch, 100 Grand, Oh Henry, Goobers, Raisinets, Nesquik, as well as Toll House Semi-Sweet and Milk Chocolate Morsels. With a workforce of approximately 500 employees, Nestle has significant presence in the Burlington community.

Last year it was “Pirates of the Chocolate Be’an”; this year the theme of choice is “Alice in Chocolateland.” ChocolateFest’s organizers have created a dense list of diverse and creative activities, like Project Yum-Way, a contest that challenges contestants to design a wearable chocolate candywrapper ensemble. The fest is also hosting a geocache, a treasure-hunting game played throughout Chocolate City (aka Burlington) by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. Nestle supplies the ingredients for activities like the hands-on chocolate mural to benefit the Touch of Hope organization, candy-bar-eating contests, the chocolate Olympics and the chocolate create-a-thon.

This year’s ChocolateFest is playing host to more than 20 vendors in the air-conditioned Chocolate Experience tent and a variety of entertainers performing on four stages. Visitors can expect an impressive lineup of Milwaukeeland chefs creating signature chocolate desserts, like radio personality and home chef Carole Caine of WKLH Radio 96.5 and pastry chef Brian LeFeber of Ristorante Brissago, Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, among others.

If inhaling as much chocolate as possible in a given time period lacks the sophistication you are looking for on a Sunday evening, visit the Chocolate Experience tent at 8 p.m. for “Chocolate Indulgence.” The event, which features wine and chocolate pairing, chef demonstrations, chair massages, shopping and the music of Intimate Sounds Chamber Orchestra, requires a separate ticket ($10 online, $12 at the door) and includes a commemorative wine glass and pairing journal. Executive Chef Robert Ash of Kil@wat Restaurant and the mastermind behind the wickedly wonderful Chocolat Bar at the InterContinental Milwaukee’s CLEAR Lounge, will demonstrate how to create a chocolate caramel tart with red-wine-macerated berries and orange blossom whipped cream. Certified sommelier Jason Kerstein from Stone’s Throw Winery will host a four-wine/chocolate pairing with Joshua Gentine of the Cholive Co. a burgeoning Milwaukee-based business quickly gaining notoriety for its oliveshaped dark chocolate truffle filled with a silky Vermont whole cream ganache.

Burlington’s ChocolateFest invites visitors to follow the ways of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, eating and drinking and making new friends. Will you meet a caterpillar smoking a hookah on a mushroom? Well, that depends on how much chocolate you eat. General admission for the festival (May 22-25) can be purchased online at www.chocolatefest.com and select Burlington grocery stores.

Ticket prices: Adults: $7 Seniors: $6 Children 5-12: $3 Children 4 and under: Free

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