Cocoa goes retro

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

“Rock to the Top” by Shaunda Quimby

By Karen Brucoli anesi
Special to tHe Herald

Chocoholics rocked to oldies and goodies Friday night at the 26th annual Chocolate Fantasia, a celebration of all things chocolate that raised about $10,000 for the Volunteers of America Southwest Safehouse and the Durango Community Shelter.

Amateur cooks and professional bakers flashed back to the ’50s, crafting chocolate record players, guitars, vintage cars and poodle-skirted sock hoppers in a themed salute to Elvis, courtesy of Ron Burnett’s “Elvis Experience” and the Encore Troupe.

Kids teeny-bopped through the expanse of more than 60 entries at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, balancing dessert plates heaped high with milk-chocolate-dipped strawberries, cupcakes, cookies and artfully crafted confections.

Parents, grandparents and more than 150 volunteers rounded out the crowd of about 800, sipping chocolate drinks and coffee, some snapping pictures of costumed revelers pointing the way to their favorite treats.

In the under-14 amateur category, 13-year-old Bethany Quimby got into the chocolate action with her “Dancing to the Beat of Chocolate” dessert, a double-layer-cake record player that earned her an honorable mention.

A student at Escalante Middle School, Quimby credited her two aunts for encouraging her to bake a chocolate Coca-Cola cake with an almond-flavored, cream cheese filling and decorate it with royal icing. Quimby, who learned to decorate cakes in 4-H, admitted that unlike the majority of the crowd, she prefers a good cup of chai tea over a cup of cocoa.

“But it’s still a lot of fun making stuff from chocolate, molding it into treats,” Quimby said, describing the multi-day process of baking, decorating and finally assembling the exhibit on-site.

Long-time volunteer Gail Downs, also a cake decorator and a former winner at the annual event, sliced and served Quimby’s dessert, marveling at the skill and enthusiasm reflected in the teen’s entry.

“Chocolate really is a feel-good type of thing like no other,” Downs said, noting chocolate’s malleability, the range of flavor differences and the varying strengths of cocoa.

Others, including David Smith, BP America’s chairman for local contributions who has judged past Chocolate Fantasias, were strictly impressed by taste.

“I’m an absolute chocoholic. Look that word up in the dictionary and you’ll see my picture,” Smith said. “Chocolate really has a soothing quality.”

Durango resident Sharon Camarca, who has attended most of the chocolate fundraisers over the past two decades, said nothing quite satisfies like chocolate. “It seems to satisfy a craving. If you don’t have a specific food in mind, chocolate fits the bill,” Camarca said.

“Some people drink alcohol and some people eat chocolate,” said Susie Francis of Durango. “For me, it’s a stress reliever. I’m totally into dark chocolate.”

Francis laughingly recounted the time that she enthusiastically took an ice pick to a chunk of dark chocolate at the end of a long day.

“My kids were young… You know, it was one of those days,” she said.

Children were playfully wired by night’s end, and some parents lamented the sugar high that accompanied the festivities.

A.J. Swenk, a fifth-grader at Bayfield Elementary School, bought tickets to Chocolate Fantasia for his parents and a best friend, said his mother, Vanessa Self. Self introduced her family to the fundraising event three years ago, when she purchased tickets for them as a Valentine treat.

“A couple months ago, A.J. started saving his weekly allowance so he could buy a birthday present ticket to the event for his best friend,” Self said. “He bought ours, too. If you go once, you’ll want to go again.”

Sue Johnson-Erner of Mancos, a Volunteers of America advisory board member and co-chairwoman of the event, said she volunteers her time in support of the wide range of services Volunteers of America provides to a large geographic region.

“I feel strongly about the mission of Volunteers of America and its role supporting the Safehouse and the community shelter,” Johnson-Erner said. “It’s really exciting that so many local restaurants support this event year after year. They really out-do themselves in their enthusiasm and their creations.”

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