Cuckoo for Cocoa at the Brooklyn Chocolate Experiment

Professional pastry chefs Catherine Carlisle and Diana Holland's miniature chocolate cakes.
Professional pastry chefs Catherine Carlisle and Diana Holland's miniature chocolate cakes.
Eric Harvey Brown

Brooklyn was awash in sugar-shocked hipsters yesterday, some 350 of them packing the Bell House for its first-ever Brooklyn Chocolate Experiment. The consensus among some at Sunday's event was that, although Gotham food competitions are nothing new, the extent to which they're being dominated by ringers just might be. Out of 22 contestants, at least five teams included a professionally trained cook. That said, given that some chocophiles found the cover charge a bit sharp for the current economy ($20 in advance, $25 day of event), they didn't mind the appearance of pros on the scene.

Winner Roopa Marcello
Winner Roopa Marcello
Eric Harvey Brown

Nor did they mind the additional freebies presented after the evening of cocoa-a-plenty concluded: Jameson drinks, Mexican hot chocolate samples, cupcakes from Kumquat Cupcakery, and even more cookies from foodist judges Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs (Food52.com). By the end of the event, women were draped in various states of disrepair over the Bell House's vintage couches. As one daintily murmured, "My stomach is like, 'Fuck, you.'"

It wasn't just the ladies who sold out the event, which featured entries from the super-savory (a piquant lamb patty on pita drizzled with chocolate sauce) to the supersweet (two varieties of dense chocolate cake, one of which was made by two trained pastry chefs.) Hosts Theo Peck and Nick Suarez have also hosted beer and cheese cookoffs, but Suarez thought this one represented "the highest caliber of dishes I've ever seen at any amateur competition ever." Indeed, some top-notch goodies were on offer, from the #2 audience-choice dish of "pig in drag"--an unctuous cocoa-and-cayenne rubbed pork loin with chocolate barbecue sauce--to a coconut-dusted chocolate lollipop with mango sticky rice concocted by a former Bouley employee. Competitors were bringing, as Suarez noted, "their A games."

Including his mom. Yes, Bonnie Suarez has now placed in each of her son's competitions, this time receiving the second-place judge's award. Suarez bristles slightly when asked about this coincidence. "She's crazier than me and Theo put together; no holds barred. She brings her game face." Hesser, one of five judges, backed him up, admitting that Mom Suarez's pork belly with chocolate black beans and cauliflower was her personal favorite.

In the end, however, it was the modest Roopa Marcello, an amateur cook, who took top prizes in both the audience and judge categories with an ambitious Thai chile-lime chocolate ice cream in cocoa-ginger-Thai basil cones. As Suarez said later, "That's the sort of thing that's always going to be an audience winner. People love ice cream." Future competitors, take note.

Top prizes:

The Judges' Award 1st: Roopa Marcello's Thai Chocolate Ice Cream 2nd: Bonnie Suarez's Chocolate Black beans with cauliflower and pork belly 3rd: Attic Sugar Bakery's Hazelnut Brownies

The Audience Award 1st: Roopa Marcello's Thai Chocolate Ice Cream 2nd: Lei Takahashi's "Pig in Drag" 3rd: Team Peanut, Chocolate Chipotle Chili


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