Check out the album of photos.
Traveling to Amsterdam
I have only ever been to the airport in Amsterdam before - Schipol - changing planes 'twixt here and there. So I was looking forward to spending a few days to learn and explore.
I know why I took the early train from London (8:05am out of St Pancras) - cost. The next train was more than double the price, even though the Brussels/Amsterdam leg was a local train. Taking the express from Brussels cut an hour off the travel time at a cost of more than 100 Euros more. And, at an exchange rate of US$1.45 to €1.00 - it adds up quickly.
I like to take trains in Europe to see the countryside, and the views from my seat between Brussels and Amsterdam did not disappoint. Canals, canal boats, windmills, carefully tended fields, all fit my idea of what the country would look like. Even the tram ride from the station to the hotel looked like I imagined it should.
A good thing I got to sightsee when I did, because that was basically all I got to see of Amsterdam - the rest of the time was spent in the hotel, at the venue located right next door to the hotel, or in-between, dodging rain drops.
I did get to do a little socializing with new Amsterdam friends Leslie and Erik Spande, owners of a local chocolate shop specializing in fine chocolate brands including many craft bar brands from the US. Erik and I share a connection to Portland, OR and craft beers as well as to chocolate, so we got along famously, and he met me in my hotel and we walked over to a local craft brewery (see the photo album) where we tried three of the excellent brews. Along the way we were joined by Erik's wife Leslie before heading out to a tapas restaurant - Pata Negra - right across from the hotel for a number of small plates and a pitcher of surprisingly good Sangria. I could not indulge too much or stay out too late as I learned I had been scheduled for an early morning video interview. So, I did not go out to explore the infamous Amsterdam nightlife.
The conference was organized in an unusual way, over the course of two days. The first day was open to chocolate professionals and the second day was open to the general public. There was a small number of tabletop exhibitors sampling and selling products, and an identical conference speaker program twice each day. One program ran from 1pm to 5pm, the other program ran from 7pm to 11pm. There were four pairs of speakers in each of two rooms. In the first half of the section I was in, Sepp Schönbächler, the head of R&D for Felchlin and Philipp Kaufmann of Original Beans spoke. The second half of the section saw me paired with Mott Green of the Grenada Chocolate Company. Other speakers in other sections included Santiago Peralta (Pacari), Bertil Akesson (Akesson's Organics), Maricel Presilla, and Martin Christy (seventypercent.com), plus two others from the local chocolate community and the host organization, the Tropical Institute.
From a participant perspective, I can see how this arrangement works, especially adding a discrete evening session after the work day. This is a very young conference (this is the second year), and this (Amsterdam) is a location with a very passionate and concerned audience interested in learning about fine foods and chocolate - and is a city that has a long historical connection with cacao in a country that is the still the largest processor of cacao (grindings). From a speaker perspective, it was not as interesting as it could have been and I would have appreciated the opportunity to hear some of the other presenters. That said, however, there is value in seeing the same presentation over and over as the presenter is forced to make it new and interesting each time for themselves. Listening to several of the speakers crystallized in me a new writing project idea, which I am still working on outlining. As it becomes clearer in my head and closer to happening, I will let everyone know.
And each time the speakers revealed something different, and responded to different questions, so I learned something new each time I sat through each presentation. I know I was forced to alter my presentation slightly each time I gave it, to make it new and interesting for me each time. My presentation was a 30-minute version of the talk I gave earlier this year to the Experimental Cuisine Collective in NYC, How Chocolate Gets Its Taste. That talk was originally 90 minutes, so cutting it down to 30 while still presenting the essence was a challenge. By the time I gave it the fourth time I felt extremely comfortable with it. I did have another agenda for giving the talk as I am working on turning it into an eBook that I hope to have available for sale by the end of the year or in early 2013 at the latest.
Given the conference schedule and ancillary responsibilities (interviews), the days were very long and exhausting. I very much appreciated being asked to participate and I hope to be asked back next year. Not content to rest (on my laurels or anything), after the program ended on Wednesday, I assisted the Vercruysses in loading out and traveled with them to Kortrijk, where they live and where there shop is. I would be spending the night (or, more correctly, what was left of it), then catching a train to Brussels the next morning to visit Pierre Marcolini and Laurent Gerbaud.
Here's to Living The Chocolate Life,
PS.I did have an idea for chocolate tourism in Holland and Belgium that I look to be partnering up in, so stay tuned for that!