In anticipation of my next trip to Melbourne ...

Adventures on a Chocolate Planet

Ever since the conquistadors brought back the Central American chocolate bean to the courts of Europe chocolate has retained both an exotic and an elitist flavour. (The new Spanish wife of Louis XIII decreed in 1615 that it could only be consumed by members of the French aristocracy.)

This is only reinforced in the opening this month of a new Mecca for chocoholics in Melbourne, Monsieur Truffe.

A French chocolatier of high distinction, Mr Truffe has expanded from the cramped quarters of Prahan Market into an artfully grungy shopfront on Collingwood's Smith Street. Recycled tables and chairs and an old-fashioned revolving atlas team with distressed designer wallpaper, while exquisite hot chocolate and tissanes are consumed from grandmotherly tea sets. The place has an intimate, homey feel, reinforced when softly-spoken proprietor, Thibault Fregoni, comes over to explain, in passionate detail, the provenance of the cocao beans (Papua New Guinea), and the fine gradations of caramel, honey and almond in his eponymous chocolate bars.

Monsieur Truffe takes it place in a select but burgeoning firmament of boutique chocolate shops in Melbourne. St Kilda favourite Cacao is still going strong – try their punchy Mocha – while the City's Cocoa-le-art is thriving in its second year – great chocolate mice – but current kings of the chocolate castle (and in danger of losing boutique status) are Koko Black – now in Carlton, the CBD, Camberwell, Chadstone and Canberra. For the city's most expensive chocolate (around $500 for four), go to the Chocolateria San Churro on Fitzroy's Brunswick Street and fork out for the Truffla del Oro, a dizzying mix of Venezuelan single origin chocolate, Moet & Chandon vintage champagne and 23-carat edible gold.

Of course, there's barely a self-respecting city anywhere in the world that wouldn't think to offer its own version of the cultured chocolate shop. For many years, Cafe Angelina, on Paris's Rue de Rivoli, was a personal place of genteel, if touristy, pilgrimage, for its super-creamy and world-famous hot chocolate. More recently, frequent work trips to San Francisco often involve a guilty pre-commute visit to Michael Recchiuti's artisan store in the iconic Ferry Building Marketplace. But my all time favourite is chocolate salon, Le Chocolat de H, in Tokyo's Ropongi Hills. It's hard to beat a truffle plate and a glass of red wine after an afternoon buying discounted shirts at Issey Miyake.

For those whose love of chocolate borders on the obsessive, the chocolate planet offers even more extended opportunities for the worship and enjoyment of the food of the gods. Try New York's 'sweet walks', visit Vienna's first Chocolate Museum and spend whole weekends at a time pursuing your passion in Chocolate Festivals from Virginia to New Brunswick to Dublin. As if gluttons for punishment, local Melbourne company, Chocoholic Tours, are even offering extra events by appointment during these school holidays. Get on the phone! I'll avoid the kids, and try and make it to Monsieur Truffe's tasting in late October...

Have you got a favourite chocolate shop at home or abroad?

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Simon Westcott, a former Lonely Planet publisher, is also a contributing editor to Travel + Leisure Australia magazine.
Dishing it out

October 14, 2008

Spitting in food is so passe. A book of waiters' rants lifts the lid on their revenge tactics.
By Kirsten Lawson.

EAT, drink and be wary. Waiter Rant is the kind of inside expose that can put you off eating out. It paints a picture of an industry rife with rip-offs and insincerity, where waiters are not so much out to look after you as to extract money, hoodwink and exact revenge.

Waiter Rant is a book by New York waiter Steve Dublanica, which grew out of his popular blog, It gives the lowdown on the upmarket end of New York eating, where the main preoccupation of the waiting staff at his Italian restaurant seems to be how much they can make in tips.

And if you upset your waiter, watch out.

Waiters do spit in food, Dublanica writes, although he prefers psychological revenge and power plays. Like embarrassing you by pretending your credit card has a problem, engaging in subtle put-downs in front of your dining companions, losing your reservation, seating you next to the men's room and much worse. These tactics are usually reserved, it seems, for truly objectionable, abusive customers. But if you don't tip properly, watch out.

More commonly, it's a game of subtle manipulation. When you ask what's good in a restaurant, the waiter will point you to the dish that the chef wants to move - because there is too much of it, or it's in danger of going off.

"A good server can make a customer order anything he or she feels like selling," Dublanica says, recounting an exchange with a customer who wanted pollo cardinale.

" 'Pollo cardinale's usually served in autumn, sir," I explain. 'To celebrate new year's, the chef's offering the traditional winter dishes he grew up with in Tuscany.' My explanation is complete and utter bullshit." The most difficult customers are foodies, who want to know whether the salmon is farmed, the fish frozen, the chicken free-range, the balsamic fancy.

"Foodies are usually middle-aged people who fancy themselves (as) experts on food, wine and the finer points of table service," he writes. "There's nothing wrong with being a gourmand, but foodies are not gourmands. They're gourmand wannabes. Foodies think they can watch one TV show and become the food critic for the New York Times."

Another revelation in the book is the amount of information restaurants hold on their diners. Their databases help them track not only birthdays, favourite waiters and special requests, but also record addresses, credit card details, and allow staff to keep notes on people - how good you are at tipping, how long you take to eat, whether they like you or not.

"Here's a dining tip: if you never get the table you want at your favourite restaurant, or if reservations on a special day are always hard to come by, someone at that restaurant doesn't like you," he reveals.

How to be a good customer:

- Make reservations and keep them. On a Friday or Saturday night it's not unusual for 20% of a restaurant's reservations not to show up. Not only is that rude, it hurts the restaurant's bottom line, forcing management to overbook. If you've ever wondered why your table's never ready when you show up for your reservation on time, that's usually the reason.

- If you're going to be late for your reservation, please call. After half an hour you might not get the special table you requested, but you'll still get in. An hour late? Don't even bother.

- Never say, I'm friends with the owner. Restaurant owners don't have friends. This marks you as a clueless poseur the moment you walk in the door.

- Leave your children at home if possible.

- Be polite. Say please and thank you.

- Never say, Do you know who I am? "Why? Did you forget who you are?"

- Do not snap your fingers to get the waiter's attention. Remember, we have shears that cut through bone in the kitchen.

- Do not use your mobile phone in the restaurant. Unless you're a heart-transplant surgeon on standby, turn it off.

- Please make your server go through the specials only once.

- When ordering wine, don't sniff the cork.

- The secret to being treated like a regular customer? Be a regular customer.

- If you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to eat in the restaurant.

From Waiter Rant. Behind the scenes of eating out by A.Waiter. John Murray. $35.

This story was found at:
Wild food, niche health targeting and customisation identified among ten top trends for 2009
Author: Justin Smith
Source: BI-ME
Published: 09-10-2008

INTERNATIONAL. food&drink towers today publishes its widely anticipated ‘ten top trends’ report. The third annual edition of the trends report will be officially published at the food&drink towers second birthday networking party, to be held in London.

The exclusive new report highlights a wealth of new product development and marketing opportunities for brands in 2009, which is set to be some of the most turbulent and difficult years for the food&drink industry.

Helen Lewis, author of the report and managing director of food&drink towers, said: “The annual trends report always receives the highest number of hits on the website and each year more and more people register to download their free copy. Its popularity is not surprising: staying on top of emerging and future trends is not only imperative in today’s competitive market, but it can be pretty expensive too."The whole ethos behind food&drink towers, which was established two years ago on 9 October 2006, is to make life easier for everyone involved in the industry: PRs, journalists, producers, retailers, suppliers, and even consumers. Reports like this usually come at a premium but we wanted to offer our loyal registered members a chance to thrive during the credit crunch rather than crumble, so it’s completely free.”

Some findings from the report include:
• “With consumers becoming more aware of the negative impact on their health of artificial ingredients such as trans fats and artificial sweeteners, products must be open and honest about the ingredients they choose to use.”
• “Beauty may only be skin deep but the food and drink industry has cottoned on to our desire to be beautiful for longer. Anti-ageing, anti-blemish, anti-this, anti-that products are all appearing on shelves, some making fairly grandiose promises.”
• “As well as making life easier for people on the go, the notion of ‘instant nutrition’ is also predicted to make an impact on NPD in food and drink over the next year. Instant nutrition refers to the idea that people can purchase a product that provides a couple of portions of their five-a-day in one serving, or that is packed with more antioxidants than they’d get eating three platefuls of vegetables.”
• “One in three consumers are becoming more self-sufficient by growing their own fruit and vegetables.”

“In 2009, there will be plenty of opportunities for innovative, fast-thinking, reactive and flexible brands. Despite the credit crunch, the food and drink industry does have options. Consumers are increasingly choosing to stay in and cook a ‘special meal’ rather than pay restaurant prices," said Lewis, also a freelance food and drink journalist.

"We’ve covered many stories about this on the news pages at food&drink towers, and expect plenty more headlines along the same vein in 2009. There is, therefore, room for healthy, ethical, premium and unusual brands, but they must keep their promises and above all, should guarantee high quality and full flavour to avoid losing out to the competition."

The top trends for 2008 are:
• Artificial intelligence
• Beauty foods
• Cost-cutters
• Fast-food nation
• Grow your own
• Meet more unusual meat
• Niche health targeting
• Customisation
• Performance boosters
• The personal touch

Registered members of food&drink towers can download the report, free of charge, at

Registration is free and once registered you can access the daily news stories, press release archive, features, competitions, events information and much more on the food and beverage industry.