Chocolate Festival in Naperville draws big crowd ready for something sweet
By David Sharos For The Sun January 19, 2013 7:15PM
Naperville resident Yanning Cai gives her daughter Annabelle Cheng, 4, a taste of brownie scooped out to facilitate decorating Saturday at Chocolate Festival at Neuqua Valley High School. Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 21, 2013 6:32AM
Whether seen as a comfort food or a gateway to romance, chocolate seems to never lose its universal appeal.
Chocolate was definitely on the minds of those who visited the Chocolate Festival in Naperville, held Saturday at the Neuqua Valley High School Freshman Center. The event is one of three annual fundraisers for 360 Youth Services.
The 10th annual festival featured 13 local vendors, along with two rooms offering cooking demonstrations as well as a bake-off contest featuring creations made by kids as well as grown-ups.
Special events and marketing coordinator Dawn Portner said entries for the bake-off were up from 35 a year ago to 46 this year and that interest in this year’s Chocolate Festival appears to have grown.
“I’ve received at least 20 to 25 calls this week with people asking about the event, the cost, parking, and so forth,” Portner said. “Generally, I never gets calls from the public about this beforehand and it appears that interest in the event is up.”
Last year’s festival netted $10,000 for 360 Youth Services, and organizers were hopeful this year’s total would be even higher. Streams of visitors were already pouring through hallways marked “Truffle Way” and “Fudge Street” not long after the 10 a.m. opening.
Leigh Ann May and her daughter Lauren, 15, a student who attends Neuqua, decided to enter the cooking contest.
“I brought red velvet cookies that I’ve made about four other times,” Lauren said. “I found the recipe online and they sort of taste like a brownie.”
Leigh Ann said this was the first time she and her daughter attended the Chocolate Festival and wanted to support the 360 Youth Services group. Chocolate, she said, has universal appeal.
“It’s just something that everyone seems to like whether it’s milk chocolate and dark chocolate which has health benefits,” she said. “Right now, Valentine’s Day is coming up and it’s always seen as comfort food.”
Kaley Letcher, 13, who lives in Naperville, decided to enter the kids’ baking competition again, and event she has won the past three years. She also was going to teach a kids’ class Saturday to show others how to make snowman cupcakes.
“With the weatherman saying there would be no snow right now, I figured since kids can’t make snowmen outside they might enjoy making them out of cupcakes inside,” Kaley said. “My grandmother bakes a lot in the kitchen and I used to watch her, and that’s how I learned. Sometimes I’ve made mistakes, but other people eat them and still say they’re really good.”
Kaley’s mother Tiffany said her daughter has even parlayed her baking interest into a small side business.
“Kaley started a business she calls ‘Let C Her Cupcakes’ and she has a lot of family and friends as clients,” Tiffany said. “She started this five years ago and has baked hundreds of cupcakes.”
Professional cupcake bakers also appeared at the Chocolate Festival including newcomer Miss Joan’s Cupcakes, located at 3344 S. Route 59 in Naperville, which opened this past June. Barry Selitzky, who operates the store along with his wife, said the popularity of chocolate lies in the fact that many see it as a dessert and eating it makes you feel good.
“People enjoy desserts and eating things that make them feel good, and that’s why I think people really love chocolate,” he said.
Chris Rodriguez of Villa Park came with his family including his 3-year-old son Logan and wife Shannon. Logan said peanut butter and chocolate is his favorite combination while his father noted “chocolate is popular, I guess, because of the taste.”
“I guess guys give girls chocolate because it’s sweet, but actually my wife here prefers diamonds,” he said.
“You could always hide a diamond in the chocolate,” Shannon suggested.