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Voyageur's Best of Features of 2002

Howie Pickles

Oh, what a way to go...
A first time visit to 'Death by Chocolate'
by Cynthia Brekke  |  February 19, 2002

If I couldn't die in the arms of my husband, this is the way I'd want to go. Tuesday, February 12, was the fifth-annual 'Death by Chocolate', held in the Great Room of the Radisson Hotel in Duluth. Heading in to the event, we didn't spot any dead bodies - yet. But wait, there was harp music! Yes, we were headed for heaven — chocolate heaven!

I was accompanied by Voyageur Press photographer extraordinaire, John Grones, and the creator/chef of the diabolical recipe for the 'Fantastic Hearts' (and my mommy), Betty Gephart.

My approach was simple: I was going to die and go to heaven, surrounded by chocolate, chocolate, chocolate! What I hadn't factored in: What if I didn't LIKE everything? All chocolates are not created equal. Yes, it is possible to wreck chocolate.

Howie Pickles, Chef and owner of Fireside Inn, was gracious enough to have arranged for three passes at the door for us. He had already handed out hundreds of 'Fantastic Hearts' by the time we arrived, but we were not too late.

The room was set up with tables on the wall perimeter for the individual chefs and their offerings. The center of the room was set up with tables and people eating the offerings. It was like a craft fair, only the crafts were made of chocolate.

We went to our right, to the first table along the wall. Cheese cake and chocolate. These were soooo good that I had to go by the table before we left to sample another. Second table: chocolate truffles and a hot cocoa to-die-for, almost too rich. Then we came to Fireside's table and the 'Fantastic Hearts'.

As I glanced around the room, the colorful papers that the hearts were placed in were everywhere on the tables — some people had two or three, but there was, at least, one on every plate. They were a big hit.

We came across mocha coffee, more truffles, brownies, and even a chocolate custard. The custard was a good example of how to wreck chocolate. There was another table with fudge, and lots of it, made by a fellow who was recently featured in the Duluth News Tribune for having perfected a certain recipe. It was okay, but I like my Mother's better. There were also some small, round truffles that literally melted away when eaten. One, however, was rolled in straight cocoa. Talk about your bitter outside.

Chocolate is actually not that bad for you, and the darker the chocolate the better. Dark chocolate uses more of the cocoa bean, which is proven to contain antioxidants. However, everything in moderation... in other words, too much of a good thing is not necessarily a good thing.

Seated at a table, enjoying our goodies, we glanced over to a table of ladies nearby. John had an epiphany: let's do an unofficial survey and see which chocolates they liked best.

Without introducing ourselves to all the ladies, we sat down and asked them which they preferred. "The McGregor guy with the hearts over there," said Duluth Lakeside resident, Molly Buettner. The name 'Fireside' echoed around the table. "Yes, definitely the hearts," added her friend, Mary McClernon, also a resident of the Lakeside neighborhood. "I went over and said it was the best and he said 'here, take two more home'," she laughed. "But it wasn't just the flavor, it was the pretty papers."

The 'Fantastic Hearts', wrapped in Valentines cup cake papers, won hands down. All agreed that Betty Gephart's 'Fantastic Hearts' were clearly a hit, as every one of them had one... or two... or three.

They asked us what newspaper we were from and when John said McGregor, they laughed, realizing they had chosen our hometown chef's candy as their favorite, and had said what we wanted to hear. Just then, Howie wandered by and they all busted into applause and cheers.

It was a fantastic day for Fantastic Hearts and, even though we were plenty 'chocolated out', we still had pulses and were still breathing.

This article first appeared in the February 19, 2002 issue of the Voyageur Press.