When I got an email from my Mum on my birthday saying my present was a tour at She, I was pretty excited. Half a day of chocolate - how could that not be fabulous? Her birthday is about a month after mine and a couple of weeks later when I was racking my brains for something she might like I realised that actually she'd be pretty keen to come along, being every bit as much the chocoholic as I am (it had to come from somewhere!), and these things are more fun when you're with someone, right? So guess what I gave her...
The tours are weekdays only, and they'll pick you up from and drop you back to Cathedral Square. As my parents live close to the other side of the hill we chose to drive, which also had the bonus of stress-free parking - no traffic jams in Governors Bay!
The cafe/restaurant is quite large, and despite it being a Monday quite a few groups were there for lunch, so it's obviously a popular spot.
We were greeted warmly by the lovely Arjuna and seated at a very comfortable sort of lounge area, which was set up with an array of gorgeous chocolates and chocolate-related paraphernalia.
Very soon after we were seated we were served decadent hot chocolates, which were rich, velvety and had the tiniest hint of chilli. I love the triangular mugs! Did you know that saucers were invented for hot chocolate, as it was so valuable no-one wanted to risk losing even a drop of it?
I don't want to spoil all the secrets so won't tell you everything I learnt, but I did learn a lot - about the history and uses of chocolate, the composition of what we eat now and how that particular incarnation came about, and about the growth and process surrounding the beans. And it was all very conversational and interactive, which made it even more interesting - I really felt it was tailored to us.
Morning tea was a chocolate fondue - we were advised to each take a little pot of chocolate, and try the various items dipped in it. Strawberries (always a winner), melon, kiwifruit, as well as avocado, salted crackers, and gouda cheese! Sounds weird, I know - I baulked a little at the idea of chocolate and cheese - but it was okay. Probably not good enough to put cheese out next time I have a chocolate fondue, but I can see how the flavour combo could work in other instances. I did quite like the avocado - and I'm a long-time fan of salt with my chocolate (will it gross you all out if I tell you that hot, fresh, salty fries dipped in a McDonald's sundae (chocolate or caramel) is a taste sensation?) so the crackers were a good match.
Next on the agenda was a tasting - we had five samples, and Arjuna taught us how to experience the chocolate, to smell, feel and really taste it. We wrote notes on smell, taste, texture etc. on a tasting sheet, and had to try to identify the cheapest and most expensive. They were all dark chocolate, and I easily picked the Cadbury and Whittakers ones - the sugary smell gave them away. The others were harder to pick - and in fact were brands I didn't know - and I preferred the Michel Cluizel one, but my least favourite ended up being the most expensive of the bunch - I think it was just too dark for my tastes!
We were then shown into the kitchen, and supplied with stunning little paper hats so we could watch the chocolatier at work. It's a bit of a chocoholic wonderland - and we were offered little tasters here and there, so our tastebuds wouldn't miss out on the fun. ;-) The chocolatier spoke about all the varieties they make, and how they specially design flavours for weddings, to represent the bride, the groom, and the union. How fantastic would that be, to have your own personalised chocolate flavour?
While we were gazing about in wonderment Arjuna queued up a video of Oonagh, the master chocolatier, exploring the cacao farm in Fiji where they source whole beans for their chocolate coated cacao beans and cacao nibs. Currently they can't source their chocolate from Fiji, as the equipment required to process the beans into chocolate are costly, and lack of stability has made large capital investment unviable, but it looks as though this may be a possibility in the future, so they have been working closely with the farmer and Fijian officials towards this.
It was fascinating to see something which really only appears to us in a very processed state growing - it is nice to understand where your food comes from and chocolate is one of those things we're so far removed from it can be easier just to accept it as we see it.
After our viewing we were shown to a table upstairs - did I mention the restaurant has spectacular views? It's always nice to have something nice to gaze upon as you eat your delicious lunch. Speaking of which...
At the end of our gluttony (almost) we were each presented with a certificate of chocolate appreciation. Well, I have appreciated chocolate for pretty much my entire life - but I learnt heaps from this day and definitely gained a finer appreciation for it. She Chocolat also have a Chocolate School, which sounds fantastic - you learn the hands-on stuff - and of course if you're just wanting the food component the restaurant is open to the public. And, trust me, the tour makes a truly great birthday present!
She Chocolat is located at 79 Main Road, Governors Bay, Lyttelton, Christchurch, ph 03 329 9222, www.shechocolat.com