The National Museum of the American Indian (Smithsonian Institution) hosted a free chocolate-making demonstration and tasting yesterday. Executive Chef Richard Hetzler explained how the Maya people cultivated the cocoa tree and used the beans found in its pod to make chocolate.
Originally, they dried and ground the beans, mixed the powder with milk, chili, and cinnamon, and served the concotion to royalty as a sacred beverage. Hence the modern scientific term for the cocoa tree is Theobroma cocoa, from the Greek for “god” and “food” combined with the Nahuatl (an Aztec tongue) word for the plant.
Chef Hetzler claimed that the Museum serves only fair trade chocolate and coffee, though he also referred to buying these fair trade products from “companies that own their own plantations,” which by definition means they are not fair trade, since fair trade requires buying from small producer-owned cooperatives. So the facts are unclear but Hetzler at least gave good lip service to organic, fair trade and sustainable in general.
Impressed with the free tastings we were given of his chocolate-covered dried apricot, chocolate tart, single origin Mexican dark chocolate, and hot chocolate, we decided to eat lunch in his restaurant. I was pleasantly shocked to see bottles of Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale lined up next to shelves loaded with Corona Light.
We had a delicious meal of dishes inspired by Native recipes from the Pacific Northwest: peanut chili soup; cedar plank-roasted wild-caught salmon with juniper berries; chili pepper roasted chayote with corn; wild rice with pinenuts cranberry, carrots, watercress, and spring onions; all washed down with Prickly Pear Agua Fresca and Double Barrel Ale. Oh, and a package of chili-rubbed bison jerky for the road. Yum!