Food of the gods on the island of the gods

The magical world of raw chocolate

Legend has it that the first cacao beans came from paradise and lent wisdom and power to the person that ate them.  Deep in the tropical rainforests of central America, ancient Mayans  used ground cocoa beans in wedding rituals and for healing magic. To the Aztecs it was known as the food of the gods; and it is said that the  god Quetzalcoatl, was  kicked out of paradise for giving chocolate to the human race.

Most of us have experienced the ‘feel good factor’ of chocolate, its smooth exotic taste known to induce feelings of euphoria, even its aroma is enough to promote feelings of well being and happiness.  But if you are reading this while munching on a Mars Bar, its time to think again. While mass produced store bought confectionery might taste good and have a small amount of nutritional benefits,  this is sadly outweighed by vast amounts of chemicals, refined fats and sugars.

Raw chocolate, on the other hand provides a dose of pure natural goodness and is packed with magnesium, antioxidants and  a taste far superior to anything you will find on a supermarket shelf. In its purest form chocolate contains  an abundance of Tryptophan, a substance which triggers a reaction in the brain and creates a feeling of elation and giddiness. It is also packed with  Anandamide a name derived from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means bliss. Also known as the love chemical, Anandamide induces feelings of euphoria…. just like falling in love. While cooking and processing chocolate destroys much of its natural goodness, raw chocolate is healthy for the mind, body and soul.

A number of places in Bali are now making raw chocolate, but Alchemy, a quirky health cafe in Ubud has the best,  with its  gleaming refrigerator shelves stocked with a dazzling display of cakes, candy and chocolates that don’t just taste good, they are good for you. The slabs of dense chewy chocolate bars are seriously ‘to die for’ (or at least to ‘drive to Ubud for….’) I also love the homemade bounty bars filled with fresh shredded coconut, the dark peppermint infused Stevia Mint Drops and the coconut dusted truffles. Bali Buddha also has a good selection, including lovely heart-shaped chocolate truffles, while Desa Seni serves up a tasty range of energy balls – just the thing after a yoga session. The raw chocolate dream pie at Clear Cafe in Ubud also deserves a mention – it is positively dreamy! It is also worth paying a visit to Five Elements in Mambal, a divine eco retreat offering gourmet raw cusisine that provides one of the most profound dining experiences on the island. Actually, the first time I tried raw chocolate was here and it was a moment I will never forget.

One of the newest venues on Bali’s raw chocolate scene is the inspiring Bamboo Chocolate Factory, also in Mambal (just near the Green School.) The soaring bamboo building rises from a sea of tropical forests and has been created by Big Tree farms who work with local farmers to produce organic ingredients such as salt and pepper, vanilla, cashews and honey.  You can join a tour of the factory, which starts with  a cup of thick and creamy organic hot chocolate to get you in the mood. A guide will then lead you along the labyrinth of bamboo hallways and cavernous rooms, following the trail of the humble cacao bean as it is transformed into a delicious chocolate bar. If images of oompa loompas and rivers of chocolate are flowing through your mind, think again; but if you are remembering the movie ‘Chocolate’, with the beautiful Vianne sensually grinding beans on a stone you are a little closer, but still not thinking big enough.  Actually, the six tonne, 70-year-old Mélangeur is so big it has its own room – with two giant granite rollers that crush the cacao beans (fermented, not roasted) into a thick paste.  Twelve hours later the paste is ready for the conche which turns it into a smooth liquid, while a cold press separates the butter. In the cashew sorting room, nuts are hand selected and trimmed, before making their way into chocolate bars.  Back in the tasting room you can try the fresh slabs of 70% bitter chocolate, which is also on sale, along with cold processed cacao powder, and cashew chocolate nibs. Chocolate-making workshops are planned to start from August so you will be able to create your own sublime concoctions.

photographs courtesy of Suki Zoe/Alchemy www.alchemybali.com

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Daniel Aaron interview

It is said that eyes are the windows of the soul, and the first thing I notice about Daniel Aaron are sparkling blue eyes that radiate calmness, compassion and knowingness. As the creator of Radiantly Alive, he aims to uplift our world through unique and powerfully transformative yoga experiences. But if you are picturing a white robed, long haired guru in sandalwood beads speaking in mantras, think again.  Daniel is very much a modern day yogi  (he prefers “human potential guide”) who also happens to make awesome raw chocolate, delves in astrology, runs yoga teacher training programs, and facilitates raw food chef courses. He has been keeping it real in Bali for the past five years and this month launches his Radiantly Alive studio in Ubud.

In a moment of serendipity our meeting coincides with Bali Spirit Festival, a 5-day celebration of yoga, music, dance where lush tropical gardens have been transformed into a hive of holistic activity. Impressive feats of balance are taking place in the acro yoga workshop, while pure crystal sound resonates from the crystal bowl healing workshop. I catch Daniel giving a talk on raw food in one of the pavilions. He is warm and likeable with a tendency to say “Y’all” a lot, in a way that is both embracing and endearing; he also has a natural gift for story telling which has the audience hanging on every word. “I have been playing around with stuff to feel better for a long time,” he tells us, tracing the origins of his transformation back 20 years. “I had a standard American sad diet with meat every meal…. I  was fat, depressed, and that was on a good day…… I started to think, this isn’t right, what can I do differently ?” Vegetarianism came first, but he likens this time to a crack in a windshield, which spread slowly but surely in a myriad of spiritual and health-driven directions as he journeyed across the globe, learning from dozens of teachers, living his life luminously, consciously, with full purpose.

His talk over, we go in search of fresh drinking coconuts, and wind up immersed in lively conversation as we sink into two squishy white bean bags under the shade of a palm tree. Daniel tells me that intuition led him to Bali, “I love the diversity of people, the fecundity of the land, the creativity that it inspires…. and I love coconuts,” he says. I ask if there was a cataclysmic moment that brought yoga into his life. He responds that a few years down the transformation road, a friend invited him to fire walk. Part of the preparation was a yoga class,  “I always thought yoga was for pansies,” he says “so I was surprised to find that I liked it.” He describes  Yoga as Alchemy, “You have to put in enough of a challenge and level of difficulty for it to work.” Daniel has a reputation for inspiring people to go beyond what they thought was possible, and tells me that he is motivated by “Making people feel more alive, more vibrant, encouraging them to discover, how good can it get?” Feeling good is obviously something that we all aspire to which leads logically to our next subject. Chocolate! Not mass produced confectionary high in sugar and milk, but the pure, gooey, healthy, raw kind, which he makes himself. I ask if he has any for me to try, he smiles, digs into his bag and produces a container with some of his latest creations.  I choose a dainty truffle infused with a hint of cardamom. It’s delicious, so good in fact that I could happily eat the whole lot, but that would be rather cheeky, so I manage to restrain myself.

The photographer arrives and we wander about the festival looking for the right backdrop; a west African dance workshop is underway and the tribal rhythms of the djembe create a lively soundtrack. Daniel is super chilled and easy going as we shoot in a number of locations; his  initial shyness with the camera surprises me – or perhaps its not shyness, but rather a refreshing sense of humility. Yet, his playfulness is revealed when he offers to climb into a tree and sit in lotus pose, it doesn’t look so comfortable, but he sees it though. I ask him to describe himself in three words and he comes up with “Inspiring” (yes, he has certainly inspired me,) “Quirky” (well, he is sitting in a tree,) and “Discerning” (obvious in his life choices.) I have just one last question;  what makes you happy? “Deep honesty, intimacy, seeing people transform, my daughter, nature, belly laughs, quality, artistry…..”

A few days later I am doing some background research and discover that Daniel is also a writer. His thoughts,  favourite poems, and inspirational quotes can be found scattered about his blog and websites, which is where I find this little gem that just says it all. “Our life is our project. We can make it an exceptional canvas of dreams and inspirations. Everything that passes through us is a brushstroke: each thought, bite of food, every interaction, how we spend our time, where we live. Life is as vibrant, alive, juicy and beautiful as we choose.”