With Valentine's Day not far off on the horizon, all true lovers’ thoughts turn to chocolate, a passion that got its start when Christopher Columbus brought some cocoa beans back to Spain from his explorations in what is now Central America. At first the product was a mystery until Spaniards learned how to make cocoa, a drink believed to be an aphrodisiac. The fad spread to France when the French King married a Spanish princess who brought cocoa beans as a part of her trousseau.
Drinking chocolate soon became a social pastime that spread throughout Europe and to the new colonies. Making solid chocolate and the confections that resulted was a hundred years later, but the passion for chocolate in all forms has never waned.
That's probably why the Chocolate Lovers Festival in the City of Fairfax is such a popular destination the first weekend in February.
The Festival began in 1992 to draw visitors to the Old Town Fairfax area and to foster cooperation among the city government, business community and local residents. That first festival attracted about 1,500 visitors, a number that grew to over 7,500 at last year's festival.
"I think primarily people come for the Taste of Chocolate event in Old Town Hall, " said Todd Hoffman, director of public affairs for the City of Fairfax. "People get to see chocolate confections, sample chocolate and purchase some if they wish.
" The Chocolate Challenge is pretty neat," he added. "The criterion is that the sculpture has to made entirely of chocolate to be considered for an award," he said.
The creative masterpieces of chefs and artists who take part in the Chocolate Challenge will be on display in Noor Mahal Banquet Hall, 10418 Main St., on Saturday, Feb. 2, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and on Sunday, Feb. 3, from noon-4 p.m. A silent auction for the confections will be held, and a donation of $1 for the event includes a raffle ticket.
The Taste of Chocolate takes place in Old Town Hall on Saturday, Feb. 2, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and on Sunday, Feb. 3, from noon-4 p.m. Visitors can sample sweets from area confectioners, including cakes, candies, brownies and fudges. Tastes are $1 each .
This year the Central Fairfax Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring “Some En-Chocolate Evening,” in addition to the Chocolate Challenge.
"There will be wine tasting, demonstrations by two chefs, a quartet of singing valentines, and a little bit of a tour of the house, " said Claire Luke, president of the Chamber. The event will be held at the Farr House at 10172 Main St. on Friday evening, Feb. 1. There will be two seatings at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., and there will be parking in a city lot at North and Old Lee Highway. Limousines will bring guests from the lot to Farr. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased from the Chamber at 703-591-2450.
The Chamber also handles reservations for the Chocolate Challenge Dinner, which will be held at the Bailiwick Inn at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 3. "There will be a five-course meal, and the winner of the Chocolate Challenge will be announced," said Luke. She noted that seating would be very limited and reservations can be made by calling the Chamber.
The Chocolate Challenge is bigger than ever, so it had to be moved from the Old Courthouse to Noor Mahal Banquet Hall. Contestants from all over entered their works this year with 32 pieces entered. Visitors may not only look, they can bid throughout the weekend in a silent auction that will close at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
"We have absolutely fantastic things coming in this year," said Kari Marretta of the Chamber, who runs the contest.
Both amateurs and professionals have entered the competition, which this year for the first time will be divided into two categories. Contestants include on the amateur side two high-school students from Chantilly High School and several students from Northern Virginia Community College. On the professional side, Lansdowne Resort has entered for the first time. Other entrants include the Fairfax County Country Club, The Hyatt Regency in Crystal City, and The Ritz-Carltons of both Tysons Corner and Arlington.
As always, the Kiwanis Club of Fairfax under the direction of Joe Ahr will host its Chocolate Lovers Pancake Breakfast Saturday, Feb. 2, from 8 a.m.-1 p.m., at Fire Station No. 3. The menu will feature pancakes, both regular and chocolate, and sausage. Coffee, juice and milk are also served. Cost is $5 per adult and $4 per child 6-10. Children under 6 are free.