UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Tasty chocolate program at UC Berkeley's Hearst Museum of Anthropology

– Experts will explore cacao's origins in Mesoamerica, its medicinal qualities and its starring role in gourmet cuisine and contemporary society during a "Culture of Chocolate" forum at the University of California, Berkeley's Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology on Sunday, Oct. 9.

The event concludes with a chocolate tasting hosted by some of the Bay Area's best artisan chocolate makers and sellers.

"Almost anyone who tastes chocolate loves it," said Kirsten Tripplett, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's Archaeological Research Facility who will moderate the forum. Tripplett has an intense appreciation of and curiosity about chocolate's diverse role in history, agriculture and nature, politics and business, health, literature and other fields.

"It's multi-layered, and that's part of the allure of chocolate for me as an academic," she said. "And all of us on the panel have something different we're bringing to the table."

The forum begins at 1 p.m. in Room 112 of Wurster Hall. In addition to Tripplett, participants will include:

  • Robert Steinberg, co-founder of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Inc., and a physician and accomplished cook, who will talk about chocolate from the consumer's point of view. Scharffen Berger was recently purchased by the Hershey Company.

  • UC Berkeley Anthropology Professor Rosemary Joyce, with new findings from her latest research in Honduras about cacao drinks in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica and the role of chocolate in ritual and wealth in ancient societies.

  • Mexican chef-teacher-culinary researcher Agustín Gaytán, who will discuss chocolate in Mexican cooking from a personal and historical perspective.

  • Louis E. Grivetti, a UC Davis nutrition professor, will review chocolate's cultural and medical roles from the pre-Hispanic era and early days of Spanish rule in Central America to Spanish California, the period of Mexican rule and pre- Gold Rush era. His research is funded by the candy company, Mars, Inc.

  • Adam Smith, owner of Fog City News in San Francisco, where Smith and his staff have tasted, evaluated and documented more than 2,500 types of chocolate. Smith will discuss chocolate flavor profiles and trends.

  • Alice Medrich, founder of the chocolate dessert company Cocolat and a two-time winner of James Beard Cookbook of the Year award for books on chocolate. She will talk about how various properties of chocolate respond to cooking and baking.

Hosting the chocolate tasting stations in the museum's courtyard from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. will be Scharffen Berger, Cacao Anasa, Lisa Lerner Chocolates, Michael Misher Chocolates, Fog City News and The Chocolate Café. Chocolate in some traditional Mexican foods will be served by Berkeley's Tacubaya, La Taqueria de Dona Tomas and Picante Cocina Mexicana, along with chef Gaytán. Medrich will host a book-signing.

UC Berkeley's Joyce has studied chocolate's origins and long pondered its history in society.

"Who would have thought that letting the pulp and seeds of cacao pods ferment would develop the subtle taste of chocolate, given the bitterness of the pulp itself?" she asked. .

She said that the transformation may well have been an accidental by-product of a more direct search for interesting variation in alcoholic beverages.

"Whatever the original reason, chocolate, with its great variety of forms and demanding requirements for growth has been prized from at least the time of the Olmecs, Mesoamerica's first economically stratified society, to today," Joyce said.

Despite her role in the panel discussion next month, Tripplett, who has been studying the presence and distribution of wild, native cacao in Mexico and Belize, is not fond of chocolate.

However, "If I'm in 'Mayaland,' I always eat chocolate when it's given to me, because it's polite," she said.

Tickets for the Hearst museum event are $15 for the general public and $12 for museum members as well as for UC Berkeley faculty, staff and students. Each ticket also includes admission to the museum's exhibit, "Tesoros Escondidos: Hidden Treasure From the Mexican Collections."

Space is limited. Tickets can be bought in advance by calling (510) 643-7649 or picking up an order form at the museum's information desk in the lobby of Kroeber Hall, near the intersection of Bancroft Way and College Avenue.

For more information about the Hearst Museum, see http://hearstmuseum.berkeley.edu.