Indulging in good food is one thing, but there is something amazing about learning of the origin and stories behind it that makes the experience out of this world.
And so it was at the Banquete de Chocolate at Healesville’s Strathvea Guest House. A six-course feast featuring chocolate – or more precisely, cacao – courtesy of Fernando and Antonia Ramirez’s Tonantzin Chocolate. Fernando collaborated with Mardi Edwards, from Strathvea, to create a banquet to show the diversity of the prized superfood.
Strathvea Guest House is about a 10-minute drive out of Healesville, but feels like it is worlds away, especially when I was trying to find it on a dark, winter’s night!
But the cold was quickly forgotten as I stepped inside the historic house, feeling like I had stepped back in time. The house, built in the 1920s, is one of the last remaining historic guesthouses in the Yarra Valley and its old-world charm made me feel right at home.
Meeting other guests in the reading room as the fire roared, we were greeted with a glass of Tokar Estate rose and served fresh oysters with a cacao and balsamic dressing. To be honest, I had never had oysters before. I think it’s a texture thing. Anyway, I figured “what the heck”, and gulped one down.
The next dish – wow. Think party pies, but next level. The best party pies I’ve ever had! And it wasn’t just the fact they were slow-cooked beef with red wine and cacao. The pastry just melted in my mouth. The cacao flavour was very subtle, too.
But this night was not just about food. As we were enjoying the first bites of food, we were ushered outside as Fernando, clad in traditional Aztec dress, performed a ceremonial fire dance and cleansing ceremony and proceeded to take us on a journey of his Mexican heritage.
Chocolate as most of us know it these days is a far cry from the cacao in Mexican culture that was considered sacred and even used as a currency.
Tonantzin use Criollo cacao, the original and highest quality cacao that is around today. They say that variety represents only one per cent of world cacao production, and is fine and sweet, with complex flavour notes.
And for those looking for an excuse to eat the good, raw stuff (like you need one!) Tonantzin say it is “by far the most antioxidant-rich food on the planet and “is thought to be the most nutritionally complex food also, containing over 300 identifiable chemical compounds”.
They also say it contains lots of vitamins and minerals, regulates blood sugar, is a mood enhancer, helps cardiovascular function, promotes weight loss. And it can lower blood pressure and improve circulation, and promote cardiovascular function and health. Phew!
But back to dinner. We were seated in the cosy dining room for the next course – mushroom broth with pepper and cacao croutons. Amazing flavours and the croutons were huge! I wasn’t complaining about that!
We had a reading from guesthouse owner Toby and Fernando then took centre stage to tell us about the cacao bean and proceeded to start grinding it into a paste – to be used later on.
He told us about the traditional mole, a Mexican sauce that combines lots of difference sauces, and cacao! And the main course was served – free-range chicken with mole sauce.
Dessert came in the form of chocolate mousse with quandong shards and then poached tamarillos with white chocolate panna cotta. For someone that doesn’t eat a lot of sugar, I found these both to be delicious with just the right amount of sweetness, not too overpowering.
Served with a sweet vermouth and then a bitter orange aperitif, I could only have a sip of each.
The grand finale of the evening, which Fernando had been working on for a good hour or so, without even breaking a sweat it seemed, was the traditional hot chocolate, using the ground cacao beans. If you’re going to indulge in chocolate, this is the way to do it. And with that, I was officially cacao-ed out!
An amazing night of food, wine and tradition that made me really appreciate the humble cacao bean.
Strathvea offers B’n’B accommodation with cooked breakfasts and also hosts weddings, conferences and artists in residence. Check them out here.
* I was a complimentary guest for the night and all views are provided honestly and for informative purposes.