Open the door to many hotel rooms and you're likely to find yourself confronted with lots of chocolate. The welcome basket of fruit or the complimentary bottle of wine has been replaced by a devastating array of chocolate truffles, bars, cakes, tortes and, yes, even chocolate festivals.
Hotels have suddenly discovered chocolate in a very big way, and guests are devouring the latest hotel amenity in record quantities.
The hotel chocolate craze goes beyond those little chocolate mint squares that many hotels use for their evening pillow "turn down" services.
For example, the Hyatt Regency in Monterey spends more than $5,000 a year on the mints. But they spend just as much making their own specialty chocolates for guests, using imported Belgian chocolate for their daily supply of truffles.
Most guests arriving at the Drake hotel in New York can't leave the front desk without succumbing to the temptation to reach into a large glass bowl for a handful of the small Swiss chocolate bars the hotel provides its visitors. (The Drake reportedly spends more than $100,000 a year refilling the bowl.)
A Ball in Seattle
The Seattle Sheraton just celebrated its second annual gala chocolate ball. Pastry chef Richard Wittman made more than 4,000 special chocolate goodies for the charity event, which also featured the Chocolate Truffle Shuffle (white chocolate mousse torte, chocolate truffle torte and Grand Marnier chocolate tortes were the favorites).
Wittman presents a 27-foot-long dessert buffet every night. Of the 22 cakes, rolls, cookies, brownies and rolls on the table, 16 are chocolate.
In Miami Beach, the Fontainebleau Hilton hotel's third annual chocolate festival drew 6,000 visitors. The Grand Hotel in Washington uses more than 130,000 pieces of Godiva chocolate a year.
Guests arriving at the Halekulani hotel in Honolulu get more than a lei greeting. Often waiting for them in their rooms is an assortment of handmade chocolate hazelnut or dark chocolate chestnut truffles.
"We look at chocolate as an important part of our overall service," says Brad Jencks, manager of the Halekulani. "If you like chocolate, you'll like this hotel."
The hotel's Swiss pastry chef, Franz Schaier, has been making chocolate since he was 12 years old. At the Halekulani, Schaier and his assistants work in an area called the "chocolate room," making 25,000 to 30,000 chocolate candies for the hotel guests each month.
The hotel chocolate boom is also going strong overseas, and in some locations not especially known for their chocolate. In Bangkok, the Regent hotel not only makes their own chocolates but is one of the few locations in Thailand where you can buy really great chocolates, from its store inside the hotel.
At the Gleneagles hotel in Scotland, the legendary golf course is getting some competition from the hotel's pastry chef.
"There's been a whole new appreciation of chocolate here," says Gleneagles' general manager Peter Lederer. "In years past, the hotel shops might have sold occasional Hershey bars, but not anymore. Almost all of our guests seem to be admitted chocoholics, and we now cater to them."
Tartans Go Tasty
Pastry chef Phillip Kuus makes and delivers 200 boxes of handmade chocolates a day to Gleneagles guests. At lunchtime buffets, chocolate sculptures of grand pianos, deer and specialty Scottish tartans are on display--and often eaten as dessert.
Kuus varies the style of the 300 pounds of milk, white and dark chocolate he makes daily from large blocks of imported Swiss Lindt chocolate, alternating walnut, coffee, hazelnut, praline and mint fillings. "And we never seem to stop making the chocolate," he says. "It's the one item that never stays in the guests' rooms very long."
In Vienna, a major chocolate capital, guests at the Intercontinental are given small poplar boxes. Inside, covered with chocolate, is a thick, rich Vienna Hofburg torte (sponge cake, complete with roasted hazelnuts, covered with "pariser creme" and iced with--you know). "We like to call it our calorie bomb," says Peter Martin, the hotel's resident manager.
But the chocolate cakes have been doing anything but bombing. In the last three years, the Intercontinental, which is also the official caterer for Austria's Hofburg Palace, has made more than 300,000 of them for its hotel guests.
In Los Angeles, the Century Plaza is a close second in chocolate volume, using more than 1,500 pounds of the stuff each month.
"I'm a chocoholic," chef Raymond Hofmeister admits. "I love all quality chocolate but I'm very particular about what we do here."
VIP guests at the Century Plaza receive baskets made of chocolate, appropriately filled with truffles. Hofmeister also makes candy boxes of chocolate in either a modern or antique style, filled with dark and white chocolates, and with personal messages often inscribed on the boxes for special guests.