Mon, Jan. 27

Miniature Art & Chocolate

Miniature art will be at the food stations as well as on the walls of the Sedona Arts Center (SAC), when SAC's annual miniature exhibition and silent auction comes to a close with a chocolate and champagne reception on Thursday, Dec. 1, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Thanks to the generosity of a Sedona art patron (who prefers to be anonymous), chocolate artist Alan Staker, of Dark Chocolate and Pastry Design in Phoenix, will make his Sedona debut that evening. The event will be a chocolate-lover's dream! In addition to the irresistibly intimate works of art, there will be a banquet of chocolate‹hundreds of luscious, silky and sensually sumptuous petit fours that will turn heads and tickle palates.

Staker, whose training is impeccable (he graduated first in his class in pastry at the esteemed Le Cordon Bleu in Paris), has prepared a chocolate-tasting menu that will highlight estate-grown chocolate. All dark, of course. (Milk in milk chocolate tends to mask flavors.)

Like wine, chocolate takes on the character of its location.

"Each chocolate has different qualities, depending on how it is produced," says Staker.

This character changes from country to country, region to region, and plantation to plantation because of differences in soil, weather conditions and the trees themselves.

Artisan chocolatiers seek out beans with distinctive flavors‹and then create with them. The French producers are some of Staker's favorites, and Michel Cluizel tops the list. The Cluizel family business is one of the market's largest independent producers of fine chocolate from bean to finished product. The cacao beans come from plantations around the world, including Sumatra, Venezuela, Ghana, Java and Ivory Coast. Other cocoa-growing regions include Ecuador, Grenada, Jamaica, Madagascar, Indonesia and Trinidad.

Many of Shaker's favorite chocolate suppliers will be highlighted at the reception. The subtle variations will make the tasting a truly memorable experience.

"It's all in the quality of the chocolate, especially with simple recipes like éclair," says Staker. "That's where the nuances in the flavor are most important. You need variations on the standard to keep it exciting."

There are so many kinds of chocolate; it's hard to choose.

No matter which one you pick, you just can't lose.

Staker's repertoire has been built up over the years, including adaptations on such perennial favorites as cream puffs, which he has turned into a chocolate-rum pairing, topped off with a hard caramel flat top and edible gold leaf. He will also be bringing chocolate-dipped fruit, chocolate éclairs, chocolate-praline tarts with a protrusion of fresh praline, miniature flourless chocolate cake with lavender, napoleon of chocolate shards filled with chocolate-raspberry cream, chocolate-peppermint rounds on a flaky pastry disk, fresh fruit tarts with chocolate pastry cream, and layered chocolate macaroon disks with chocolate ganache and pistachio pastry cream.

Shaker has an additional talent that will delight guests at the reception. He knows how to dress up confections with exquisite sugar work.

"Everyone is invited to stop by to the grand finale of the miniature exhibition, which is open to the public," says SAC Executive Director Karen Ely.

The event, which coincides with First Thursday in the Galleries, is a great place to enjoy artistry in many different forms‹and to get a head start on holiday shopping.

For more information, call 282-3809 or visit

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