| Chefs |

Ricardo Trillos of Cao Chocolates on the Fairchild Chocolate Festival, Single-Origin Cacao, and Life as a Chocolatier

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If not for cacao beans, we wouldn't have chocolate, not to mention Fairchild's 8th Annual International Chocolate Festival, a fest scheduled to take place from January 24 to 26.

With enticing cooking demos, a "Choco-Walk," bean lectures, decadent tastings, and even poetry -- guess who's the muse -- this year's event will be packed with activities.

We spoke with Ricardo Trillos, master chocolatier of Cao Chocolates in Miami and a Venezuelan native, who will offer up truffles, bars, and other treats at the festival.

See also: Icebox Cafe: Organic Eats in Sunset Harbour

Short Order: Where do you get your cacao from?

Ricardo Trillos: We have used beans from different regions in Venezuela like Chuao, Carenero, and Trincheras, among others. We don't mix our beans, so they have a unique flavor. It's a flavor with identity and more complexity. Most chocolate here in the United States is used with combinations of cacao beans.

I use beans from Venezuela because they're rated the top quality beans worldwide. Venezuela is one of the countries that sells the criollo beans, which is one of the best quality and more flavorful. For cacao beans, it's all about the land. In that, Venezuelans are lucky.

How did you become a chocolate maker?

It was actually by accident. I always liked chocolate and I wanted to do something better, something gourmet, something that I would be proud of making. I studied at the Ecole Professional School of Chocolate Arts, Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy, and did some private training with different pastry chefs/chocolatiers.

What are some of your more popular items?

We try to make non-traditional flavors. Our new best sellers are our almond crunchy bonbon -- almond-chocolate cream with a crunchy surprise, and also our Thai truffle --toasted coconut, curry, ginger, and freshly made peanut butter. Our orangettes and gingerettes are very popular as well, and we can't forget to mention our passion fruit, chai tea, and handmade double dark chocolate truffle.

Have you participated in the Fairchild Chocolate Festival before?

We were there last year. We were one of the most popular participants. After the chocolate festival, we've a great response, and that's why I'm coming back.

What do you plan to show at the festival?

We have a different set up designed for this year. We are coming with new products and new flavors. This year, we're going to blow people's minds.

What makes Cao Chocolates different from the rest?

Our priority is customer engagement, and we work hard every day to offer a product above the line using as many local ingredients as we can to support local farmers and growers and benefiting our local communities. Our goal with our business is to pass our knowledge to our customers so they can learn to appreciate, respect, and understand chocolate in a different way. We also support our local charities with donations made by us and all our amazing friends who support us every month at the "Sweet Nights Under the Stars" events.

For more information on Fairchild's 8th Annual International Chocolate Festival, visit the garden's website.

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