Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Good for you: Chocoholics find their calling in Portland

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Medical researchers — likely motivated by more than just academic curiosity — continue to explore the healing power of chocolate. Researchers from the Netherlands reported just last month that older men who ate chocolate regularly were less likely to die over the course of 15 years than peers who didn’t.

But why wait until you’re older? Sunday’s Chocolate Lovers’ Fling gives you the opportunity to start now, in style, and boasts a better side effect than most foods: it helps a good cause.

The event is the main fundraiser for Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, which staffs a round-the-clock hotline handling 2500 calls a year, school-visiting prevention and education programs, and support groups for victims of sexual assault. Most of the work, including visits to hospital emergency rooms to counsel recent victims, is done by volunteers.

The need is great: In 2004, there were an average of 260 forcible rapes each day nationwide, according to FBI statistics. In Maine, there were 313 rapes or attempted rapes reported to police in 2004, or one every 28 hours and 4 minutes. Barely half of them — 51 percent — were solved by police, according to state records. And those crimes are only those reported.

But the topic is touchy. “I understand why people don’t want to talk about it,” says Cyndi Amato, the group’s executive director, who admits the chocolate-tasting event is an idea that draws people and donations in, without making them address the complex social issues at the same time. Amato is even taking steps to involve more kids and families, letting kids under 10 in for free for the first time, and creating a “kids corner” where they can decorate cookies that will be judged and win prizes, just like the real chefs in the rest of the event, hailing from restaurants, chocolate shops, caterers, bakeries, and other shops around southern Maine.

“I love chocolate and it’s a really, really good cause,” says Mary Paine, owner, chef, and manager at Pepperclub, 78 Middle Street, Portland. She is making a vegan and wheat- (gluten-) free chocolate cake made with tofu, soy milk, and brown rice syrup, as well as something that might be called “anti-vegan,” a Ghirardelli-chocolate cheesecake including eggs, cream cheese, and butter.

“I eat chocolate every single day,” Paine says, but she has had to do without this year — she gave chocolate up for Lent, and swears that in all her preparatory mixing and baking, she has not tasted a drop.

Paine is less competitive, and by her own admission less artistic, than many of the folks who enter complex structures of chocolaty goodness into the event’s competition, of which I will be one of several judges.

Christian Gordon, for example, will represent the restaurant where he is general manager and corporate executive chef, Federal Jack’s Restaurant and Brewpub in Kennebunk (owned by Sea Dog Brewing) with a cinnamon white-chocolate ginger-beer float using Sea Dog’s Eli’s Ginger Beer and hand-made ice cream.

In the past he has entered chocolate flourless tortes, a chocolate banana spring roll, chocolate raspberry raviolis (“that lost”), and chocolate nachos (“a big hit”). Like Paine a longtime participant in the event, Gordon sees it as a way to help out an organization that has assisted some friends of his through the hotline.

“I don’t really eat chocolate,” he says. “I like playing with it, making stuff with it.”

Chocolate Lovers’ Fling | March 26, 1-4 pm | Holiday Inn By The Bay, 88 Spring St, Portland | $20, free for children under 10 | 207.828.1035 | confidential hotline at 1.800.313.9900

On the Web
Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine: