by Rebecca M. Alvin
“I believe that any food you eat should be eaten without any regrets. It shouldn’t bring with it one ounce of regret,” says Paul Kearins, a Dutch chocolatier who will be coming to Provincetown this year as part of the Sixth Annual Chocolate Festival organized by Ann and Peter Okun of The Purple Feather Café and Treatery.
Kearins’ sentiments are perfectly aligned with the theme of this year’s festival, A Taste of Chocolat, referring to the 2000 Lasse Hallstrom film starring Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, and Juliette Binoche. In that enormously popular film, a chocolatiere (Binoche) is under fire from the local religious leaders for tempting the townsfolk with her delightful delicacies during the season of Lent. The message of the film is that to indulge in the finer things in life is to really understand the meaning of life…. to enjoy.
Weary of sounding snobbish, Kearins admits there is a very different approach to chocolate in America than there is in Europe. In America there is a certain “candy culture,” he explains. But for Kearins, artisanal chocolates like those he makes by hand are not candy – they are chocolate, and that is something very different. He is optimistic, though, about recent trends toward understanding where our foods come from and embracing artisanal products.
“The American public is becoming much more aware and appreciative of artisan products… I think America has some amazing talent in the artisan world, and good food, quality food has become very much in the public eye,” he explains.
Kearins was born in England but really grew as a chocolatier in the Netherlands where he worked for Puccini. “I realized then that my crazy ideas weren’t that crazy… that there were others who thought the same way I did about baking and chocolate,” he recalls with delight from Georgia, where he has started a line of chocolates called Chocolatasm.
This connection he felt at Puccini has been duplicated in his relationship with The Purple Feather’s chocolatiere Ann Okun. “We both have that same curiosity for what can we do next,” he says.
At this year’s festival, the main event is a screening of Chocolat at the Waters Edge Cinema, followed by a chocolate tasting where we will have the chance to taste some unique creations such as a special Chocolat cupcake, Parisian macarons, new truffle flavors, and more from Kearins and Okun. For example, he says he will introduce us to “an extra aged gouda and dark chocolate bark.” And, he emphasizes, he uses absolutely no preservatives or artificial ingredients.
Speaking with Kearins, it is clear his fascination with chocolate is ongoing and undiminished. “Chocolate is a living ingredient. It is affected by the climate, by humidity, by the planet – it all seems to affect it. And it’s a very organic ingredient. It never gets boring,” he enthuses. After a brief pause, he adds, “there’s probably an addiction there as well.”
Still, Kearins believes chocolate can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. He points out that in France and Holland, where chocolate is enjoyed regularly, as are butter and cream, obesity is not a major problem. It is the mindless eating that is dangerous. So, why not bring some mindfulness to your chocolate habit?
“Food should be a joy to consume. It shouldn’t be something you do blindly in front of the TV. I think once you get into the quality artisan products, people are taking them and looking at it, smelling it, feeling it, and I think the trend toward handmade and artisan products is a step in a good direction. I mean the whole of France sits down to eclairs at lunch and you don’t see obese French people on a regular basis!”
The Sixth Annual Chocolate Festival kicks off with the screening and tasting at Waters Edge Cinema, 237 Commercial St., 2nd Fl., Provincetown on Saturday, April 13 at 5 p.m. The festival will include artisanal chocolate tastings and live demonstrations by Paul Kearins at The Purple Feather Café and Treatery, 334 Commercial St., Provincetown throughout each day, Saturday, April 13 – Monday, April 15, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. In addition, Kearins and Ann Okun have created some artistic chocolate creations that will be planted all around Provincetown for the fun Annual Great Provincetown Chocolate Scavenger Hunt. Score cards and hint sheets can be obtained at the Café. Call 508.487.9100 for additional details.