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Haute for Chocolate

Written by Elisa Mala


It's a bird! It's a plane! At the New York Chocolate Show, it's a sweet superhero showdown.

Iron Man has been kidnapped and had shrapnel lodged in his heart, but he never had to worry about his power suit melting off. That fear plagued chef James Briscione as he stepped into the superhero's uniform. His concern was understandable: the suit was made almost entirely of chocolate. "Chocolate melts at body temperature," Briscione noted, as two colleagues from the Institute of Culinary Education enveloped him in sheets of the stuff. But at least this suit wouldn't attack its wearer, like the one in the Iron Man comic book once did.

Cartoon heroes and chocolate capes were hardly the oddest pairing earlier this month at the 11th Annual New York Chocolate Show, an offshoot of a showcase first unveiled in Paris 1994. Guava paste formed realistic-looking salmon atop Romanicos Chocolate's sashimi-shaped candies. Chuao Chocolatier's Firecracker Bar exploded with salt, chipotle and fizzy rock candy. Roni-Sue tantalized daring taste buds with "pig candy"—deep-fried bacon enrobed in chocolate. But the most exotic item on the menu was haute cocoa.

The market travels to Shanghai, Tokyo, Moscow and nine other cities annually, and in New York, fashion designers collaborate with chefs to craft chocolate clothes. "Superheroes" was the theme of this year's runway show, which seemed apropos for a confection with powers of its own: like Mister Fantastic, the shape-shifting leader of the Fantastic Four, chocolate can contort itself in ways that even Willy Wonka would consider whimsical. "It makes the clothes even sweeter," quipped designer Laurance Rassin, who partnered with Jansen Chan, pastry chef at Manhattan's Oceana restaurant, to concoct a temptress of their own imagination, the Bittersweet Black Widow.

The fickle fabric allowed outfits to be assembled just hours before the show, aided by structural reinforcements like cardboard and plywood, not to mention cool climes and patient models. "To manipulate chocolate is a nice little dance," says Dina Sadik of New Jersey-based Essentially Chocolate. Crowning her team's Storm costume was an 11-pound headpiece that depicted the New York City skyline, complete with a Chrysler Building. Xena, Warrior Princess, donned an exact chocolate replica of the costume from the eponymous American television series.

Playing with food isn't necessarily fun: chocolate easily breaks, burns, bubbles or otherwise self-destructs. "It doesn't make for good clothes," explained Chan. And chocolate isn't the only thing that overheats; less than an hour before curtain, Glamour Girl fainted. Three chefs rushed to prevent her head—and outfit—from slamming to the ground, propping her up as an EMT revived her.

Since every superhero story requires an adversary, chocolate arch-nemeses also lurked about. Lauri Ditunno of Cake Alchemy created hair for "Sedusa," a seductive Medusa, by spraying curly chocolate snakes with gold paint and attaching them to a headpiece. "We do evil!" enthused designer Renee Masoomian while affixing edible appliqués to a culprit called "Villain to Mother Earth."

But villainy existed only in the chocolatiers' imaginations, as the actual fashion show was devoid of disaster. Even when the Bittersweet Black Widow accidentally thrust her sword into the crowd, no one was impaled, and the once-unconscious Glamour Girl traipsed down the catwalk with aplomb. Whether likenesses were of Wonder Woman, Bat Girl, Poison Ivy or other embodiments of vice and virtue, they seemed akin to their fabric: sinful yet sweet.