WOODBURY - New Morning Natural and Organic will host A Global Passion: An Evening of Chocolate from Savory to Sweet, 6 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, February 24, at Chase Collegiate School, 565 Chase Parkway in Waterbury.
Billed as "an evening of dark organic," the natural food store's fourth annual Chocolate Dinner will benefit educational and environmental programs at the Audubon Center at Bent of the River in Southbury and the Sharon Audubon Center - and raise awareness of how Fair Trade can improve the lives of the world's cacao farmers.
"This is New Morning's fourth year supporting Audubon with this event," said Joyce Leiz, development manager of Audubon Connecticut.
"What the dinner has done for us is increase our visibility and increase awareness of fair trade products and their benefits to the environment."
As at previous Chocolate Dinners, Fair Trade organic beverages will be provided by Naren and Gun Sonpal, owners of Coffee-Tea-Etc. in Goshen.
This year, Naren and Gun will be featured guests, sharing their passion for Fair Trade and its benefits not only to the environment, but to coffee, tea and cacao farmers around the world.
Naren Sonpal entered the Peace Corps at age 55, assigned to work with cooperatives of coffee and tea farmers in the highlands of Guatemala. While there, the retired chemical engineer witnessed firsthand the devastating effect the global coffee industry has had on local communities. On his return, he and Gun opened Coffee-Tea-Etc., roasting and blending 100 percent organic, shade-grown, Fair Trade coffee and selling organic Fair Trade tea and cocoa.
As explained on the website for Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International, Fair Trade is a partnership that seeks greater equity in international trade and contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to marginalized producers and workers.
Backed by consumers, Fair Trade organizations support producers, raise awareness and campaign for changes in international trade.
Fair Trade's strategic intent is to work with marginalized producers to help them move from a position of vulnerability to security and economic self-sufficiency; to empower producers and workers as stakeholders in their own organizations; and to play a wider role in the global arena to achieve greater equity in international trade.
FLO works with more than 585 Fair Trade Certified Producer Organizations that represent more than one million farmers and workers from 50+ countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Fair Trade sales grew by 32 percent from 2004 to 2005, the organization reports.
Passionate about this issue, Naren recently addressed an audience at Hartford's La Paloma Sabanera Coffeehouse and Bookstore after a showing of "Black Gold," a documentary by Marc and Nick Francis about the harsh reality of the global coffee industry.
"The Fair Trade seal on the package ensures that the product you are using is certified and that the farmers are fairly compensated," he said. "It is better to pay the farmers a fair price for their product than to force them into the production of illegal drugs or to give them handouts to help them financially without dignity."
At this year's dinner, guests will enjoy a spectacular international menu with African, Asian and Southwestern influences created by New Morning Executive Chef Carol Byer-Alcorace.
Working chocolate into every course of the meal wasn't as difficult as one might imagine, the chef told Voices.
"People have a preconceived idea about what chocolate tastes like," she said. "Most people think of it as sweet, but dark chocolate is not as sweet, so it's a natural progression."
According to Carol, chocolate shares some similar characteristics with wine in that there are varietal types of chocolate. Like wine, different types of chocolate have different "notes," or fruity essences.
"I think chocolate has great potential for mixing with other ingredients," she said. "I like it mixed with other glazes - it goes beautifully with a Balsamic glaze - and I find it works really well with roasted squashes."
An array of hors d'oeuvres that evening will include chocolate chevre logs, cups of vegan African peanut soup with a dark chocolate swirl, chocolate-glazed pork tenderloin on a sweet potato corn cake and spicy cacao nib and nut crunch.
The main course will feature African pumpkin stew, chocolate and beer-baked BBQ chicken, spicy mole baked beans and Persian couscous with baby spinach, currants, pistachios and cacao nibs.
"We're repeating the spinach-chili-cheese-and-chocolate quesadilla," Carol said. "Everyone loved that last year. And our chocolate and beer-baked BBQ chicken has a wonderful spiciness. Anyone who likes barbecue sauce will enjoy that."
The salad will be dressed with roasted cracked hazelnuts, shaved dark chocolate and fresh grated Parmesan cheese.
"I imagine it as a cluster of different flavors," the chef said. "It's a bitter lettuce base, then you have the salty taste of the Parmesan and the sweet of the chocolate."
Dessert will include Mexican bread pudding, a wheat-free, gluten-free chocolate almond torte, vegan chocolate truffles and more.
"This year, along with some good, meaty fare, we made a real effort to include vegan and vegetarian offerings," said Carol. "A lot of our regular customers mentioned that they wanted to see more of that."
There will be fine organic wines from Mary Kay Brown of Organic Vintages and whole grain breads from Bantam Bread.
Baker and Ghana native Esi Eyiah is creating chocolate ginger snap cookies in the shape of doves. A number of the cookies will be signed by local celebrities and sold by silent auction during the evening.
Dinner guests will enjoy live music of West Africa and be greeted by a broad winged hawk and an American kestrel, both part of the raptor education program at the Sharon Audubon Center.
"The broad winged hawk is an excellent example of a bird that winters in environments where coffee and chocolate would be grown," said Joyce. "Growing coffee and chocolate in a shade-grown environment enhances the birds' habitat. They summer here, so it's a bird that we share between the two environments."
Tickets for A Global Passion are $60 per person. Many of New Morning's vendors have donated ingredients for the dinner; 100 percent of the evening's net proceeds will be donated to Audubon.
"It's a wonderful event," said Joyce. "We're thrilled to be a part of it."
Those wishing to purchase tickets may call Gene Banks at New Morning, 203-263-0673, ext. 360. The deadline is Monday, February 19. Tables of 10 may be reserved.
Those seeking additional information may visit www.newmorn.com.
To reach Voices reporter Jean Dunn, e-mail to jdunn@ctvoices. com.