When Dandelion Chocolate’s 12 Nights of Chocolate started in 2012, the event, per Jennifer Roy, Dandelion’s head of marketing and PR, was, “kind of thrown together.” The idea had come from a conversation between Roy, Dandelion CEO and co-founder Todd Masonis, and Emily Luchetti, the pastry chef of San Francisco’s Big Night Restaurant Group. The concept? Have a 12-night series around the holidays, raise money for the SF-Marin Food Bank, and bring in different chefs to make what they’d like with Dandelion’s exceptional, bean-to-bar chocolate. Kicking off its fourth year tomorrow (complete with a lineup of top chefs including Traci Des Jardins and Christopher Kostow), we caught up with Roy about the event’s early stages, the surprises that have come out of the kitchen, and what she’s looking forward to this year.
What’s unique about this event? When I talk to chefs who have done this event, what I keep hearing from them is what fun it is. We say to them, “This is your night. You can do it yourself, invite friends, and make whatever you want.” We don’t wholesale our chocolate to any restaurants at the moment, so chefs don’t really get an opportunity to work with it regularly. Dandelion isn’t an easy ingredient to work with — because it’s single origin, and doesn’t have any ingredients like vanilla, it’s challenging… but in a good way. The chefs who have participated seem to really enjoy the opportunity to play with it.
Four years in… what’s changed? The word has definitely gotten out. The first year, we were approaching chefs ourselves; it was more of a sales pitch on our end. Now, as Dandelion’s grown, I’m finding myself getting emails in January from PR agencies offering up their chefs.
What have been some of the biggest surprises over the years? Honestly, more than anything, it’s the food that comes out of the kitchen. There’s so much creativity from these chefs! People who attend are expecting dessert, even though we say savory and sweet. One year, Shawn Ehland [pastry chef at Aster] made a beautiful salad with no hints of chocolate anywhere, except in the vinaigrette, which he infused with cocoa nibs.
What are you particularly excited about this year? So much. When I first asked William Werner [of Craftsmen & Wolves] if he wanted to do 12 Nights, he came back and said, “I’m going to do it with Christopher [Kostow] from Meadowood!” Traci des Jardins is cooking with four pastry chefs chefs from four decades of Jardinere. She’s doing two savory dishes, too. That’s going to be an amazing night — they’re going to have such a blast. Melissa Chou and Brandon Jew of Mister Jiu’s are doing dim sum, which I’m very excited about. And Rich Table is doing sweet and savory, which will likely be pretty out there, and delicious. I haven’t gotten many of the menus yet, so it’s all a mystery!
How would you like to see the event evolve in the future? I’d love to bring in chefs from elsewhere — LA, New York, anywhere. People who we know would have ultra-creative time with our chocolate. I wouldn’t want to do that to grow the event, really — I’m trying to keep it as organic and intimate as when it started, and not turn it into a marketing tool for anyone. We want to stay true to why we started it in the first place.