The fondue explodes: Chocolate’s everywhere

Times Staff Writer

A 3-foot-tall, three-tiered fountain shaped like the Stanley Cup spews not water, nor even Champagne, but molten chocolate.

The chocolate fountain -- the hottest item on the party circuit this summer -- is turning up at movie premieres (“I, Robot,” “Van Helsing,” “Shrek 2"), birthday parties (David Spade’s 40th, attended by Bijou Phillips, Ashton Kutcher and Paris Hilton), stylish art world gatherings, and, of course, nuptials (the wedding of Kate Beckinsale and director Len Wiseman).

For the record:

12:00 AM, Aug. 06, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 06, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 19 words Type of Material: Correction
Chocolate -- An article about chocolate fountains in Wednesday’s Food section described Callebaut brand chocolate as French. It’s Belgian.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 11, 2004 Home Edition Food Part F Page 3 Features Desk 0 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Chocolate -- An article about chocolate fountains in last week’s Food section described Callebaut brand chocolate as French. It’s Belgian.

The blow-out media party hosted by the Boston Globe for the Democratic National Convention on July 24 featured four -- count ‘em, four -- chocolate fountains. The day before that, six of them graced the bash celebrating the arrival of the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the Ronald Reagan, in San Diego. There they were, flowing prodigiously on the flight deck: two dark chocolate, two milk chocolate, two white chocolate. It was enough to turn anyone into a patriot.

Depending on your point of view, it’s either the most wonderful or the most repulsive sight in the world: Chocolate pours continuously from the top, cascading down, and you spear fruit, pretzels, biscotti or caramels on a wooden skewer and stick it right into the fountain, fondue-style.


But this is no mere low-brow fad: Caterer Steven Giles, owner of Sage & Onion Restaurant in Santa Barbara, uses Callebaut, a high-grade French chocolate favored by pastry chefs, in his fountains.

“The fountain accepts all types of chocolate,” says its inventor, Michel Esnault, a French Canadian who runs Design & Realisation Inc. in Montreal. But “the chocolate must be 60% cocoa,” he says. A higher percentage of cocoa -- in case you were thinking of using 71% Valrhona -- and you’ll need to add vegetable oil to thin the mixture.

Nor is it limited to chocolate: These fountains can spew caramel, barbecue sauce or even cheese. In fact, Esnault says, almost any substance that can remain liquid at 176 to 195 degrees Fahrenheit can be pumped through the fountain’s auger system. Gorgonzola? Ossau-Iraty? No problem: You just have to prepare the cheese as for a fondue pot -- dilute it with enough white wine and cream to sustain liquidity. But powdered cheese, liquid cheese in a bag or Cheez Whiz are what Esnault’s company has used.

And, by the way, the contraption’s resemblance to the Stanley Cup isn’t coincidental. When he was developing it back in 1993, Esnault imagined nothing more festive for a party than the championship hockey trophy.

Today, he reports his invention is being used in China, New Zealand, even France, but mainly in California. In L.A., you’ll pay at least $395 to rent a medium-sized fountain for three hours that serves 300 people. Large fountains serving 600 guests cost $695 or more, plus dipping items.

If there’s a downside, it’s that a chocolate fountains can be, well, kind of messy. Some companies that rent them in the Los Angeles area, such as Le Chocolate Fountain and California Chocolate Fountain, and the Chocolate Guy in Santa Barbara, send an attendant along -- not just to set up and take down the fountains, but also to do damage control: fishing out dropped food, keeping kids from dunking their fingers, and controlling the chocolate slick that inevitably develops on the floor around the fountain. But kids aren’t always the culprits.

“The adults don’t listen as well as the children,” says Fernando Soriano of Le Chocolate Fountain. “It’s not that they’re trying to get chocolate everywhere, it’s just that they don’t know what to do.... Next thing you know, they’ve got chocolate on their shirt.”