This is a special guest review by my friends Andrew and Kate who attended the 2014 incarnation of Death By Chocolate last weekend:
Kate and I had the pleasure of sampling chocolaty confections at the 8th annual Death By Chocolate event at Exploration Place on Saturday night, our fourth time attending the event, and once again we were far from disappointed. The museum hosted tables representing 15 local bakeries, candy shops, and catering companies offering a variety of treats, mostly sweet but with a few savory options to help periodically reset your palate and stave off the sugar shakes. The delicious food, the chance to wander around a kid’s museum without those pesky kids in the way, the smooth jazz provided by the Cessna Jazz band, the chance to rub shoulders with the cream of Wichita’s crop dressed to the nine’s, all made for a marvelous Saturday night.
Undoubtedly our favorite vendor had to be J. Rae’s Bakery. There was nothing ground-breaking or exotic about their ingredients or technique, but there was a perfect balance of frosting and cake, the cake itself had a nice, moist consistency, and the different flavors were subtle but delicious. My favorite was probably the Oreo, but Kate preferred the cookie dough. They also offered a simple, and scrumptious, chocolate chip cookie that earned Kate’s overall best-in-show award. It was in very high demand – in fact, it was an extinct species by the halfway point of the night. Cero’s Candies was a one-trick pony, but what a trick it was, a Fleur de Sel (sea salt) bacon caramel drizzled with chocolate. The bacon grease made the confection silky smooth with just the right hint of bacon flavor. Artisan Catering provided a very good cheesecake and tiramisu, along with an interesting chocolate-dipped, olive-tinged biscuit called a sable.
The vendors had their choice of “exotic” ingredients this year to incorporate into their recipes. Most went the safe route and chose bacon, but some were more adventurous. Cake Face Bake Shop piqued my curiosity with a cake whose frosting combined bee pollen with goat cheese, liberally sprinkled with sea salt and sugar crystals. Those disparate flavors became muddled together and didn’t necessarily add much to each other, and I found the salt crystals overpowering. Their best-selling hunk of a Frankenstein brownie (appropriately named the Heisenberg) was much more successful, combining peanut butter, sugar, and chocolate cookie dough with brownie batter. The Sugar Sisters Bakery brought a menagerie of experimental treats, including chocolate cornbread with a rhubarb topping and a potato chip and bacon chocolate-chip cookie. While the cookie was good, I thought the cornbread didn’t really come together, just a bunch of ingredients coincidentally baked together. Bob & Luigi’s offered a chocolate-bacon pizza. I enjoyed the smoky flavor and lack of sticky, sugary sweetness, but Kate was not impressed, finding it too dry and not flavorful enough. The students of the Butler Community College Culinary Arts program brought a beef tenderloin on a mini-bun with goat cheese and a chocolate aioli that worked well. W.O.W. Cakes chose Pop Rocks as their special ingredient, giving their more-than-satisfactory cupcakes a nostalgic thrill.
Most of the savory options were provided by Empire Catering. It was pretty standard fare, chips and queso, beef empanadas, and the like, but I especially enjoyed the plantain chips with avocado dip. The chips had just the right amount of crisp with no harsh fry flavor, and the avocado dip was cool, creamy, and zesty.
Tickets for Death By Chocolate aren’t cheap, but keep in mind that it’s for a good cause: bringing more fun exhibits to Exploration Place. And if you do decide to attend the 2015 incarnation, wear your favorite cocktail attire, and bring your appetite. Those rich treats fill you up quick!