Chili Truffles? Wasabi Ganache? Sea Salt And Dark Chocolate?

Chili Truffles? Wasabi Ganache? Sea Salt And Dark Chocolate?

At a recent "Yoga + Chocolate" event held at the Halekulani, we were introduced to Katrina Markoff, the founder of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, based in Chicago. The conversation quickly turned to parallels between Hawaii -- a melting pot of cultures and the food that follows suit -- and the ingredients she uses in her fine truffles and bars. Markoff, who trained at Le Cordon Blue in Paris and El Bulli in Spain, spent years traveling the world, garnering knowledge of spices that launched world wars, scents that ignited love affairs and ingredients that changed flavor profiles for entire cultures.

Upon Markoff's return to the U.S. in the mid-1990s, she decided a full time chef job wasn't her speed. Her outside the box thinking led her down a few alternate avenues, one of which led to chocolate. She read fables of how Montezuma supposedly drank cacao with chilies before bedding his wife; and how Aztec men would consume chocolate for power before going in to battle. She found people in Asia using pearl dust in face powder and champagne; and Hungarians using a paprika varietal to sweeten certain dishes. She became fascinated with mole negro in Oaxaca, Mexico. She fiddled with blending chocolate with everything from Japanese ginger, to Oregon wasabi, absinthe and cherries from Michigan.

The result was a line of couture, hand-made chocolate truffles and individual bars that have attained a cult status, of sorts, within food circles around the mainland. Following a successful line of "haute chocolates" came boutiques in Las Vegas' Forum Shops and New York's trendy SoHo district, in addition to her headquarters in Chicago.

Markoff's off-beat approach to food led her to David Romanelli, a Yoga teacher at Exhale Mind & Body Spa in Los Angeles. Romanelli, the former At One Yoga chain owner in Arizona, was known for melding rock and pop music in to his philosophically-infused yoga sessions. The two hit it off and began offering "Yoga + Chocolate" sessions around the country. The success eventually led to a Yoga + Chocolate retreat to Mexico, for a little "research and development," with clients in tow.

Recently, as a part of the Halekulani's wellness and lifestyle series, the duo of Markoff and Romanelli brought in sommelier Cynthia Fenner from Neiman Marcus Epicure to add another component to their exploration of the senses: Wine. After bending and twisting in every imaginable yoga pose, participants retreated to the rear of the room where wine was poured and Markoff's truffles and bars were sampled.

Our favorites included the "Barcelona Bar", which blends hickory-smoked almonds with deep milk chocolate and grey sea salt -- the latter of which brings out unexpected flavors. Another, a Tanzanian truffle with guajillo and pasila chilies, is topped with organic pumpkin seeds. Yes, you read that correctly. Chili peppers, pumpkin seeds and chocolate. It's a must.

In Hawaii, Vosges can only be found in the specialty wine and food shop within Neiman Marcus at the Ala Moana Shopping Center.

Visit www.vosgeschocolate.com for more information.

Following a successful line of "haute chocolates" came boutiques in Las Vegas' Forum Shops and New York's trendy SoHo district, in addition to her headquarters in Chicago.