How Sweet It Is

At first, we weren’t sure we had read it right. Scrolling across the screen on the 24-hour news channel was information about a Sweets Expo at the Toronto Convention Centre. It took some investigating to finally find the website: No, Beavis and Butthead, not “sweet sex po”, get your minds out of the gutter. Sweets Expo, aka, a room full of candy.

Bright and early, there we were, headed into the convention centre, the smell of sugar surrounding us. However, had it not been for two things, the Sweets Expo would have left a rather sour taste in my mouth.

First of all, it hadn’t been especially well-promoted, as far as we could tell. That fast-moving news scroll was the only mention we had seen of the thing, and judging by the turnout, not many other people knew about it either. And apparently, the same amount of effort that went into promotion went into attracting exhibitors. It was considerably smaller than we expected, and with a couple of exceptions the calibre of product wasn’t that great. None of the many Toronto area chocolatiers were present; Stubbs, Soma and JS BonBon were not to be found. There were also none of the chain, or indie, candy stores – no Sugar Mountain, Tutti Frutti, Nutty Chocolatier or Candy Island. Also, no big brand names – no Nestle, no Cadbury.

What there was was an awful lot of those companies selling chocolate in fun and silly shapes. You know, that awful waxy milk chocolate that is created specifically for molding into bunnies, roses, sets of tools. Also, candy corn, cotton candy, fudge… it was all there. But hokey, like the kind of stuff you’d see at a county fair. And no, thank you, I don’t need a Pampered Chef catalogue so I can con all of my friends into suporting a pyramid scheme by buying overpriced kitchen gadgets. The wackiest product was a new “energy ball” – similar in intent to power bars or cans of Red Bull, this was a candy-coated ball of energy-enhanced chocolate (containing stuff like guarana and a massive dose of caffeine), about the size of a large gumball. Let’s just say the energy ball and I didn’t get along too well, and while it was tasty at the time, I don’t expect I’d pay $1 a pop for a trip to the loo.

What redeemed the candy show was two things.

First a booth by the folks who import all of the swank single-origin and estate chocolate bars. We normally buy these bars for between $4 – $8 a pop. Today, $3 each, or 4 for $10. For a measley $32, we came home with about $90 of the best chocolate in the world, including a $14 (retail) bar of 85% Varlhona baking chocolate that we got for $4. That more than made up for having to deal with face-painted toddlers hopped up on sugar competing on some sort of DanceDance Revolution machine.

The second thing that made the show worthwhile, and was actually one of our reasons for going, was an appearance by Candyfreak author Steve Almond. Now apparently, Steve Almond was expecting that he would be doing a reading, not playing quiz-master to a bunch of little kids painted like tigers who most certainly didn’t know what year chocolate was first made in bar form. He was a sport and handed out a pile of much-coveted Goo-Goo clusters anyway, but he was a very confused guy afterwards. We went up to talk to him once the children realized he had no more swag, and he thanked us for being the only people in the audience who had actually read his book. We all chatted a bit and then one of the exhibitors offered him a free sample of her flavoured organic cotton candy. We had tried this earlier in the day and vouched for its tastiness. She beckoned us to come to her booth as well, she would give us a free sample. Given that she was selling the stuff for $8 a package, we were more than happy to accept the freebie.

She loaded Steve down with a sample of all five flavours. He leaned over and said, “stick around for a minute”, and we obliged. We walked out with Steve Almond and he handed us four of his five tubs of cotton candy, explaining that there was no way he could carry it all home on the plane. Apparently, once you write a book about candy, every candymaker in the world sends you free samples in the hopes that you’ll write another book and include their product. We weren’t sure what we were going to do with all that cotton candy, either, but the kids next door were happy to take it off our hands, and even came back asking for more.

So the Sweets Expo was a decent way to spend a Sunday; we scored big on the chocolate, we met an author whose work we admired and enjoyed and we ended up with enough cotton candy to ensure the everlasting devotion of the kids next door.