A fool and his chocolate

Thanksgiving is now behind us, which means we are officially in the season when we move from thanks to giving. Yes, the December holidays are fast approaching, those weeks when our hearts are filled with love and people search the classified pages of this newspaper for a parking space within seven miles of the local shopping malls — or a bootleg handicapped parking permit for the windshield of their car.
And if we had any doubt that there is absolutely no holiday tradition that someone somewhere won’t find a way to exploit, I am pleased to share with you the creativity of the folks at Serendipity 3, a restaurant and ice cream emporium on E. 60th Street in Manhattan. Imagine for a moment a steaming mug of hot cocoa, and how spectacularly delicious it is this time of the year. Now imagine it costing a tummy-warming (and wallet-draining) $25,000.
That’s right, $25,000. Not a typo. Earlier this month Serendipity 3’s Frrrozen Haute Chocolate was crowned by Guinness as the world’s most expensive dessert. The restaurant, renowned for its considerably less pricey Frrrozen Hot Chocolate (a mere $8.50 a cup), is offering a cup of hot cocoa the cost of a car.
The concoction boasts 28 kinds of cocoa (compared with only 14 in the $8.50 model), and has five grams of edible gold flakes mixed in. It is served in a cup with a gold crown and comes with a gold spoon. The truffle on top is flown in from Knipschildt Chocolatiers in Europe — according to Forbes, the most expensive chocolates in the world.
My sense is you can get a pretty solid cup of hot cocoa for a small (translation: microscopic) fraction of that cost right here in Burlington. Just in case, I asked around.
The most expensive hot chocolate available at Muddy Waters on Main Street is $3.50. That’s a large with raspberry syrup. Graham McDowell, “one of the folks who works there” (his title, not mine), added, “There is nothing I could do to make a hot chocolate worth $25,000. But maybe we could do some sort of dance for you — put on a show to accompany the hot chocolate.” At Uncommon Grounds on Church Street, you can find a large hot chocolate (again with syrup) for about $3. “And the whipped cream comes free,” said employee Jamie Lucia. Is it even possible to run up a $25,000 tab at Uncommon Grounds? Not likely. “A piece of German chocolate cake only adds $2.95. I think you’d have to buy pounds and pounds of coffee. You’d probably have to buy all that we have in the store,” Lucia said.
A hot chocolate at the Starbucks at the entrance to Burlington Town Center will run $3.40 with syrup and chocolate drizzle, if you purchase a vente (Starbucks-speak for large). When informed that there is a $25,000 hot chocolate out there, Starbucks server Erica Chenette observed dryly, “The most expensive hot chocolate is not necessarily the best.”
Indeed. Consequently, as much as I like Serendipity 3 (and I like their regular frozen hot chocolate a lot), I think there are at least 25,000 better ways to fritter away $25,000. Just for grins, I called Amy Porter at Church World Service, a relief, development and refugee assistance organization, and asked what $25,000 means to them. I became aware of their work this autumn when I was the honorary chairman — well, figurehead — for their annual Crop Hunger Walk in Middlebury last month.
Porter offered a long list, but here are a few items: 5,000 blankets for disaster victims; 347 food packages containing emergency food supplies for a family of five for a month; as many as eight wells in drought-stricken villages in Africa; and 25 renovated classrooms in Kenya.
And then, of course, there are the needs right here in Vermont: We certainly have our hungry. Our homeless. Our cold.
Far be it from me to deny a rock star a $25,000 hot chocolate in New York. But I know I will always prefer a $3 one right here at home.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on November 25, 2007.)

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

4 thoughts on “A fool and his chocolate

  1. Jeanne says:

    If it makes you feel any better, Serendipity 3 was shut down a little over a week ago for repeatedly failing to pass a health code inspection!

  2. Neil says:

    Not to put too fine a point on it but $25,000 does seem like a lot of money for hot chocolate.
    I usually choose coffee and I do like the venti dark roast because nobody does does dark roast like Starbucks.
    Since reading your column today and seeing Rachel Ray hawking donuts and coffee on the TeeVee, (you know the perky woman who says “delish”) you’ve turned my mind to hot chocolate and to those in need.
    What a great way to get in the spirit of the season. Hot chocolate and alms it is! Happy holidays.

  3. Stupidipity 3 says:

    Hey, Chris, you can get cheap hot-chocolate in NJ, too! (I’m sure that only New York is *crazy* enough to offer the $25,000 stuff):). Personally, I’d rather make my own. I use unsweetened cocoa, a bit of confectioner’s sugar and milk, carefully stirring it all over the stove. Then, I like to serve my creation in a beautiful, porcelain china cup (I have several), throwing in some mini-marshmallows, and then topping it off with some fresh, home-made whipped cream. Cinnamon or nutmeg sprinkled on top completes my masterpiece-in-a-cup; it’s very good and best of all: I still can afford to pay the rent at the end of the month!

  4. Sandra says:

    Good morning, Chris!
    Ah, chocolate. What do we do for love of you? Personally, my favorite is the Drostë cacao, mixed with a little less sugar and warmed with milk. Oh, is it heavenly! And with a dash of vanilla, it becomes a heavenly transcendence into some strange land where euphoria is the norm…
    What I really wanted to talk about was Trans-Sister Radio. I didn’t have the courage to ask this when I waited in the signing line in Springfield… but what made you decide to write it? You said that your books usually are born of a conversation, as with Midwives, or a happenstance meeting, as in The Double Bind, and I was curious to know what inspired you to write Trans-Sister Radio. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and its multiple narrators, and it answered some of the questions I didn’t know I had — details about the surgery, for instance, and the multitude of possible reactions when people find out. If you could email me (it should appear somewhere in this message; I put it on the info for my comment) or respond to this, I would appreciate it.
    Sandra K.

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