Could Clearwater become the chocolate capital of Canada?
Although that might be overstating it a bit, something along those lines seems to have been the long-term goal of Johan and Maryse Raes when they invited Belgian chocolatier Phillipe Vancayseele to give two workshops on chocolate making at the Community Resource Center last week. (See story on page A13).
The Raes, recent immigrants from Belgium themselves, have started their own small-scale chocolate business, Helmcken Chocolate Inc.
At first glance, you would think they would want to keep the market to themselves. They, on the other hand, appear to be taking a more enlightened and longer-term view. With the two workshops by chef Vancayseele they sponsored last week, they seem to be wanting to create not just chocolate consumers but also a core group of local cooks and restaurant owners who have an interest in and knowledge about chocolate.
After all, the best place to locate an antique store in a city is with other antique stores.
How realistic is this vision? There aren't many cacao trees growing around here. On the other hand, there aren't many in Belgium either - or in Switzerland, another European country well known for its chocolate.
Perhaps chocolate could be combined with other local products. For example, Clearwater formerly was known for its strawberries. Large quantities were shipped from the Valley by train in the 1930s.
Would it be possible to create a signature product made of fresh local strawberries dipped in locally blended chocolate? Add the right packaging and marketing and we might have a winner. Who knows?
There has been renewed interest locally in non-timber forest products. Perhaps wild berries, herbs and other edible items from the forest could be combined with chocolate to create unique and attractive foods.
The days when local residents could rely on the major forest companies to provide secure and well-paying jobs are over. People who want to continue living here are going to have to do some entrepreneurial thinking to create new ways of making a living. And we should welcome new immigrants, such as the Raes, who bring with them new possibilities and insights for the Valley.