This year's Chocolate Festival is getting some delicious cream filling in the form of a giant Christmas tree covered in Oreo sandwich cookies. The team that constructed it talked about the challenges and process while mixing melted chocolate and affixing cookies to the tree Nov. 19.
The smell of chocolate wafted around the Dover Downs Hotel & Casino lobby last weekend, greeting visitors and piquing curiosity. Actually it wasn’t the smell that got people’s attention so much as the 21-foot tree dressed in a coating of melted chocolate and, as the weekend wore on, more and more Oreo sandwich cookies.
The monstrous Oreo tree is a Kraft Foods undertaking for the annual Chocolate Festival, Nov. 26 and 27, at Dover Downs.
Freeman Moser III, senior executive chef at the Kraft Culinary Centre, was at the helm of the great chocolate project of 2010.
“I love crazy projects. The crazier the better,” Moser said.
And it has gotten plenty crazy.
After getting the news that Kraft wanted to build the tree, Moser started tinkering. With a hot glue gun, waxed dental floss, bamboo skewers and straws, brass tacks and Styrofoam in hand, Moser went to work on a prototype. From there Moser visited the local hardware store with photos and schematics in hand and built a version in his Clarendon Hills, Ill., front yard. The sight garnered some concern with neighbors and warranted a visit with the local sheriff, who let him off the hook.
Add in some cables and tension devices, chicken netting, casters and more, and the final product was developed.
“One thing led to another and it turned into this,” Moser said.
The rotating, 21-foot tree is 8 feet at its base. It had to be quite a spectacle, Moser said, considering the “beautiful, grand venue.” He went to work finding pros with a mixture of “technical expertise and zaniness” and ended up with old friends and colleagues Patricia A. Mitchell, senior executive chef at Kraft Foodservice, and Peter Greweling, certified master baker and professor in baking and pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America.
They researched everything from the correct type of chocolate to use to what temperature it would have to be to get the Oreos to stick, and also worked with teams from Dover Downs to ensure the staff there was onboard.
“The precision and attention to detail was beyond our expectations,” Moser said.
However there were bound to be some hiccups.
Mitchell said the team underestimated how much melted chocolate it would take to cover the cheesecloth, to which the cookies are affixed. Another surprise was that spraying chocolate wasn’t as easy a process as they imagined; they ended up painting it on.
As of Nov. 19, Moser had already ordered more Oreos after their stockpile started shrinking with every hour of work.
The tree, once finished, will feature five different types of Oreos — traditional, golden, mint, Oreo sticks and traditional Oreos spray painted gold. It also will have some decorations, including milk glasses with battery-operated tea lights flickering inside.
Evelyn Tolson of Magnolia, a Dover Downs employee, volunteered to help attach Oreos and loved being part of such a huge project.
“When I got in here I was stunned,” she said.
Fellow banquet employee Kim Kelly of Selbyville also volunteered to work on the tree, and said the kids will go wild for it once its finished.
“I’m sure this will steal the show during the Chocolate Festival,” she said.
Moser said that’s his goal. He wants people to think back to all the meals they’ve had and remember his. Or in this case, remember the tree.
“As a chef, I try to be one of those that you’ll never forget.”
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