The rickety tram dings a tiny bell, and pedestrians scurry from its path. Sunlight gleams between buildings and dances off windows. People of all ages climb the ancient stairs of this number four tram, cast glimmers of smiles at each other as they pass. The sun seems to have energized the entire city, despite frozen kisses the wind pecks on our cheeks. I glance between the beauty of Antwerp, with its art deco and art nouveau architecture fanning both sides of the tram tracks, and my WhatsApp messages on my phone. I have a group of old girlfriends in the Netherlands I chat with occasionally and we’re in rapid fire this morning. “Happy Valentine’s Day!” messages scroll. “Plans everyone?”

“I’m heading into town for a Belgian chocolate workshop,” I type.

“You win!” they say, and I laugh out loud, to the entertainment of my fellow tram riders.

Belgium is known for four face cards of culinary delights – beer, waffles, fries, and of course, chocolate. I’ve sampled them all and I can’t say I’ve ever been disappointed.  My family and I toured the Coco-Story in Bruge, and found it both entertaining and educational. When a group of women I know coordinated a chocolate workshop, I signed up without hesitation.

After sashaying through the streets of Antwerp, I find ChocAlicious, with the help of Google Maps, and push the glass door open. Colorful Marilyn Monroe portraits line one wall. The steel tables are outfitted with aprons and hairnets for each member of the group. Samples of our chocolate projects are displayed at the head of the room. Members of the women’s group greet each other, hang our coats, and prepare to be dazzled.

ChocAlicious is owned and hosted by a lovely woman named Carolien. She has a long history in Antwerp, tourism, and education of chocolate. Carolien takes command of the room and we give her our attention as she explains the history and fun facts about chocolate. Our eyes alight as she explains the cocoa butter, sugar, and cocoa mass ratios in white chocolate vs. dark chocolate. (Hint: white chocolate is, without a doubt, the most unhealthy, heh).

Making Belgian Chocolates!
Making Belgian Chocolates!

We’ve signed up for the “Diamant” workshop – inspired by Carolien’s love of Marilyn Monroe and Antwerp. (Antwerp is the diamond capital of Europe, and diamonds are a girl’s best friend, naturally) She demonstrates how to properly prepare lip moulds for our chocolate lollipops. I fumble with the large chocolate piping bag, but manage to successfully fill my own. As the ladies and I take turns encouraging each other, we munch on Marilyn Monroe moulded chocolates and chat about restaurants suggestions in Antwerp. We decorate our pops and place them in her fancy fridges specifically configured for cooling chocolate.

Carolien provides coffee and tea during her workshops and as we sip, she explains the next project, “You’ll never look at the 3-D moulded chocolates in the shops the same way again,” she winks. She reveals secrets behind the filling, decorating, cooling, strengthening, and un-moulding process. In short, after a messy (but she helped fix it!) chocolate filling experience, I came home with a fancy high-heeled chocolate shoe and the knowledge that no, I’ll never look at hollowed chocolate easter bunny or a chocolate Mannekin Pis the same way again.

Chocolate we made
Chocolate we made

All chocolates were cooled by the end of the workshop and we all went to work with the packaging she provided – decorating our newly made chocolates with ribbons for our children or husbands. The ladies and I kissed cheeks goodbye, wished each other a Happy Valentine’s Day, and thanked Carolien for the super-fun workshop.         

With a bag of handmade Belgian chocolates, and a head full of new knowledge, I stepped back onto the aging number four tram – headed back towards home.

Carolien provides workshops for groups – bachelorette parties, team building, and families – in both English and Dutch.

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About Celeste Bennekers

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