But what if we could reconcile this sweet indulgence with our spiritual lives? If, through eating a chocolate, we could enhance our spiritual practices? Might that shift our sense of chocolate from vice to transformative virtue?
Tempering our chocolate habits with spirituality is not only possible, but necessary for Katrina Markoff, owner and executive chef at Vosges Haut-Chocolat, based out of Chicago. Trained at the famous Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in Paris, Katrina understands chocolate as far more than a sugary vice. In fact, for Katrina, eating chocolate is not only a medium for spiritual experience, but it's the stuff retreats are made of - yoga retreats.
Last fall, Vosges sponsored its first, week-long Yoga and Chocolate retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico (which also happens to be the birthplace of chocolate in Mexico). Each day is devoted to one of the seven chakras, with yoga classes sponsored by Katrina's friend and co-conspirator in this project, David Romanelli, owner of At One Yoga in Phoenix, Arizona. Participants practice yoga in a room decorated with the color of that day's chakra and enjoy chocolates and scented waters made especially to enhance the experience. The result is a retreat that fits a chocolate lover's dream and promotes spiritual growth-who would have thought?
When asked to comment on how she first linked yoga and chocolate together, Katrina had this to say: "It's this ritual part of eating chocolate that lead me to first associate chocolate and yoga." All eating is associated with ritual, but chocolate holds a unique, if underestimated place in feasting because we eat it with our hands. While most food is eaten with a knife and fork, chocolate is held by the fingers and melts against the warmth of the body, leaving us with the impulse to lick its traces. This sensuous experience heightens our bodily awareness in a way that other foods don't.
Moving from a heightened sense of chocolate as a sensuous, bodily experience to chocolate as yoga was inevitable for Katrina, a long time practitioner of yoga herself. (At the Vosges offices in Chicago, there is a room set aside exclusively for yoga.) Every Wednesday, classes are available for anyone who cares to join. It was following an afternoon yoga session that Katrina realized that eating chocolates post-yoga held spiritual value. "After class one day I decided-I am going to have chocolate," recalls Katrina. "I was so into my body in that moment, my hips, my thighs, my insides, that suddenly when I had a bite of chocolate, it was a whole new experience." That's when she had the idea of doing a yoga and chocolate retreat and called a friend who runs a yoga retreat company to talk about the possibility. "It was amazing, the flavors that came out after that class. It led me to connect yoga, spirituality, ritual, and chocolate, to think that maybe in certain yoga poses you could hold on to certain textures, like flowers, or you'd be experiencing certain smells."
On the retreat, participants get to experience Katrina's discovery firsthand. To attend the first chakra, for example, she spreads rose petals all over the room and yoga is followed by eating a Red Fire truffle (filled with Ancho chili powder, Ceylon cinnamon, and covered in dark chocolate), paired with rose-infused water. For the fourth chakra, also known as the heart chakra, Katrina treats everyone to her Bianca White Cocoa, with hints of lemongrass, lime, and lavender.
Mixing yoga with chocolate is beneficial for both chocolate lovers and yogis alike, Katrina claims. While most people associate yoga with an austere, disciplined lifestyle that includes a disciplined appetite, Katrina believes that chocolate can lighten up even the most serious of yogis, opening them to the importance of food in relation to one's experience of the body. Likewise, pairing chocolate with a yoga pose might inspire food lovers to incorporate this spiritual practice into their lives. For those not quite as ready to pick up yoga as they are a truffle, Katrina offers that chocolate not only has the power to enhance yoga, but the experience of eating chocolate, of allowing each flavor to hit the tongue slowly, "can be the yoga itself-the thing that gets you into a meditative state."
Even the decor at Vosges reflects Katrina's spiritual sensibility. Walk into her New York City boutique on Spring Street in SOHO, and you are met with shades of lavender, violet, and purple, on the walls and wrapping the chocolates.Why violet? It's the color of the seventh chakra, "the highest, most spiritual color. It's a very relaxing, comfortable color to be around," says Katrina about her shade of choice.
As for her own religious background, Katrina grew up Catholic and retains some tie to the tradition, but began exploring other forms of spirituality as a teenager and in college at Vanderbilt University. She became interested in Native American traditions and Hinduism, which eventually lead her to practicing yoga on a regular basis.
It is lucky for chocolate lovers that such an extraordinary chef cares as much about spirituality as she does about cuisine, helping us discover the spiritual possibility in truffles, hot chocolate, and other sugary substances that so many of us know and love.