Billy Penn Events

Taste healthy hot chocolate by Philly’s distinctive ‘Chocolate Alchemist’

This’ll make you feel good about your chocolate habit.

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

If you think you love chocolate, just wait till you meet Robert Campbell.

You can do that on Jan. 23, when Billy Penn is hosting Campbell for a delicacy-filled demo and tasting at Independence LIVE!

This is a man who not only loves chocolate, he lives and breathes it. Bring up the drinking chocolates he fashions at Sazon, the Venezuelan restaurant on Spring Garden he runs with his wife Judith Suzzarra-Campbell, and he gets poetic — in a pop culture way.

“If other hot chocolate is Kim Kardashian strutting her stuff, with its showy attention-grabbing whipped cream and candy on top,” he told Billy Penn, “my drinking chocolate is the little-known actor standing at the back of the room. Beautiful, talented, and just waiting to be discovered.”

Campbell — who’s competed in international chocolate-making competitions and earned himself the nickname “The Chocolate Alchemist” — has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about this.

He views chocolate not just as a dessert, but as a essential component of a healthy life.

Ask him about the bars he makes from carefully sourced cacao beans, and he’ll begin talking about their beneficial qualities with such intensity you’ll wonder what drugs he might be taking. Turns out it’s chocolate.

Now 47, he originally got into chocolate looking for a boost when he was a young endurance athlete, first long-distance mountain biking and then jiu jitsu. “I’d be flipping these 250-lb. guys and they’d ask me, ‘What the hell are you on?’”

Unlike caffeine, he said, the theobromine in chocolate enhances energy without making you twitchy: “It’s a serene kind of high.”

Other benefits he’s noticed over the past 26 years working with chocolate:

  • It’s a natural hunger suppressant
  • It can give you vivid dreams
  • It helps “make you regular”
  • It helps the immune system (Campbell recently had skin surgery, and his doctors took to calling him “Wolverine” because he healed so quickly, he said)
  • For some people, it enhances libido
  • It can help regulate blood sugar

To illustrate that last point, Campbell told the story of his grandfather, a former Philadelphia butcher who was on the verge of having diabetes a couple of years ago. Campbell started making “superjuice” out of unroasted cacao beans for him, and after a month, the potential diabetes wasn’t an issue.

“I’m not a doctor,” he warned. “I just know what I’ve seen personally.”

His bars and truffles and drinking chocolates, which he crafts in a small workshop behind Sazon, are made with only direct-trade beans, organic cocoa butter and raw sugar or local honey.

But the best part about what Campbell does with his chocolate is that it doesn’t even matter if you know or care about the health benefits.

His creations are just plain delicious.

Really, plain is not the best word to use here, since the combinations Campbell comes up with are wildly varied in flavor and nuance.

There are at least a dozen different recipes for the small, thick cups of chocolate you can order at the restaurant (incorporating chiles and cinnamon and nuts and bananas and other ingredients) and a half-dozen varieties of bars.

Intrigued? The easiest way to sample the treats for yourself — and to give yourself an excuse to indulge by learning up on all the health benefits — is to come to our “Healthy Hot Chocolate” demo and tasting at Independence LIVE! at 19th and Market on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

Tickets to the evening event are just $10 in advance, available here.

Admission includes everything: sips of drinking chocolates, bites of bars and other of Campbell’s chocolate treats, a demonstration of how he goes from bean to bar, and a recipe to take home so you can make healthy hot chocolate for yourself.

Seating is limited, so snag your spot now.

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