AIDS Foundation Chicago will hold its annual World of Chocolate event on Friday, Feb. 9, at 6 p.m. at Union Station, 500 W. Jackson Blvd. Attendees will embark on a global tour of chocolatebut there will also be entertainment, hors d'oeuvres, an open bar and the famous punchboard.
Uzma Sharif, who owns the Pilsen spot Chocolat Uzma, will be one of the chocolatiers taking part in the yearly competition. She recently talked about various topics.
Her culinary background: "My grandfather was a pastry chef in Pakistan," said Sharif, a first-generation American. "He baked at work and at home as well; [our parents] had seven daughters. And even though my mom worked two jobs, she had time to bake here and there, so I would say [baking] is in my blood."
Her business: She said, "The original location opened in 2012. It was on 1800 S. Halsted St. and we've since moved around the corner to [917 W.] 18th St. The lease was up and we needed more space."
What makes Chocolat Uzma unique: "Wow. There are many things. We are [definitely] influenced by our South Asian heritagePakistan, India, Afghanistan. There are different types of spices I like to infuse into our chocolates and confections."
She added, "We also try to purchase from other women-owned businesses. For example, our hazelnuts come from a woman-owned farm in Oregon. And the pecans for our very popular Himalayan turtleswhich are going to be at World of Chocolatecome from a sustainable farm in Texas."
What Chocolat Uzma sells besides chocolates: There are cookies and cakes as well. "We [prefer] quality over quantity," Sharif said. "We make one cookie, which is the Belgian chocolate chip, and it's very popular because we bake it fresh throughout the whole day. We also have a flourless orange chocolate cake that was voted top 10 on Yelp by customers. And we also have a date cake; in my culture, we eat dates every day. During Ramadan, we make a lot more items with dates. They are sold by the slice or you can buy a whole cake."
Belief in recycling: "If you purchase a larger box, if you bring it back and we refill it, you get a discount of 10%," Sharif said. "It's a way to make the packaging more eco-friendlyand the boxes are costly, to begin with."
Changes at Chocolat Uzma: Removing items off the menu is something Sharif agreed was "painful" and there are many factors that go into making such a decision. "Popularity, cost of goods and [seasonality]" are some of the factors, she said. Regarding the latter, there are sometimes limited-edition items that fall in that category.
Her involvement with World of Chocolate: "I started getting involved with World of Chocolate over 15 years ago, when it was back at The Fairmont," Sharif stated. "World of Chocolate is not like any other charity event. It's a party and it's just so much fun. The food is good and the people are just in a great mood. Everyone is interacting every minute. It doesn't get boring. People walk in and they just have fun."
Changes Sharif has noticed at the event: "I think more people are aware of the event," Sharif said. "We're inundated with requests but we only do one or two a year, and World of Chocolate is always one of them. I wouldn't say that things have drastically changed. I would say that it's gotten better and better."
One suggestion about the event: The original date was apparently a sticking point with some chocolatiersand for a very good reason. "If you want chocolate people to be at a chocolate event, you cannot do it the weekend of Valentine's Day," Sharif said. "I said that people should do it early in February, as January is so long."
VIP and general-admission tickets for AIDS Foundation Chicago's World of Chocolate are available at https://action.aidschicago.org/event/world-of-chocolate-2024/e531329.
Note: This writer will be a judge at World of Chocolate.