'Chocolate Obsession'

Chocoholics who didn't get their fill this month have more chances to indulge.

The feast begins Tuesday at The Willows in Central Point. Chef and owner Sandy Dowling plans a cooking class for couples, who will partake of chocolate served multiple ways — sweet and savory — over several courses, including no fewer than two decadent desserts.

"I might even do three desserts," says Dowling. "Isn't that awful?

"We may even space the desserts between the courses."

Leap year, however, gives class participants an extra day to offset the fat and calories, says Dowling. Perennially popular, chocolate has been a Willows class topic every year for the past few years, just usually before Valentine's Day.

Dowling's focus this time is using a variety of spices, such as cinnamon with dark chocolate-braised beef short ribs or chicken molé. The chef says she was toying with incorporating a vegetable into a molten-centered chocolate souffle, so it can double as a soup.

"You can have garlic with chocolate, and it's good," says Dowling. "Each time I do a chocolate class, I come up with new recipes."

New vendors and events highlight the eighth annual Oregon Chocolate Festival, planned for March 2-4 in Ashland.

Keen interest by local bakers, including The Cupcake Daily in Talent and Sweet Desire in Ashland, prompted festival organizers to add a baked-goods category to the chocolate-product competition, says spokeswoman Karolina Wyszynska. Also newly considered for judging will be "drinking chocolate" and "best traditional use" of chocolate.

Sampling of chocolate competitors' creations, along with beers and wines from nearly 50 vendors will be available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 3-4, at Ashland Springs Hotel. Tickets to either day cost $20.

Winners in individual categories will be announced at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, with best in show and the people's choice awarded at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The Chocolate Beagle of Central Point claimed the people's vote last year while Love Bucket Baking Co. of Grants Pass took best in show.

A chocolate-themed dinner, theater performance, film screening, spa treatments, workshops, lectures and more are offered for additional fees Friday through Sunday at locations around Ashland. Discounts are available for Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Oregon Cabaret Theatre tickets with the mention of "chocolate."

See a full schedule of events with pricing, times and locations at www.oregonchocolatefestival.com or call Ashland Springs Hotel at 541-488-1700.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.

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