PORTLAND – James Gagnon is a slim 9-year-old who recently landed the role of gluttonous Augustus Gloop in an upcoming Pownal Elementary School production of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

Whether a method actor attempting to immerse himself in character or simply a kid hanging out with his cousin and their dads, James found great pleasure in the 25th annual Chocolate Lovers’ Fling — with its silver anniversary Wonka theme — Sunday afternoon at Holiday Inn by the Bay.

“There are marshmallows on sticks that you can dip in a chocolate fountain!” he said, eyes wide.

And how many times had he visited that colorful table with the four-level cascade prepared by Chocolate Falls in Maine, based in Saco?

Busily chewing on the sugary concoction, James held up two fingers, which may have been an understatement, said Chocolate Falls co-owner Rhonda Nicholson.

“He’s been like five times,” she said with a smile. “You can tell by his lips. But that’s OK.”

Another child approached the table, and Nicholson broke into a British accent.

“Lickable Wallpaper, darling?” she asked, offering a glistening sticker and leaning in closer. “The blueberries taste like blueberries. The schnozzberries taste like schnozzberries!”

A crowd of roughly 1,000 sampled confectionery delights ranging from chocolate-covered bacon and sea salt caramel truffles to marble cake pops and Gianduja Marjolaine — more on that later — in what has become not only a rite of spring, but also the major fundraiser for Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine.

Executive Director Cyndi Amato said the event brings in more than $25,000 to her agency, which receives 2,000 calls each year on its 24-hour hotline, advocates for victims going through the criminal justice system, and reaches 6,000 students and 3,000 community members annually through awareness and prevention education.

“Sexual assault is difficult for people to talk about or to acknowledge,” Amato said. “So when you have a community event that’s happy, that’s a rite of passage into spring, that is about chocolate, they can get a little bit of information about us, they can enjoy themselves and they can know that we’re accessible.

“If they meet any of our volunteers or they meet me, I don’t think any of them will be scared to give us a call if they needed us. That’s a big hurdle for victims and their concerned other ones to overcome.”

Sunday’s chocolate lovers circled the ballroom, collecting samples from up to 20 local vendors before sitting down to indulge. Well, many didn’t wait until they sat down. The lines were long, after all.

“Can I give a hint to the guys?” asked 27-year-old Jenika Scott of Saco. “It’s a great place to pick up ladies. It’s like, all women.”

Scott sat with one male and two female contemporaries. They waxed rhapsodic about chocolate, particularly the kind made locally and lovingly. Not the kind sold as candy bars. Those make your teeth hurt, said Lauren Myers, 26, of Portland.

“My teeth can tell if it’s good or not,” she said.

As for the tastiest item in the room, the quartet carefully considered their plates and their palates.

“This guy’s chocolates,” said Myers, holding up a card proclaiming, in elegant script, Dean’s Sweets.

“Oh, yeah. Dean’s,” agreed Alayna White, 25, of Portland.

“Is that the salt caramel?”

“Yeah.”

“That, I think, is the best,” declared Myers.

Then again, Kyle Pouliot, 26, of Scarborough confessed a hankering for the messy chocolate burrito from Federal Jack’s brew pub. High marks also went to “the raspberry thing” from Southern Maine Community College and the Oreo truffle from York County Community College.

A panel of celebrity judges doled out awards in nine categories. The assault response services board of directors gave its President’s Award to a maple chocolate made by County Chocolates of Litchfield, and its Best Presentation to Scarborough’s Flour Designs, which displayed miniature marbled cake pops on a colorful seven-level rainbow built from plywood scraps, drilled with 166 holes and looking as if Veruca Salt or Violet Beauregarde might sidle by at any time.

Flour Designs founder Mara Robinov-Moorhead said her chocolate-dipped cake pops should be available at Whole Foods within a few weeks.

The coveted People’s Choice Award — voted on by all attendees — went to SMCC’s Chambord Cup, also known as “the raspberry thing.”

“It’s actually very simple,” said Theresa Hyatt, SMCC advanced pastry instructor, explaining the chocolate cup with raspberry liqueur syrup, vanilla creme fraiche and a fresh raspberry. “It’s funny how crazy people went over them.”

Hyatt’s SMCC students also won Best Torte for their Gianduja (pronounced zhahn-DOO-yah) Marjolaine, a hazelnut-infused chocolate mousse with creme fraiche, raspberry coulis in a baked hazelnut meringue cake, topped with chocolate ganache.

“Try explaining that to 900 customers as they’re walking through,” said SMCC student Samantha St. Germain of Portland.

She might have quoted Wonka from his “Pure Imagination” song:

Traveling in the world of my creation

What we’ll see will defy explanation.

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]

 


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