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City Living: Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival

Downtown Eastside fundraiser encourages chocolate lovers to drink outside their comfort zone

Depending on your mood or, more likely, your adventurous spirit, there’s a drink made from a mixture of Baileys and white chocolate ganache delivered to your mouth from a comically giant syringe.

Or, if you prefer, hot chocolate in a more civilized plain old mug topped with a sprinkling of insects on a spiral of whipped cream.

People lined up at Mink Chocolates’ downtown location Saturday afternoon, and the orders were split down the middle between the “Flu Shot” and

“Don’t Bug Me,” the store’s respective feature drinks for the fifth annual Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival.

Store owner and drink creator Marc Lieberman has the ideal creative recipe for an entrepreneurial spirit — not being afraid to try new things and having a genuine great sense of humour.

Mink’s festival drink last year was the “Paula Deen White Trash Train Wreck” — a concoction he cheerfully admits was “disgusting” with its ingredients of sickly-sweet and slow-pouring condensed milk topped with potato chips. Yet people came in long after the special ended to order the drink.

“I’m telling you, we couldn’t make them fast enough during the festival,” he said. “There were crestfallen faces when they found out it was no longer being made.”

The idea of eating free-range crickets on top of “Don’t Bug Me” doesn’t appeal to everybody (yes, Lieberman gets a kick out of watching those who dawdle with their decision-making outside the store’s windows), but there’s more to it than the potential gross-out factor.

Lieberman usually gets his ideas while dreaming, waking up in the middle of the night and scribbling them down on a sticky note. “If I can read what I wrote in the morning, I act on it. If I can’t read what I’ve written, I throw them out.” Serving crickets, however, came from the mailbox.

The University of B.C.’s alumni magazine is delivered to Lieberman’s house compliments of his former downstairs tenant who hasn’t updated her mailing address. The issue that drew his interest featured 2010 graduate Andrew Brentano, who had moved to the States to pursue a life promoting edible insects. Lieberman found the story fascinating, especially from an environmental and nutritional standpoint. Bug people say that insect farms are less land-dependent than conventional livestock farms and that bugs are nutritious with protein content comparable to meat and fish (not to mention FDA-approved).

So Lieberman contacted an insect farmer in the States and, in December, ordered what he thought would be enough crickets to last through the Jan. 17 to Feb. 14 festival. He ran out days in, and his supplier had to drive 100 miles to the nearest FedEx depot in Texas to ship more crickets overnight.

“They taste a bit nutty but they don’t taste like much,” said Lieberman. “Crunchy. The legs and wings get stuck between your teeth. That’s interesting.”

Also interesting, in that same sarcastic tone, is that somebody complained to Vancouver Coastal Health about the sharps container Lieberman had playfully set up on the napkin station to give customers the option of recycling their giant, plastic syringes.

The container is set up on the same surface as an advertisement for the festival, as well as a stack of walking maps that also indicate the festival is a fundraiser for the Downtown Eastside women’s job training program of the PHS Community Services Society through East Van Roasters. (Incidentally, Mink Chocolates and its “Paula Deen White Trash Train Wreck” came in at number one last year.)

Mink was the second stop of the day for Carolyn Jack and RJ Hatch. They’d been to Bella Gelateria earlier for the “Earl Goes Boom” white hot chocolate steeped in Earl Grey tea and lavender, and later planned on sampling East Van Roasters’ “Monkey Manna” made with Peruvian chocolate, peppercorn and vanilla.

But first, the Flu Shot.

“It’s sort of like pudding,” mused Hatch. “With Baileys,” added Jack. “I thought you’d be up for the cricket!”

“I need to save the room,” said Hatch, though it was unclear if he didn’t have room or he simply couldn’t stomach the idea. After all, more women have ordered “Don’t Bug Me” than men, said Lieberman who summed up his creative efforts: “I like to get people out of their comfort zones and get them to do something different.”