Ring in the holidays with Keystone’s chocolate village
Ryan Summerlin December 17, 2011
It’s a point of wonder and curiosity for most people who walk into the Keystone Lodge and Spa, general manager Luke Slottow said.
He tried to pick out the new additions to Keystone executive pastry chef Ned Archibald’s chocolate village, which is now earning attention from visitors and locals in the lodge’s lobby.
The more than 7,000 pounds of chocolate includes a mountain scene – complete with two trains running along their tracks through the chocolate hillsides and tunnels, as well as two gondola cars chugging up and down the mountainside, and a chocolate waterfall – as well as a Norman Rockwell-style Christmas tree and presents, complete with a solid chocolate rocking horse.
“That’s Ned’s touch right there – the Patriots’ (foot)ball,” one onlooker said.
Archibald said he got grief last year when the New England Patriots’ ball was the only one under the tree. Between that and the Denver Broncos current record, he decided to bring back the Broncos’ ball.
Other new items include a treasure chest, which was created to complement the Kidtopia theme this year, ducks that mimic the rubber ducks from the Summit Foundation’s Duck Race fundraiser, a Hello Kitty duplicate, and more. A solid chocolate sits under the tree that weighs about 70 pounds. The footballs each weight about 15 pounds, maybe more.
Giant nutcrackers stand alongside the turning white-chocolate Christmas tree, originally named Max and Edna Dercum in tribute to some of Keystone’s founders. Now, they’re named Bill and Jane, for fellow originators Bill and Jane Bergman.
Most of what sits there is solid chocolate, Archibald said, including the presents, which are “rewrapped” each year with new “paper.”
Because it comes in and out of storage, Archibald’s chocolate village has grown since its “humble beginnings” 17 years ago. It was a standalone 8-foot by 4-foot village in its original state, which back then was a mix of gingerbread and chocolate.
Since then, Archibald has grown it as well as converted it entirely to chocolate.
He realized he needed to take his unique skill to the next level when he went to San Francisco and marveled at all the gingerbread displays – but was somewhat bored after awhile.
“I wanted to separate myself from the gingerbread,” he said. “I have a talent that a lot of those chefs don’t have, so why not use it?”
He added, “Chocolate gets a reaction from people that gingerbread just doesn’t solicit … it gets an ‘ooh’ and ‘aah.'”
The chocolate comes in and out of storage, and due to how cocoa butter reacts with the air over time, must be refurbished each year. Archibald and his six staffers arrive at Keystone Lodge and Spa at 3 a.m. the day the village goes up. They used to work all night to create the magic of the village arriving overnight for guests, but Archibald doesn’t make that requirement of employees any longer.
The crew uses a low-heat blowtorch to re-heat the chocolate and help the cocoa butter take its original, rich-in-color form once again. They load a Wagner paint sprayer with “snow” to decorate the hillsides. And so on. It helps that Colorado is the ideal climate for creating a chocolate village. Temperatures and the dry air help the chocolate keep through the holidays.
“Some people come and sit in the chairs and watch it every day,” Archibald said of the completed village, explaining why he includes the moving pieces. He added that, even though the village comes out of storage each year, a lot of work goes into getting it set up and looking as spectacular as it did on Day 1.
Archibald completes the display with a chocolate sign that lists frequently asked questions as well as a sign that pays tribute to the folks who put in most of the work through the years.
Children and adults alike can enjoy one thing that changes each day – the countdown until Christmas day.