A town for chocoholics
KEYSTONE – Ned Archibald keeps an entire village in Keystone running. Archibald makes his usual rounds, oiling the train engines in the village and clearing the track of residue – a job he does four to five times a day. As he maintains the railroad, he often lets onlookers touch the train cars and cabooses so they can sense their weight.He never dreamed someone might actually try to bite into his train, but a couple of years ago, a 4-year-old boy couldn’t resist. But who could blame him, for Archibald’s village is made entirely of chocolate, and now his caboose has teethmarks in it.Archibald, Keystone’s executive pastry chef, fashioned his miniature “Chocolateville” out of the finest semisweet, milk and white chocolate from Switzerland, Belgium and Germany. He has used more than 2,000 pounds of chocolate throughout the last nine years he has been building and adding to his masterpiece. He estimates Keystone has spent more than $11,000 on the chocolate alone to create his village.He uses the finest chocolate not only for bragging rights, but also because cheaper chocolates have tropical oils and additives that cause them to bloom, or turn white with age, sooner. Since Archibald stores his chocolate village in a wooden shelter in the conference center year after year, he needs chocolate that will be as easy to maintain as possible.As it is, Archibald spends about five to seven days cleaning the chocolate each year before he displays it. He uses a blow torch to remove blooming and gain the original sheen.A mouthwatering village
The town boasts a 280-pound semisweet chocolate mountain covered in powdery sugar snow, gondolas, trains carrying English toffee brickle and a Hershey syrup waterfall.More than 800 trees, made of white chocolate and green food coloring, decorate the brown mountains, and 13 white bighorn sheep hide in the forest.The mountains nestle a village of 25 buildings, including ornate churches, each weighing 5 to 8 pounds. Most people’s eyes are initially drawn to the two moving gondolas, which are the only structures hollowed out because solid chocolate gondolas are too heavy for the line, Archibald said.Two trains zip through tunnels and trusses on a multi-leveled table (covered in white chocolate to represent snow). One simulates the train that brings supplies to the town, and the other represents a train carrying mining supplies. Each detail is hand carved.”People are fascinated with solid chocolate,” he said. “The downside is it looks so realistic and it’s so detail oriented, it looks like I just dipped train cars in chocolate.”Though not apparent on first glance, a waterfall flows down a chocolate mountain. Three gallons of thinned Hershey’s syrup ripple down the waterfall, inspired by “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.””I probably watch Willy Wonka in a whole different way than most people do,” Archibald said. “He’s my hero.”Two 120-pound nutcrackers on each side of the village pay tribute to skiing pioneers Max and Edna Dercum.
Too much chocolateArchibald adds to his village every year, but this year, he ran out of room to expand its size. So he borrowed inspiration from one of his favorite childhood games – finding hidden pictures in “Highlights” magazine.He hid five items throughout the village that normally wouldn’t belong in a mountain scene. They range in size from 4-6 inches. The easiest to find is a red food-colored lobster. The hardest to find is a green alligator. Other items include a blue musical note, the ace of spades and a wrench – which a visitor picked up, thinking it was a real wrench left by the maintenance crew. He lists each item on an information sheet located at the display.Though some Keystone employees say his village is crowding out seating for guests, Archibald says they still have some furniture to sit on, so he hopes to garner more room for next year’s 10th anniversary of Chocolateville.”I have big ideas for next year, but I’m not disclosing them,” Archibald said. “But I need more space, or I may have to come down from the ceiling. I think it will be pretty spectacular. I want to make a big splash.”An obsession with chocolateArchibald has a passion for chocolate beyond that of any chocoholic. He has built replicas of BMWs, the Statue of Liberty, mansions – including South Fork Ranch of “Dallas” fame – and an 8-foot tall working clock tower out of chocolate.
He created the clock for the 2003 countdown, and since then the chocolate has bloomed, creating a ragged, antique look. Though contrary to a pasty chefs nature, he didn’t fix up the chocolate to look mouthwateringly perfect, because Keystone employees thought the clock looked better – and more authentic – with its aged appearance.”I think about chocolate more than I probably should,” he said. “I look at something and wonder how I’d make it out of chocolate. If I go to church, I’m looking at the stainglass windows and thinking about how to do that out of sugar. I think it’s just something in my blood. My family owned four bakeries and two restaurants in Massachusetts. Every year, I look at the rest of the lobby thinking, ‘How much of the lobby space can I take over here?'”But similar to Summit County, the town is nearly built out. Still, Archibald resolves to continue to build with chocolate.”Americans have a love affair with chocolate and a fascination with trains that spans every generation, and I try to tap into that,” he said. “I took two American-type icons (trains and chocolate) and put them together, and people are just fascinated by them. Gingerbread houses have been done to death. I never had anyone get so excited about gingerbread. With chocolate, people want to eat it.”Archibald displays Chocolateville through Jan. 2 in the lobby of Keystone Lodge.Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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