Press Articles
The Hot Cocoa Connoisseur

Heather Sackett
Telluride Daily Planet

Eight-year-old Ben Stephens’ family has been visiting Telluride for the last seven years.

He’s been skiing since he was 3 years old and now shreds black runs like the Bushwhacker trees alongside locals. But on his most recent trip, Stephens added another activity to the things he’s an expert at: hot cocoa.

“I love chocolate, and I love it hot,” Stephens said.

Hot cocoa is a rare treat in the family’s home of Houston, Texas, where it’s usually too warm to enjoy the steamy drink. But while on their spring break trip to Telluride, Stephens ordered a hot chocolate at every restaurant the family visited and ranked them in four categories: presentation, chocolate balance, thickness and overall taste.

Stephens tasted the cocoa at Brown Dog, Tracks, Telluride Truffl e, Tomboy Tavern, Oak and Cosmo. He even threw his mom’s hot chocolate into the contest, ranking hers, (which she admitted was from packets at the United Club in the Houston airport) sixth. Although Telluride Truffl e earned an extra point because their recipe is homemade, Brown Dog came out on top. The surprising winner, better known for its prize-winning pizza, earned 33 points out of a possible 40.

Channeling his best Goldilocks, Stephens said, “It’s not too watery, it’s not too chocolatey, it’s just right.”

Brown Dog owner Dan Lynch heard about the restaurant’s hot cocoa victory and offered to give the budding food critic a behindthe- scenes tour of the kitchen last week as a show of appreciation. Stephens got to see the cooler where stacks of pizza dough are stored, the counter where the toppings are prepared and the long-handled wooden peels used to put pizzas in and take them out of the oven.

The hot chocolate connoisseur has some advice for the other restaurants he sampled: Work on the chocolate balance and thickness before worrying about presentation. And use milk instead of water.

“Put (the milk) in a pan for about 10 minutes, pour the chocolate in the cup of milk, then stir it,” Stephens said.

The Stephens family — Ben, mom Elizabeth, dad Kyle and 7-year-old sister Samantha — come to Telluride about four or five times a year and stay at the River Club. The family is friends with local realtor Stewart Seeligson,who turned them on to life in the box canyon many years ago.

Elizabeth, who works as a senior sales executive for National Oilwell Varco, said Ben has a discerning sweet tooth. He’s particular about chocolate and sweets and doesn’t like cake of any kind. But hot cocoa is another matter.

“He has loved hot chocolate since we start(ed) bringing him to Telluride,” Elizabeth Stephens said. “At 3 years old it was his first trip and really his first introduction to hot chocolate at ski school. We picked him up and his white undershirt was covered in hot chocolate. From then on, especially in Telluride, Ben’s favorite drink is hot chocolate.”

And the hot chocolate ranking is just the beginning. Samantha started a project that ranks Telluride’s many dogs on fl uffi ness and niceness, among other traits. And there are still many restaurants left where Ben wants to taste and score the hot cocoa.

“He was very committed to this,” Elizabeth said. “He brought his paper with him everywhere we went for dinner every night. We started talking about it with the locals and they had a lot of suggestions on where to go next, but we ran out of time.”

And since Ben missed a few days of school this year to ski in Telluride, his mom is hoping his teachers at Brill Elementary in Spring, Texas appreciate the initiative he took with his project.

“We are going to take it to school and hopefully get some extra credit,” Elizabeth said.

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