This museum takes the cake

More than 100 homemade chocolates on display

This museum takes the cake

Museum brings out some of the facets of evolution of the chocolate
From “bean-to-bar”, spanning ages and nations, mouth-watering chocolates have broken geographical barriers. Yet, the melting sensation of chocolates in your mouth, a delicacy of the instant present, would hardly make it seem a proposition for an
assortment of fixities showcased in an enclosure. But this is where, ‘Nilgiris’ (The Blue Mountains), popularly known as Ooty, nestling between the laps of the Western Ghats as the “Queen of Hill Stations” in South India, has made a big difference.

Inspired by an 80-year-old tradition of “homemade chocolates-making”, Ooty’s high-minded soul recently made a bold foray in institutional innovation to set up “India’s First Chocolate Museum”.

The oddity of setting up a museum for chocolates at Ooty would soon vanish into thin air, notwithstanding that global warming is on the rise. Just consider this. “Milk chocolates melt at 38 degrees celsius, but Ooty is still blessed with a maximum temperature of only 32 degrees celsius,” said Fazloor Rahman, whose family store M and N Goodies, run by the Rahman Brothers, has recently set up the museum, taking advantage of this temperature difference.

There is nonetheless, more to this cold logic. Decades ago, under the erstwhile British rule – as tea gardens set up by them had as much a political angle as a development agenda--several of their desi helpers at their bungalows were also quietly picking up “recipes” of homemade chocolates from their English masters. And that’s how Fazloor Rahman’s grandfather, Sheikh Abdul Khadar, had set up the first Nilgiris Products Showroom (NPS) in 1942 at Ooty, selling tea along with other valuable Nilgiri products. In the course of time, they also began to sell homemade chocolates, laying the foundations for a promising cottage industry.

Soon, the Rahman Brothers of NPS-fame came to be known as the “chocolate brothers”, recalled Fazloor Rahman, the third generation chocolate-maker in their family, speaking to Deccan Herald from Ooty on how their idea of establishing the museum now was in a sense an apt culmination of those long years of dedicated, strenuous business efforts. Making chocolates has been “both an art and a science”, ever since people of the Mayan Civilisation, some four centuries before the Christian Era, were first believed to have processed chocolate from cocoa, and “consumed it as a drink”, said Rahman. “In Ooty, the climate helps us; we don’t need to freeze the stuff and so the taste is even better,” he mused, now heading one of the modern, biggest chocolate-making units in ‘SIDCO Industrial Estate’ in the quaint hill-station town.

“We used to do a Chocolate Festival every year; this year it struck us why not elevate it into a permanent museum for chocolates that could also help diffuse greater awareness about the health benefits of chocolates, especially dark chocolates,” explained Fazloor Rahman, who had attended a professional course in Canada before taking over the reins from his father, Mohammed Ibrahim.

Choosing a typical colonial style stone building at Indu Nagar, six km from the district headquarters, on the Ooty-Mysore road to house what the museum, the Rahman Brothers tastefully did up its interiors with wood which helps to keep the museum premises insulated from heat.

With hardly any fanfare, the museum inauguration was modest too, reflecting the spirit of their conservative family. A low-profile Dr S Yella Reddy, who has been extensively researching cocoa and chocolates at the Central Food and Technology
Research Institute, Mysore, cut the ribbon, on April 26 this year. It has been an instant hit with tourists, kids in particular.

Well spaced out in an enclosure of 2,200 sq ft area, the museum has been conceptualised to reflect, among others the course and texture of the evolution of the techniques in chocolate-making, right from the ancient Mayans to modern times, explained Fazloor Rahman.

Before 1847, chocolate was known to have been consumed only as a drink world-over, until that year an English company “introduced the first pieces of a solid eating chocolate, changing the way the world consumed this delicious something,” he noted. And two decades later, Daniel Peter of Vevey, Switzerland, gave to the world the first taste of a milk chocolate with a unique formula.

The museum in Ooty not only brings out some of these facets in the tasty, creamy evolution of the chocolate, but also houses several sculptures made with chocolate to particularly make it enjoyable for children, said Fazloor Rahman. “We used two tonnes of chocolate to make 14 sculptures that took us nearly three months.” The most prominent of them is a Laughing Buddha.

Apart from the sculptures, portraits of chocolate ladies of Switzerland who are known to be the founders of eating chocolate have been done with white chocolate. Equally enticing the visitors are the huge models of a boat and a horse-cart made in chocolate, to denote how the Spanish in earlier times had used such modes to transport chocolate processed from cocoa. Last but not the least is a pretty mannequin who has been draped with chocolate clothes!

“The idea is we want the chocolate museum to be both instructive and engaging,” said Fazloor Rahman. Another unique feature is that the museum displays over 100 varieties of homemade chocolates made in Ooty itself. What is amazing is that the
museum “is already attracting 700 to 1,000 visitors per day,” Ooty’s tourist season notwithstanding, he claimed.

Even if the chocolates stay cool in Ooty’s clime, the private museum’s founders will modify the exhibits and create new chocolate sculptures every three months. This flexibility to refashion the collections will also “help us create more awareness about chocolates health benefits,” assured Fazloor Rahman.

While “flavonoids”, a chemical found in chocolate, is believed to help prevent heart attacks and strokes, chocolates always bring back a smile on depressed faces! That is why quality assurance and consistency at every step is a must in batch after batch of every chocolate variety. The Chocolate Museum is itself the message, he added.

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