| Sweets |

Chocolate and Charity: Cacao & Cardamom and the Chester Pitts Foundation

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Sometimes when people are trying to do something good, challenges arise. Such was the case when Cacao & Cardamom at 5000 Westheimer joined forces with former Houston Texan Chester Pitts last week to host a group of kids, show them how chocolates are made and sell chocolates to raise money for the foundation.

Traffic all around the shop was excruciatingly slow, making almost everyone on the way to the event late. The Galleria area intersection of Westheimer and Post Oak seemed to be the nexus of the problem. I left from Uptown Park and it was a 25-minute slog to make it a mile down the street. My photographer-husband was coming from the other direction and it took him longer to get from Highway 59 and Sage to the shop than it did for him to get to that exit all the way from Katy.

When I arrived, Cacao and Cardamom's owner Annie Rupani let me know what the problem was. The cause was broken water pipes and, of course, the section that needed work was right in the middle of the busy intersection at Westheimer and Post Oak, causing a traffic snarl for miles.

I walked around the shop, impressed by what I saw. I expected to see the big glass case full of Rupani's glossy, exotic chocolates, in flavors like cardamom rose, garam masala pistachio and black sesame ginger. Each is a little artwork unto itself, decorated in vibrant speckles and swirls.

I didn't, however, know about the extensive selection of chocolate bars from around the world. Around the entire perimeter of the shop, bars from around 25 countries are collected in separate sections. Some were from countries I'd never seen chocolate from before: Vietnam and Hungary, for example.

Pitts made it in shortly after I did and we talked about his foundation. He played for the Houston Texans from 2002 until 2009 as either a left guard or left tackle until he injured his right knee and needed surgery. He found a new calling later and established the Chester Pitts Charitable Foundation. The organization works to expose kids to fine art, dance and music education. They coordinate events such as taking big groups of school kids of all ages to the Houston Symphony.

Why does a former football player have such an affinity for the arts? "My mom was pretty serious about music. We listened to about 30 minutes of classical music every day. All four of us siblings had to learn some sort of musical instrument. Early on, I learned how to play the organ and piano."

For many of these children, it's their first exposure to the professional arts. "There are many kids in band who realize, 'Oh my gosh, I didn't know I could get a job doing this!'" says Pitts. "Their faces light up. I can take that interest and turn it up three-fold. When that happens, I know I'm doing the right thing."

What about the chocolate? Is his a big Cacao and Cardamom fan? "I've learned a lot here about chocolate, cacao and cocoa. I've learned about 72 percent chocolate and how Hershey's is not real chocolate. Real chocolate is the good stuff. I had a chocolate bar here the other day. It was a $7 chocolate bar, but it was the best chocolate I've ever had in my life."

Eventually, the kids and their parents made their way to the shop and the event went on as planned. The kids trooped into the kitchen with Rupani to listen to her talk about being a chocolatier, piped some chocolates and watched the tempering machine work its magic, glossing the liquid chocolate that would later provide that fine, smooth finish to her candies.

You can visit the Chester Pitts Foundation website for more information about the charity and its work. There's also a donation link.

Need your own chocolate fix? Stop by Cacao and Cardamom, select a few of Rupani's handmade truffles from the case and take a tour of chocolate bars from around the world. It is open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.

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