Kristy Leissle, also known as Dr. Chocolate, is faculty at the University of Washington Bothell and Cultural Specialist for National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions. Kristy earned her PhD by studying the cocoa-chocolate trade between Ghana and Britain, and chocolate has remained her primary research interest. Her work has addressed gendered aspects of cocoa farming in West Africa; fair trade and social justice initiatives; and the economics and cultures of US craft chocolate. Kristy’s writing on chocolate has appeared in, among others, Gastronomica, Alimentum, Journal of African Cultural Studies, The Conversation, yes! magazine, and Food, Culture, and Society (forthcoming). Her book, Cocoa (Polity Press), on the global political economy of this industry, will be published in 2017.
Did the retreat meet your expectations?
My stay at Moshin Vineyards not only met but exceeded my expectations. As I drove toward the vineyard from SFO, I could feel myself moving into a "writing zone," and it was the stunning scenery that helped me transition. I knew as I wound my way through the vineyards, a new one appearing around every bend in the road, that my experience was going to be a very special one. The springtime landscape -- buds appearing on every vine, the air filled with sunshine -- more or less told me that I too was going to be have a productive, creative experience. And indeed it was! My little "apartment" was so comfortable, and a very soothing space in which to write. Everyone at Moshin was so friendly and welcoming, and offered thoughtful, helpful tips to make my stay a lovely one. It was a delight from start to finish, and I was sad when the time came to leave.
What was the most unexpected part of your stay?
The near-total quiet, especially at night, when I was alone on the vineyard. Our lives are so busy and information-filled, and the constant stimulation of the everyday can make it difficult for me to get into my best writing mindset. Apart from the soft and friendly sounds from the winery--compressors humming in the night, people laughing during a late-afternoon tasting--it was so peaceful, and several days of that really helped me to achieve peace in my mind to write.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of your retreat?
Having time and space completely to myself, to delve into writing and reading as I wished, with no other responsibilities. It was very liberating. Whereas writing often has to be fit into a busy work schedule--teaching and grading papers, attending meetings, all my other university work--the luxury of not only time, but a wide-open day with no commitments, meant that I wrote much more freely than usual. And that was very enjoyable--it was a happy writing time.
What did you work on during the retreat?
I am currently working on the manuscript for a volume entitled, simply, Cocoa. Cocoa will join about ten or twelve existing volumes in the Polity Press "Resources" series, each of which addresses the global political economy, industry, and trade of a different resource (oil, sugar, coffee, etc.) At Moshin, I worked specifically on a chapter about processing: the industrial transformation of cocoa beans into chocolate bars. This is a very mechanical endeavor, so I was thinking a lot about machinery and crystalline structures of cocoa butter and roasting temperatures, stuff like that. Because I am a scholar and a writer, and not a chocolate maker, it was especially helpful to have peace and quiet at Moshin to think through these technical processes.
What other activities did you do during the retreat?
I did mostly write! I caught up on sleep at night, as I had just returned to the US from South Africa, and was pretty jet lagged. I also enjoyed the wonderful treat of a wine tasting on my last evening at Moshin with Julia Lander, hospitality director. We had a fantastic conversation about chocolate and wine and life, while sampling their stunning selection. That was a real highlight!
Did you participate in any activities or events arranged by the host winery?
Yes! When I was awarded a residency, the folks at Moshin contacted me and asked if I would be interested in hosting a chocolate-wine pairing event. I often do chocolate tasting events, and so I readily agreed. It was a huge delight. They had prepared a stunning table for the pairing event, and the guests were enthusiastic, interested participants. I discussed four or five main aspects of chocolate process that contribute to final flavor, and then we tasted two different kinds of cocoa beans (Peru, Papua New Guinea) and three different chocolates to illustrate: Dandelion Madagascar 70%, Dick Taylor Madagascar 72%, and Trade Joe's Ecuador 65%. Then we paired them with a variety of Moshin wines.
I find it useful to host events where people can ask me questions and I can find out what intrigues them about chocolate, what they like for me to explain about process. So it was a very helpful start to my residency and got me oriented to my writing.
Can you sum up your experience in eight to ten words?
An inspirational time of creative freedom to be my best writing self.
Any other comments, impressions, and surprises about the retreat?
For me, the tasting event was a wonderful opportunity to meet the Moshin staff, and those who enjoy their wines, but also to reflect on my work in a non-writing way. It was great to be a part of the Moshin community and helped me feel like I was "in" the place more profoundly than if I had just turned up and started writing . . . I think it helped me to feel comfortable in the space of the vineyard, as well as stimulating my creative writing thoughts.