Chocolate Festival at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) – Tampa, Florida

I hope no one is on a diet today because this post may put a few pounds on just by reading it! My wife approached me and told me to get my camera and that we were going “out”. I have been married over 13 years thus far and I have learned not to ask where we are going. She may get the great idea to have one out these “outings” in the Everglades sometime and I could be the snack! I bet she would even call it an accident! Since I have no idea about the location or what we will be running into, I take two of my workhorse lenses that will allow me to shoot just about anything. The first lens that I put in the bag was my 18mm-200mm, which will give me some flexibility in shooting. However, the only bad thing about this lens is that it’s a variable aperture lens, which means that it starts out at f/3.5 and then goes to f/5.6 when it’s extended out to the 200mm range. This can be too slow in a low light environment and will result in blurry photo. This is why I also take my 50mm f/1.4 with me. I have photographed many low light situations such as the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, here’s the link: A Night With The Orchestra – Punta Gorda, Florida. This allows me to freeze action without the use of flash. I also take a flash with me in case I can use it on location, it never hurts to be a little prepared, but you don’t want to take 100lbs. of gear with you either.

We pile into the car and off we go…and go…and go. At least at this point we are heading north so that means that she isn’t going to dump me in the Everglades, but the Sunshine Skyway is coming up! After about 90 minutes we end up at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). I have been here before but it has been quite awhile. The last time I was here, there were piles and piles of screaming kids calling out for “Mommy” as they fell off the thing they were climbing on that they shouldn’t have been on in the first place. I wasn’t sure why my wife wanted to come back to this place since our last trip here cured us for life on the decision whether or not to have kids. As I mentioned before, I was just along for the ride so there had to be something up her sleeve, at least I was hoping. There were hordes of people coming out, wiping their faces and their kids had looked like the parent stuck their face under a mud puddle to quiet them down. We parked the car out in the back forty, I think they were giving tickets away as we parked out in a grass field that looks as if there was a building there some time ago. At this point I was really glad that I didn’t bring every last piece of equipment! We hiked to the entrance and opened the door. I was so relieved when I saw a huge banner saying, “Welcome to the Chocolate Festival” I was happier than Elvis finding a peanut butter and banana sandwich! My wife had made some arrangements ahead of time so we didn’t have to wait in the 200 person line to get tickets. My wife looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, we’re here for the chocolate, not the yelling kids!” I have to say and most of you who know me can attest to this fact that I know my way around a candy bar or any dessert for that matter. I also shoot food for magazines so this was actually right up my alley, until I looked straight up, sodium mercury lights. If you have no idea what these are, these lights are the same ones that they use in high school gyms. They don’t put out much light, but the light that they do put out is green. It’s amazing how you can take a perfectly healthy person and make them look like they came out of Chernobyl. I choose my Nikon’s fluorescent white balance setting and it wasn’t a great fix, so on to plan B. I was in luck as my Nikon also has a Kelvin scale that I can change to any temperature that I want. I found a white tablecloth and dialed in my setting until the white cloth was white. At this point I was in my element, the smell of sweets in the air and I put the 50mm on the camera so I could shoot with a large aperture with an ISO that wouldn’t look like a snowstorm. For the exposure, I set the camera to ISO 800, f/2.8 at 1/125. The shutter speed changed depending on what I was shooting but this was a good start. Now it was time to see how to work this event.

I soon found out that there wasn’t any cash involved. You had to trade cash for tokens. All of the sudden I was six years old at Chucky Cheeses again. All of the vendors would sell their products for certain amount of tokens. I told my wife that I was going to take a few photos and she could go stuff her face and I would meet up with her in a bit to stuff my hips. There were wall to wall people, it was like this was the last of the chocolate on Earth and you could get a certain amount for the right price, it was legal crack. I did notice that some folks from the local papers were there as they had lanyards on. This was perfect. They have no problem butting in front of people to get the shot (don’t ask how I know this). However, I was surprised that since I had a “professional” camera, the vendors let me take photos. I guess they wouldn’t have taken my iPhone camera too seriously here. I could feel my pancreas quivering with the amount of insulin that it was going to have to come up with for all this sugar so here we go…

 These chocolate covered apples at the chocolate festival at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Florida were amazing, photo by Spencer Pullen.Chocolate, Carmel and Peanut Covered Apples – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

The first thing that I came across were the apples, racks and racks full of apples, just about any way you wanted them. I looked the rack over and wanted to get some that were along the edges so I would have the most amount of light to work with. If all fruit and vegetables were covered like this, you better believe that kids would have no problems eating their vegetables!

 Spencer Pullen had the chance to photograph these chocolate swirl pies at the chocolate festival at the Museum of Science and Insdustry in Tampa, Florida.Chocolate Swirl Pies – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

These were nicely arranged on an elevated cup holder. To help save my butt just in case, I always shoot in RAW. I bracketed a few exposures since I wasn’t sure what I was going to get. Later in Photoshop I loaded the lighter one for the chocolate swirl and the darker one for the cookie base and did a little masking to get both parts that I needed. This was not the place to pull out a flash and fill card so I was going to have to use what I had, the camera and what mental muscle is left at this point.

 Spencer Pullen photographed these icing filled cookies at the chocolate festival at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Florida.Cream Filled Cookies – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Some of you may not know this, but my wife and I actually owned and operated a bakery awhile back. Hey, you don’t get this sexy from eating lettuce, let me tell you! Anytime I can add icing to anything is a good thing. These icing filled cookies were stacked ready to sell, they were so photogenic I had to get a photo.

 These chocolate cupcakes were presented perfectly at the chocolate festival at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Spencer Pullen.Chocolate Cupcakes – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

This was a dark subject so I didn’t mind if I had to loose part of the plate detail. I could have bracketed this but at this point I was trying no to drool on the goods so I didn’t have to buy the whole plate…wait, that is where I went wrong!

 These mini vanilla cupcakes were quite photogenic at the chocolate festival at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Florida. Photo taken by Spencer Pullen.Vanilla Cream Cupcakes – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Again, these cupcakes were all arranged on cake stands and ready for sale, the only problem is that they were about the size of my pinky finger. I needed to find the fat boy cupcake, something with some size to it!

Spencer Pullen took this photograph of these chocolate kiss cookies while he was at the chocolate festival at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Florida. Chocolate Kiss Cookies – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

I was attracted to these cookies because of the color. I also like how they were kind of mismoshed on the plate. This symbolizes how the people were acting to get to the chocolate. This was a straight shot as the tone was pretty even.

 These chocolate truffles were photographed at the Museum of Science and Indursty (MOSI) in Tampa, Florida at their chocolate festival. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Chocolate Truffles – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

I have made a few truffles in my day. I used to make them out of ganache. Anything that starts with a couple of pounds of chocolate, a couple of quarts of heaving cream and a few pounds of butter is worth trying once. This became a staple at our bakery that we even submerged our cheesecakes in it when they were finished. Some folks would say, isn’t that a little much? Goodness no! If I’m going to eat dessert, I’m going to do it right!

 These chocolate covered strawberries at the chocolate festival at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Florida were wonderful. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Chocolate Covered Strawberries – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Chocolate covered strawberries are a classic. These were well presented and looked very good. It was also strawberry season when this was going on so I’m sure these are at their peak. As you can see from the photo, these were even served on a silver platter. It doesn’t get better than this!

 This was photographed by Spencer Pullen at the chocolate festival at the Museum of Science and Insdustry in Tampa, Florida. He was making ice cream with nitrogen!Nitrogen Ice Cream – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

I was hearing about ice cream being made with liquid nitrogen. We used to play with this stuff in high school. We would freeze fruit and throw it against the wall and watch it shatter into a million pieces. This was great until it thawed out and then we had a real mess to clean up. It was fun though. Here you can see the vendor adding nitrogen to his ice cream base to freeze it.

 Seen here, is this vendor mizing ice cream with liquid nitrogen at the chocolate festival at the Museum of Science and Insdustry in Tampa, Florida. Photo taken by Spencer Pullen.Mixing The Nitrogen Ice Cream – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

I was told that this guy was on the show “Shark Tank” where inventors can go and ask for startup money for their project. In a nutshell he was told that this would never fly and he was wasting their time. Well, as I was working the room, his table was always busy. As I was taking these, he was taking with one of the folks buying his ice cream and he explained that he has already opened up a chain of ice cream stores around the country and is expanding at a rapid pace. I guess the people on Shark Tank didn’t realize that there is a weight epidemic in America as we all love to eat ICE CREAM!

It was a great day and I left with a camera full oh photos that I felt good about and a loaded tummy. Driving home was interesting as the first part of the trip we were like the Energizer bunny loaded on crack going 400mph, but about 30 minutes later we were ready for a nap. Trying to stay awake was a real challenge. Eating chocolate is a challenging but fulfilling position that I’m happy to serve whenever I can.

If there is a local chocolate festival coming to your area, I would highly recommend going. If not, you may want to start one! This was a fun event; even the wife made chocolate lip balm while we were there. I think this is how she keeps me around the house and getting the chores done. “Honey, if you mow the grass, I’ll wear that special balm that you like.” I hate to admit it….works every time!

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. yum

  2. OMG!!!! This is fabulous! The commentary especially! Spencer, photo/JOURNALISM is your calling. Loved the shot of the elevated choco pie with the star fleet of companions swirling around in the background. Too fun!

  3. Thanks a zillion times over for sharing your adventure to the Chocolate Festival at MOSI. Your writing alone put 10 pounds on me; and then came the photo’s, such delicious photo’s they are. Thanks for the ‘how to.”

  4. Nice picture,,,!,,,, very sweet!!

  5. Enjoyed the story of your chocolate adventure. The photos are very inviting.
    Thanks for sharing

  6. That’s one of those…. boy, I wish I was there. Great storytelling and wonderful pictures of those confectioneries.

  7. Your comments crack me up – in a good way! The yummies were amazing. Glad you went and had a few.

  8. Spencer:

    Your photos are terrific, but I was the guy making the liquid nitrogen ice cream at the Tampa Festival Of Chocolate, and I wanted to clarify your comments. My company is called Private Island Ice Cream (14650 Gatorland Dr #4, Orlando, FL 32837), and I’m the official liquid nitrogen ice cream vendor for the Festival Of Chocolate. I am NOT the guy who was on Shark Tank, nor do I have a chain of shops. The Shark Tank episode had recently run, and at least 300 people asked me if I was the guy on there, so it was a constant topic of conversation throughout that weekend, and perhaps you misheard the conversation in all of the noise and crowd (we were probably the most popular booth and it was always crowded).

    I do have the distinction of being the first to make liquid nitrogen ice cream on the east coast, which I started doing in 2007. We have one shop, in Orlando, directly across from Gatorland, where we custom make each individual ice cream to order, and we do a lot of liquid nitrogen ice cream catering for the top hotels and event planners in Central Florida. Our goal is to make the best ice cream in the world, and since it has become a growing trend across the country, we seem to be succeeding.

    Liquid nitrogen ice cream is a huge improvement over conventional ice cream, and I encourage your readers to try it the next time they are visiting Orlando. The other option is to come and see me next spring when I’ll be visiting Tampa again with the Festival Of Chocolate.

    Thanks for the great photos!

    • Spencer

      To all my readers, I’m glad that John Eustace, the owner of Private Island Ice Cream in Orlando, FL responded. He is correct that apparently I got my facts mixed up while I was there. What I would recommend is TRY HIS ICE CREAM. Just watching the process is amazing in itself. John listed his location in the comment above so if you are in the area, stop by and see his place of business. Also, I know I’m going to make sure I make it next year to the Festival Of Chocolate in Tampa!

      Thanks again, John….


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