October 22, 2013
A whole week devoted to chocolate, what's not to like!
Last week was my favourite week of the year. It was Chocolate Week! This year it was extra special, because the first Salon du Chocolat London took place over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For me it was extra busy as it was the world finals of The International Chocolate Awards 2013. As a member of the Grand Jury I spent the week judging all the regional award winners and finalists, before the final announcements of who won!
Chocolate Week means events up and down the country as chocolatiers and pastry chefs get on board with special desserts, afternoon teas and chocolate launches. Many of the countries top chocolatiers such as William Curley, Paul A Young, Rococo and Marc Demarquette were out in force with new launches, special offers or a programme of events.
Rococo are in their 30th anniversary year and had a full programme of events and tasting all week. They were also celebrating their Principal Chocolatier Barry Johnson winning the UK Pastry Open the previous week. Barry and Chantal Coady were to be found doing demonstrations throughout and get my huge congratulations for winning four silver awards and one gold award in the world finals. Quite some achievement and well deserved!
The finals of The International Awards main round judging took place with around one hundred judges on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Grand Jury deliberations were held within the Salon du Chocolat for the duration of Friday. There was a stunning range of products that made it through from across the globe. The Grand Jury was swelled by the presence of a wonderful showing of regional Grand Jurors, and of course presided over by Martin Christy and his founding Grand Jurors Monica Meschini and Maricel Presilla. What the assembled company don’t know about chocolate isn’t worth knowing.
I have described the judging process in detail here before, so I won’t go into it. But it is worth mentioning what an enormously rigorous process is involved in judging the hundreds of entries at each regional heat and then again for this world final. The standard of entry is thrilling and hugely impressive. And it was the greatest joy at the awards announcement on Saturday evening at the Salon du Chocolat to see gold and silver medals won by chocolate makers and chocolatiers from Ecuador to Denmark, from the UK to Japan. These awards are truly international, finding and celebrating chocolate of the highest possible level worldwide, and I am very proud to be part of it. For a complete list of all this years winners click through to the awards website.
One multiple winner, and a great participant of Chocolate Week, is London chocolatier Paul A Young. Amongst his full programme he launched his collaboration with Pizza Pilgrims in the form of a Margherita truffle, crusted with toasted pizza dough crumbs and infused with tomato and basil. I was lucky enough to attend an evening demonstration on his other recent collaboration, with the California Prune Board. In his inimitable style he showed us how to whip up his new dark chocolate and prune truffle. No sweat, well not if you are Paul A Young! The results of the collaboration are available to buy from Chocolate Week and included the other treat he demonstrated that evening, a new brownie. Paul’s brownies are somewhat legendary, and it has to be said that this Prune, Black Pepper and Caramel brownie blew me away. It is his best yet, in my humble opinion. The fruity acidity of the prunes offsets intense brownie richness, and the whole is a sweet, sticky, fruity, darkly chocolate-rich delight.
Another highlight of the week was the chance to catch up with some of the international chocolate makers whose chocolate I adore. In some cases the Salon du Chocolat represented a rare opportunity to taste and buy things that aren’t easy to find in the UK. Just such a case is Mikkel Friis Holm, whose things can be bought at the Notting Hill boutique Alexeeva & Jones, but are not widely available yet. They are exceptional, a fact that was recognised by his being awarded the gold award for best milk chocolate bar in the world for his Nicaraguan 55% Dark Milk. He also won silver for his Nicaloso 70%.
The success of this Nicaraguan origin chocolate, and the Piura from Peru with which Santiago Peralta and Pacari won the gold for best plain dark bar, highlights one of the key issues in the chocolate world. There is burgeoning interest and focus on the origin of beans, the bean varietal and the sensitive use of fine flavour beans. This has shed light on some problematic issues around the farming of fine flavour beans and the lack of support for the plantations who stick their necks out to nurture them.
An important part of the week for me was the Direct Cacao launch of their first open conference, which will be held in the Dominican Republic is January. The conference will be a meeting of minds and a chance to share concerns, forge connections, and develop strategies. That way we can all continue eating the stunning chocolates that are emerging using fine cacao. The Direct Cacao invitation is worth quoting, it is hard to resist if you care about fine chocolate production:
“Join key players in the fine cacao and chocolate industry and be part of a ground-swell movement that will redefine the relationship between cacao growers and chocolate makers for years to come.”
Last but not least the fun part, Salon du Chocolat London. This was a three-day extravaganza of all things chocolate. Launching with a fashion show of extraordinary chocolate creations painstakingly crafted by some of the countries great talents. It was on show throughout on mannequins, and live to a thumping soundtrack and the dulcet tones of Will Torrent at the Friday evening VIP Gala. For three days you could meet the makers, taste a stunning variety of chocolate and sweet things, attend demonstrations and tastings from the likes of Edd Kimber, Benoit Blin and Clay Gordon. Watching Maricel Presilla and Santiago Peralta teaching kids how to make chocolate on a matate stone has to be one of the most charming and enjoyable moments.
What a week! I’m already having withdrawal symptoms. Now where is next year’s diary? Better mark it in now so as not to miss a thing!