May 7, 2013
I report back from the European semi-finals of this prestigious awards as a newly appointed member of the Grand Jury.
Springtime means awards season, and the eyes of the world look to see what is going to lead the way, what will be lauded, and what given that all important gold. I am not talking about that famous gold statuette, but the gold medals of the International Chocolate Awards. While those across the pond shook out their silks and were abstaining from anything more than a lettuce leaf in anticipation of the world’s press and their long lenses, the International Chocolate Awards entered its second year with a heartier appetite and a more relaxed sartorial code.
However, the aim and intention of the awards is far from laid back. The International Chocolate Awards were established by Kate Johns (nudge pr, Chocolate Week) and Martin Christy (Seventy%, Direct Cacao) with the express purpose of encouraging and rewarding excellence in fine chocolate. Also to spread knowledge by highlighting a product for the consumer, so they can see that which truly deserves their custom. At all stages of the awards the aim is to give the maximum feedback and assistance to entrants.
I have written about the awards before, and made no secret of my admiration for and involvement in its detailed and exceptional judging system. I now have the honour to be a member of the Grand Jury, which means that I have been able to join the eminent and expert international members of the permanent Grand Jury at the recent European semi-finals for all stages of the judging. This ran from 22nd to 26th of April, and included three stages of judging.
The first, a selection round, is akin to the X factor auditions. A group of the most experienced judges assess all the submitted entries with a view to ensuring that only those with a real chance of attaining an award go through to the main round of judging. The whole process, and all involved, takes the responsibility it has towards people’s livelihoods very seriously. New selection round forms ensure that no judge can suggest rejection without giving their reasons. Only those entries with true problems are eliminated. All others are put through for further judging in the main rounds.
The main round judging is a detailed affair, with the Grand Jury joined by food judges from across the profession, widening the range of tastes and knowledge and ensuring a broader response to each product. The judging forms, which are available to view online, ensure each chocolate or bonbon is assessed on many criteria and that personal taste takes a backseat to a more measured analysis.
The final Grand Jury round takes the top scorers from the previous rounds, and respecting their achievement and position, takes the time to examine things in even greater detail. Awards are given on this basis, and it is a great strength of the awards that no judge or expert can determine a successful result for a favourite, nor can any individual scupper someone’s chances. In addition all stages of the judging are done blind, and makers names are only announced once the awards have been decided.
The awards rise or fall on the strength of its judges and its process. Each year notes are made about any issues that occur and are fed into an industry survey that is put to entrants, potential entrants and relevant individuals. The results of this are fed back into the system and can materially affect the way the awards go forward. For example last year it was found that while white chocolate can be of less interest to the connoisseur, it is an important part of the chocolatier’s repertoire. Hence more categories relating to white chocolate have been included in the 2013 awards.
Judging at this level is not for the fainthearted. I didn’t get a lot of sleep, a combination of all that stimulating chocolate and an intense sense of responsibility at judging other people’s work. But there is no denying it is also a profound pleasure. It is a pleasure to meet some of the world’s top experts in the field and watch them fight with passion for an industry that needs support and understanding. It is a pleasure to witness the creativity and sheer hard graft that chocolate makers and chocolatiers all over Europe are putting into their craft. It is a massive pleasure and privilege to taste so many glorious things, some of which are fascinating works in progress, others of which are the best of the best.
Enough already you are saying, which are the best in Europe this year? The announcement is under wraps until later this week, Thursday I am promised. So keep an eye on the site and you can view them hot off the press.
I won’t forget to bring you more from the awards later in the year when October brings the world finals back to London.