December 31, 2013
Happy New Year everyone! Here is my look back at a fantastic chocolate year.
2013 has been quite a year for chocolate. It has seen Salon du Chocolat come to London for the first time. The International Chocolate Awards has had a stunning second year, with new regional heats, a wider international entry, amazing success for the UK, and fantastic discoveries worldwide. I have been lucky enough to serve as Grand Jury so can assure you that the world of fine chocolate is in very exciting shape.
The tragic death of Mott Green, founder and lifeblood of The Grenada Chocolate Company, touched us all, and brought us together to celebrate all that he achieved, and to ensure that his vision and innovations continue to lead the way forward.
On the eve of 2014, here is my personal pick of the last twelve months.
Dark Chocolate: On my trip in September to Tuscany and Piedmont (of which more later), I was simply blown away by the quality and attention to detail at chocolatier Guido Castagna’s place in Torino. He makes all his own chocolate from the bean on site, and I was lucky enough to try three of his couvertures. They were all of the finest quality, two of the three were among the best chocolate I have tasted all year. Which, given the amazing quality and diversity of chocolates we judged in this category at The International Chocolate Awards, is quite something.
Milk Chocolate: Mikkel Friis Holm’s 55% dark milk chocolate, showcasing delicious and complex Nicaraguan cacao, was also one of my top ten last year. I still haven’t tasted an unflavoured milk chocolate to topple it from my top spot. Duffy Sheardown’s fantastic Ocumare dark milk 55% runs a very close second, but is just pipped at the post. The world agrees me on both fronts, as these two exceptional chocolates won this year’s gold and silver awards in the world finals of The International Chocolate Awards.
White Chocolate: This is a tough one, and I wouldn’t usually have a top ten favourite among this category. But I think this was the year that white chocolate got interesting. I can’t say that the plain bars get me excited, the best it can do is be well judged, not too sweet, no off notes. No, what I am talking about here is the true innovation and excitement with which chocolatiers have started to treat the white stuff. I have tasted stunning bars infused with green cardamom, filled chocolates brought alive with citrus and delicate infusions. But the one that most thrilled me, and that I frustratingly cannot get hold of anywhere near where I live, is a white chocolate bar with candied black olive from Beta5 in Canada. It is wonderful! So if you live there, lucky you, enjoy!
Flavour Combination: There were some new flavours this year that brought my taste buds alive, things that I haven’t seen before and do want to try again. But here I am plumping for a classic, something that I know I could never tire of, and that in the hands of Paul A Young was done deliciously well. Dark chocolate and prune. In a collaboration with the California Prune Board, Paul created a series of new recipes showcasing this perfect pairing. I particularly loved the dark chocolate, caramel and prune brownie, which was the finest brownie he has ever done!
New Discovery: Sweeping the awards boards and stunning tasters wherever he went, it was Susuma Koyama’s year. This Japanese chocolatier, who brings eastern tastes to chocolate with skill and deceptive simplicity, was a revelation to me. The new textures and diverse flavours with which he creates are thrilling, and mostly quite deliciously successful. In particular a filled dark chocolate bar mixing almond praline with Temple green pepper was a crunchy, spiced treat. He doesn’t sell chocolates outside of Japan, but those I have tried during his visits to London and Paris this year stay long in my memory.
Chocolate Event: The World Chocolate Masters final, coming but once every two years, is always hotly debated and anticipated. This year it was especially satisfying for us in the UK. I was overjoyed to see our entrant, the brilliantly talented Ruth Hinks, achieve a place in the top five, the highest ever position for the UK.
Chocolatier: Barry Johnson, Principal Chocolatier of Rococo, has had another top year. His Kalamansi Lime Caramel has long been a favourite of mine, and won him medals in the world finals of The International Chocolate Awards and the Academy of Chocolate. But it is very far from being a one hit wonder. Barry has won so many awards for his filled chocolates this year that Rococo have brought out an ‘awards’ box, filled only with award winning recipes. How’s that for an achievement. If that wasn’t enough Barry triumphed in the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie UK heats, and is currently UK team champion training for the European competition in January 2014. Good luck Barry!
New Venue: I wrote about Rabot 1745, the newly opened ‘cocoa cuisine’ restaurant in London, for my last post. It is an exciting and delicious place to visit, and brings a new take on my favourite bean to our full attention.
I am also very pleased to see that the very talented Claire Burnet of Chococo has opened a new shop for her fantastic chocolates in Winchester. It is great to see them deservedly going from strength to strength, and I hope to go and visit soon.
Chocolate Dessert: I know I am not supposed to blow my own trumpet, but really the glory of the chocolate dessert created by Michelin-starred Head Chef Andrew Scott during my collaboration with him, had very little to do with me. I just had the job of delightedly tasting and choosing chocolates with him, settling on those from The Grenada Chocolate Company, Duffy Sheardown and Valrhona. And then of course tasting when he came up with fabulous things to do with them. Andrew is a star, and because of my insider status during the creation of this heavenly plateful it has to be my top pud for 2013. It was a thoroughly indulgent and enjoyable experience.
Experience of the Year: Writing of indulgent and enjoyable experiences I have to mention my week in Italy with Monica Meschini, chocolate expert and founding Grand Jury member of The International Chocolate Awards. This was the trip of a lifetime, not one, but a succession of extraordinary visits, insights, meetings and tastes. It expanded my knowledge of chocolate, in particular the host of Italian specialities using nuts, introduced me to a world steeped in passion, tradition and innovation, and indulged and spoiled me far beyond my expectations. The coming year will give me the opportunity to bring you many of my discoveries. I cannot wait to share them with you. So, hears to 2013, and roll on a chocolate-tastic 2014!
It was an amazing year to be serving as Grand Jury of The International Chocolate Awards. I feel very privileged to be asked to write their annual roundup. Here is a link to my piece on this year’s gold medal winners
Here is a link to my interview with Mott Green, from only three weeks before his untimely death. So much to hold dear and remember.