Meet your Makers: 2013 Good Food Awards

IMG_0007_2Upstairs inside San Francisco’s Ferry Building sat the winning craftspeople flown in from around the country by none other than Alice Waters.  Soon, over a hundred medals in over a handful of categories proceeded downstairs around the necks of the proud recipients to greet the Good Food Awards gala reception crowd, officially kicking off, to understate, a long weekend of chocolate-filled events.

Samples of the winning selections in categories from charcuterie to confections lined tables that ran the length of the Ferry Building, mere pawns in a hedonistic tasting game.  Armed with a-list chefs, tables of tapas made with winning ingredients assaulted my vegetarian defenses.  They were just little bites of sustainable bliss, I guiltlessly justified, and did my very best to consume my $100 ticket’s worth.

Since gala attendees weren’t allowed to watch the award ceremony (hrumph!), my peek of the chocolate table was my first official confirmation of some of the winning chocolates:

Dandelion’s Madagascar, Fruition‘s Dark Milk with Fleur de Sel, Madre‘s Triple Cacao, Raaka’s 83% Bourbon and one that hadn’t been tempered into bars or marked by name. But the mystery was far from resolved, with only a handful of the 16 award-winning chocolates on display and the likelihood of running into the eleven winning makers to ask tonight slim.  Nonetheless, now properly fed, I could hunt plenty of them down!

Art Pollard of Amano is always up for a chat–he’s the first chocolate maker I ever met, and I still feel special when he pulls me aside to try something new or ask for an opinion.  About as quickly as I’d found him and we’d said hello, chocolate worlds collided and I took this shot of award winner Art, Martin Christy of Seventy% and Sunita de Tourreil, founder of The Chocolate Garage and esteemed Good Food Awards judge:

My heroes!  A few of them, anyways, and it seemed that most every one of them would reveal themselves in the coming days, whether I had the moxie to approach or not.

Tonight was just for the joy, though, and I was swept away by the ebullient energy of the winners.  I chatted with a handful of Dandelions, including Cynthia, who accepted Dandelion Chocolate’s award and whom I’d coincidentally (or not?!) met just weeks earlier at a small New Year’s Eve party.  After corresponding for months with Ritual Chocolate, patient participants in my Mission: Craft Chocolate LA, I finally met Anna and Robbie and congratulated them on winning awards for both of their beautiful chocolates. Can I coin the term “cacao struck?” Maybe not, but you get the idea.

Time flew like a rocket until we were straight-up ushered out of the festivities still giddily gabbing away.  While leaving, I caught Ryan and Nate of Raaka in time to congratulate them on their win, a ‘virgin’ 83% bourbon cask aged bar,  and receive their line of chocolates for review here hopefully soon.

The following morning, no rest for the winning, my craft chocolate-making heroes were back in action at the Good Food Awards Marketplace, where, for a $95 savings over the previous night, attendees received samples handed out by the winners themselves.  Here’s Rob Anderson of Fresco, actually handing me not a sample of his award-winning Papua New Guinea 220 bar but a special taste of his new creation, a Dominican Republic 223 bar.  I do believe I have previewed a 2014 Good Food Award winner.

Here are the rest of the 2013 chocolate award winners:
Patric Chocolate won the maximum of three awards, including first place, and has received awards every year.
Rogue Chocolatier: Another triple threat, awarded for Sambirano, Rio Caribe and Hispaniola, and the only other annual Good Food Award winner
Askinosie Chocolate: Dark Milk & Fleur de Sel
Potomac Chocolate:  Upala 70% Nib & Salt

Check out the entire family of 2013 Good Food Award winners here.  And snap up the Good Foods if you can!

Four Fun, Fruity Frescos

Fresco’s Northwest Chocolate Salon spread

Lucky girl I was to encounter Fresco Chocolate via Rob Anderson’s lecture at the Northwest Chocolate Festival earlier this year. Rob, Fresco’s chocolate-making mad scientist, demonstrated precisely how the key variables of roasting and conching help create craft chocolate magic with his four playful iterations of Papua New Guinea cacao.

Rob’s teaching methods definitely supported a beloved theory that chocolate boosts comprehension: we munched on revelatory samples that reinforced his lesson on the varying effects of roasting and conching.  Much like coffee, the lighter the roast, the more acidic and vibrant the flavors.  Conching is a bit more complex; while the process is critical in refining texture, it also releases aromatics and volatiles which develop the flavor of the chocolate in ways nothing short of alchemy.  A chocolate maker’s approach to these variables in particular shapes his signature style.

Sample conche log

Rob’s style is sweet, revelatory fun. I snapped up the four Papua New Guinea variations we’d sampled to take home for my own tasting and admired the information-packed wrappers, which detail everything from tasting instructions to thorough notes on the cacao, perfect Cliff Notes for our lesson. I also cornered Rob about my pet project, Mission: Craft Chocolate LA, my effort to bring craft chocolate to Los Angeles, and asked if he were interested in participating.

“Sure, that’ll be fun!” I concur: while I’ve certainly enjoyed comparing different chocolate makers’ takes on, say, Chuao cacao, rolling through Fresco’s four versions of a single varietal has been one of the more entertaining and educational tastings I’ve done.  The experience sheds bright light on the specific nature of a particular cacao by reducing the variables to just the two of roasting and conching; I reveled in discovering the common threads of flavor that ran through Fresco’s four Papua New Guinea bars and the interesting variations that resulted from manipulating the process.

Fresco’s current Papua New Guinea selection

Three of the four 69% cacao bars, numbered 219, 220 and 221, vary in roast only, from light to dark, respectively, each with a medium conche.  The fourth bar, 222, is the naked version: light roast and no conche.  All express Papua New Guinea cacao, which transports me not to that exotic locale but to one just as distant, my childhood candy store.

Appearance: Each bar is comprised of ten 4.5 gram squares with small ridges.  Bars differed in depth of color but shared a beautiful deep red tinge, particularly at the snapped edges.  Roasting seems to deepen the tone of brown expressed in the bars, from warm brown to espresso.  The light roast bar was brighter than the rest.  All were well presented, with nothing more than a few small bubbles.  219 was cracked, but I suppose I’ll take the fall for that.

Smell: Scents were pretty faint with these bars; in fact, I got about as much odor from the paper as the bars.  Still, a faint but rich cocoa smell presented itself, particularly with bar 220.  Bar 222, the light roast bar with no conche, was the exception, which, with its minimal processing, radiated fruity candy smells.

Clockwise from top left: 219, 220, 221, 222

Snap:  These well-tempered bars snapped firmly with clean break lines that revealed those lovely reddish tones.

Taste: Papua New Guinea’s theme is truly a candy shop tour of brightly tangy fruit flavors dunked in chocolate.  219’s light roast first revealed warm notes of maybe leather, followed by vibrant berry flavors with supporting earthy cocoa notes.  It reminded me a bit of drinking bitter hot cocoa through a Twizzler. 220’s medium roast mellowed the cacao’s flavors to those of strawberries and pineapple dunked in a hot fudge fountain, while 221’s dark roast pulled me momentarily out of childhood to sip chicory coffee and pinch tobacco before bright blackberries and strawberries burst through, backed again by a deep cocoa flavor.  222’s light roast without conching is definitely the wildest child of the bunch: do they make chocolate-covered cherry Starbursts? Astringency is part of the package here, too, further dialing up the volume on this SweeTart chocolatey experience.

A tart, tempting treat

Texture: All bars hit my tongue with a slightly grainy feel but warmed into a satisfying thick, chewy texture, adding to the intensity of the experience.

These high-volume chocolates, all dense with cocoa-drenched sweet, tangy flavors, astringency and a firm texture, create an intense, fun ride. Goes to show, with a little science and a lot of skill on Rob Anderson’s side, this candy man can.