Luxury Chocolate Salon’s Worthy Winners

Tough as it was, I painstakingly performed my chocolate judging duties, and the results for the 2012 San Francisco Luxury Chocolate Salon are in!  As promised, here’s the inside scoop on the process and my votes:

I’ve deduced that gold medal recipients grabbed the largest number of votes, silvers were awarded to those with multiple votes and bronzes to those with single votes, which means any bronzes mentioned below are pretty darn likely due to yours truly.  (You’re welcome, said bronze winners!) For the full list of judges and award winners, visit http://www.fallchocolatesalon.com/ and click on the blue circle.

Since my loyalties lie emphatically with unadulterated craft chocolate, I was hard pressed to vote for any other than Amano in relevant categories.  Art Pollard’s vibrant chocolates garnered not only my nods but also enough of the other judges’ to add gold medals for Best Dark Chocolate, Best Dark Chocolate Bar and…drumroll…Best in Salon to his collection!

Given my theory about bronze winners, I was surprised that my vote for Most Gifted Chocolatier/Chocolate Maker gave Art a mere bronze. However, I was correct in betting that my choice for Best Milk Chocolate would earn him the same because I shrewdly avoided voting for the typical milk chocolate confection by choosing the show’s most remarkable beverage: Guayas chocolate melted into warm milk to create a dense drinking chocolate with more complexity and richness than any I’d had before, like a drinkable version of an artisanal lava cake.  Still swooning at the mere memory…

Hyper-stiff competition for Best Truffle had me wishing for multiple votes to honor the likes of San Francisco’s Socola, Sixth Course and Feve, but my loyalties lay with Tonet Tibay.  Her LA-based Marti Chocolatt produces Filipino-inspired truffles so delectable that I find myself actually craving–gasp!–a white chocolate treat: her Chevre en Choco Blanco truffle.  Gold worthy, indeed.

To assuage my guilt at passing up Socola Chocolatier for Best Truffle, I showered talented sisters Wendy and Susan Liu with my votes for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Best Flavored Chocolate and Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, helping them take the gold for the first two and silver for the latter category.  Socola’s truffles elevate classic combinations to new heights: Fresh Mint revealed sophisticated herbal notes, Cognac yielded a more subtle, integrated flavor than others and Pumpkin Burnt Caramel offered a delicious seasonal twist on a perennial favorite.

The Pacific Rim continued to influence my choices, with Hawaiian-themed Plumeria Flours attracting my votes for Most Artistic Designs, Best Gift Set and Best Presentation and Packaging for their cleverly whimsical treats and packaging.  “The Wrath of Pele”set, complete with chili & pop rock volcano and ironically cute warrior dudes, would elicit delight from a curmudgeon.

Even before my serendipitous appointment as judge at the salon, La Chatelaine’s lovely Montana-based husband and wife team engaged me in friendly conversation, graciously offering eye-pleasing sweet treats.  But it wasn’t until I later nibbled through my generously prepared judge’s box that I was transported back to childhood with their Strawberry Balsamic truffle, earning La Chatelaine my vote for Best Comfort/Snack Product and a bronze award.

Jade Chocolates’ creative Asian-themed chocolate bars, like Dragon’s Breath, a blend of lapsang souchang tea, sesame seeds and red chili in dark chocolate, earned them a gold and my vote for Best Flavored Chocolate Bar.  Snake & Butterfly’s firm emphasis on issues of sustainability and fairness made them worthy recipients of my choice for Best Organic/Fair Trade Chocolate, and a silver award in that category.

The density of chocolate talent in San Francisco has long impressed this LA transplant, and newcomers Sixth Course Artisan Confections and Feve Artisan Chocolatier have certainly started at the top of the cacao heap.  The mere memory of Sixth Course’s whiskey truffle from the previous salon, along with their sophisticated selection of offerings at this salon, secured my votes and the gold for both Most Luxurious Chocolate Experience and Best Caramels. Feve, actually an improved reincarnation of Au Coeur des Chocolats, could have earned any number of my votes for their meticulously beautiful truffles, (Their well-balanced coconut truffle was my personal favorite.) but I’m a little nonplussed about my lone vote for New Product Award, which did, though, add a bronze to their whopping eleven salon awards.  Thumbs up all around!

San Francisco’s Fall Luxury Chocolate Salon: I’ll Be The Judge of That!

Cacao has often lured me into situations beyond reasonable conjecture, and Sunday was no exception.  Moments after walking into the Fort Mason Center, home to San Francisco’s biannual chocolate salons, we’re talking before I had even reached my first sample, I spun The Winery SF’s wheel of fortune and won big: a $250 wine and barrel tasting party.  Yep.  And the fun had just begun.

Upon entering the main hall, I sampled my first-ever Feves and found an easy favorite with the coconut truffle.  A quick glance revealed an intimate event, still calm just before noon.  It also revealed the popularity of toffee and truffles, which of course couldn’t obscure the event’s sole craft chocolate maker, Amano Artisan Chocolate, standing in the far corner singing its single-origin siren song.

A dozen or so chocolatiers engaged and indulged me en route to Amano, where passionate Phil led a grandiose perpetual tasting of Amano’s current selections.  I conveniently paused long enough to hear about and taste them all.  Twice.

I might’ve gone for thrice, but I turned to find myself chatting with Art Pollard, Amano’s papa, and none other than Joseph Schmidt, famed San Francisco chocolatier who’d sold his celebrated confection business to Hershey back in 2005. Before long, Joseph had fetched photo albums of his whimsical, vibrant chocolate sculptures to peruse as if we’d known each other for years.

Too soon, a few of Joseph’s eager admirers drew him away, so I got down to brass tacks with Art.  In breaking down Mission: Craft Chocolate LA, (my pet project to alleviate LA’s strange craft chocolate drought,) musing about optimal chocolate packaging and even sampling a culinary concoction literally potent enough to set a sh*tty day right, I savored my exchange with Art about as much as I do his chocolate. Sorry, can’t dish further details or I’d have to kill you.

But I can tell you how I voted on the salon with the contents my wallet: Amano’s Chuao, Guayas and Ocumare bars easily snagged more than half of said wallet content votes.  Marti Chocolatt’s tropical Asian Ube, Buko Pandan and Senorita truffles, tried and true favorites, unquestionably captured a firm share of remaining votes. So did Socola’s inventive Signature Selection box, with Guinness Stout and Vietnamese Espresso truffles. Plumeria Flours snagged my last handful of votes by fulfilling my quest for a treat for both parents and kids with their sophisticated yet totally whimsical pop rock dark chocolate dinosaurs.

Unfortunately Plumeria Flours was out of Humuhumunukunukuapua‘a, better understood as a sweet/salty/savory seaweed caramel popcorn creation, as was Sixth Course Artisan Confections already out of their boozy box of trufflicious delights.  I realized that Dandelion Chocolate was likely MIA because they were preparing to open their new shop later in the week. Sixth Course amply consoled me with a whiskey truffle prior to my expected departure.

Before taking off, though, I ran into Steve, a Chocolate Salon veteran volunteer, who generously offered me sweet homemade creations and an ear for my story of how my most compellingly worded request to become a judge years ago was met three months later with a curt “We may consider it.”

“Yeah, that’s how it is sometimes, but you should go ask the organizer now. He’s right there.”

Nuff said. No sooner had I begun my campaign to become a judge at the next salon when Andre the organizer appointed me judge on the spot.  Yes, right there at the eleventh hour, I became a judge of fine chocolate. Giddy with newfound power, I found tummy room to gleefully waltz with as many vendors as I could before the chocolate-covered event came to a close.

I’ll spill the beans about my votes, along with the list of winners, soon.