overload!: judging a chocolate competition

Monday, October 12, 2009
By Amy Reiley

From time to time, my job brings the duties of judging food or wine competitions. Most people shrink at the thought of tasting and ranking 350 wines of the course of the day or slurping down 24 oysters in an hour. But I welcome these crazy tasks and take lending my taste buds to such causes very seriously. Most of the time…

Over the weekend I was a judge of a chocolate competition. I know what you’re thinking. This would be the one competition you would want to judge. Judging chocolate is actually not my favorite task. I love tasting chocolate. But being presented with the prospect of visiting with about 35 worthy vendor and taste every single one of their creations (generally a minimum of 4 and as many as 12) before evaluating the whole lot, well that’s… that’s… dumbfounding! And I’m a professional!

So, armed in my hot, new lashes–yes, I’m still batting the sexy eyelash candy discovered at my recent photo shoot, (see recent posting i’m a model), I entered the heavenly-scented hall in which the event was conducted. I can recall tasting about 42. That’s 42 different bites of chocolate bar, fudge, toffee or morsel that melted across my tongue and entered my brain on its way to my thighs. I was impressed with about 12. I loved about half that number. (I should add that I was able to cheat a little. I was already familiar with a few of the vendors’ products and could skip those whose flavor profile was already etched in my brain. This saved me from having to down about 10 samples.)

You may still be thinking this much premium chocolate in one afternoon sounds like heaven. But I am still suffering the effects from all the chocolate a day later. I’ve already made joking reference to the fact that this much chocolate has nowhere to go but to the thighs. (Not really true, I think I burned it all off running around–charged by the sugar rush–for the rest of the day). However, have you ever experienced a chocolate sugar crash? By 8:30 pm I was slumped on the couch. And because of the mental gymnastics required to concentrate on each morsel tasted in a loud and crowded auditorium, my brain was slumped right there with my body.

I am often asked to speak on the topic of chocolate as an aphrodisiac. As I tell my classes, chocolate contains a caffeine-like substance (excellent for providing energy for a long night of passion). However, when your long night isn’t calling for passion, chocolate insomnia is not so sexy. I am sitting here this morning with my eyes practically taped open, mouth dry and head aching from a night of tossing and kicking blankets.

But enough of my whining about poor me and my chocolate overload. You deserve to hear about the good stuff.

The highlights of the competition included a new bar from Amano, one of the American chocolate makers with whom I am consistently impressed. The bar is called Guyas (hope I spelled that correctly) and I believe is going to hit the market for the holidays. It is a very sophisticated and complex dark chocolate full of berry notes and a hint of something smoky.

Top of my list also included the uniquely flavored bars from Jade Chocolates. I love everything about Jade from their Asian flavor combinations to the packaging. Although it is not my personal favorite, I think Jade’s Dragon’s Breath, (a dark chocolate bar flavored by lapang souchong tea, chilli and a hint of sesame), is their best bar. But which is my favorite? I like the Mahal with ylang ylang, cinnamon and coconut. I actually didn’t realize it until I looked at Jade’s website just now, but their marketing ploy for this bar is that it is flavored with aphrodisiacs. Of course that was my favorite!

Other highlights included the old-fashioned and sinfully indulgent dark chocolate-covered marshmallow caramels from Helen Grace Chocolates. Some of the prettiest in the bunch were hand-airbrushed by Christopher Michael Chocolatier. (Owned by an out-of-the-box thinker, not only are the chocolates painstakingly adorn but they’re flavored by some forward-thinking combinations like bacon and pop rock bars and lavender caramels). Another favorite for me was Marti Chocolatt who made what was my first durian fruit-filled truffle. (Durian fruit is a Southeast Asian aphrodisiac best known for the scent it gives off when the fresh fruit is sliced… something similar to a porta-potty). They also produced what I think might have been the best chocolate truffle of the competition, a thin-shelled dark chocolate truffle with a surprise of melted, lightly-sweetened chevre at the center.

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