Of course the fact I was appointed Table Monitor at the judging sessions of the seventh annual Academy of Chocolate Awards, appealing greatly to my
bossy organised nature, made me feel especially warmly towards the awards. And the generous hospitality and abundant chocolate samples at the Awards party helped. But so, too, did the fact that the Awards attract such a high calibre of entrants. During judging, I tasted little that actively displeased me, and much that was testament to the rude health of both the British and international fine chocolate scenes.
What I got the chance to sample was a mere amuse bouche. This year, over five hundred products were judged over five days in a series of sessions taking place at Westminster Kingsway College; the location especially apt not only given the scholarly scoring systems involved, but also because the establishment has established its very own student-created bean-to-bar chocolate.
In a reversal of roles, chocolatiers Paul a Young, Amadei, and William Curley judged, rather than entered, this year’s Awards. Steering the ship, meanwhile, was wine legend Charles Metcalfe, who, in spite of ensuring the assorted experts and enthusiasts judged well and wisely, didn’t offer us a sniff, swirl, or indeed sip of anything grape-based – just as well; or the requisite pristine palates would have been rendered anything but.
And now, at long last, after all the arduous eating, the results have been announced and it’s finally time to raise a glass to toast the well-deserving winners…
GOING FOR GOLD
Swedish makers Åkesson’s Organic (they of the Madagascar spice-and-cocoa plantations and West London bijou boutique) ‘done good’, a gold award for the 100% Criollo Cocoa Madagascar proving that 100% chocolate can be not only accessible but exceptional. The lower-percentage 75% Criollo Cocoa Madagascar scored just as highly, and awards also ‘peppered’ Åkesson’s spiced and seasoned offerings – specifically, Trinitario cocoa and ‘wild’ voatsiperifery pepper, 75% Trinitario cocoa and pink pepper, and 45% milk chocolate with fleur de sel and coconut blossom sugar.
Chantal Coady’s Rococo rocked the Awards, scooping a glittering hat-trick of golds for its single origin ganaches – namely, Peru, Dominican Republic, and Chuao. And anyone who’s enjoyed Rococo’s unique fruity caramels would concur with the gilding of the lily that goes by the name of ‘mandarin and tonka bean’. Caramel carried on proving itself a rather smooth operator, with examples laced with the same muscovado-ginger combo gaining golds for Coworth Park Hotel and Winchester Cocoa Company, and Benjamin Chocolatier triumphing with a palm blossom-based number.
Chococo’s Totally Twisted Nose truffle showed that gin is the thing, whilst Hotel Chocolat also took judges on bit of a sophisticated booze cruise, grabbing gold for its 65% Borough Market blend gin bar and a single malt Cardhu whisky truffle. A win for the same company’s salted caramel hot chocolate attested not only to the product’s quality, but to the enduring popularity of the currently-ubiquitous, slightly-saline flavour – the seasoning also seen in Selfridges’ Hebridean honey and sea salted caramel and Pump Street Bakery’s 60% Ecuador chocolate with rye crumb, milk, and sea salt.
Aside from salt, adding fruit was fruitful for many makers. Golds were awarded to Yauatcha’s raspberry rose chocolate; Ben Le Prevost for a raspberry, lime, and chilli entry; Berries Luxury Pudding Makers & Confectioners raspberry and rose jelly heart and its tart blackcurrant caramel dome; and Awards newbie Chika Watanabe for tajine apricot chocolate and a yuzu mint caramel. Staying with Eastern inspiration, Demarquette’s Imperial China joined the golden gang.
Two literally-dark horses from the good ole US of A stole the show in terms of single-origin specimens; both seventy percent examples – Amano Artisan Chocolate’s Ocumare, and Bar au Chocolat’s Dominican Republic. A gold award for Kokoa Collection’s dark Haiti 75% hot chocolate. meanwhile, showed that liquid chocolate can solidly impress fine chocolate experts.
As, apparently, can the perfect packaging. Despite the fact everyone is aware that bars, like books, should never be judged by their covers (indeed, not should truffles), it’s impossible not to be swayed by decent design. Ticking all the boxes with their boxes were Dick Taylor’s drinking chocolate bag, Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé’s folksy hot chocolate character cones, and Du Jour’s stunning sculptural cocoa pod. In terms of bars, Beschle’s Matcha chocolate, Chocolate NAÏVE’s Mulate collection, and Dick Taylor’s chocolate envelopes were judged to have the most compelling casings.
SILVER, BRONZE, AND BEYOND
Mixing your metallics is in this season, and many makers earned gold, silver, and bronze Awards for their various entries. In addition to all those glorious golds, plus the 185 silver- and bronze-awarded products that you can view in full here, three very special accolades were announced to acknowledge some stellar work within the industry.
Three cheers, then, for this trio…
The Golden Bean winner: Bertil Åkesson for Åkesson’s 75% Criollo Madagascar
The Best Newcomer: Chika Watanabe for her all-round innovation
The One To Watch: An extra-special bit of roof-raising was reserved for Dom Ramsay, whose new bean-to-bar company, Damson Chocolate, excited and delighted all at the Academy.
- For more on spiced chocolate from Åkesson’s and others, click here
- For more on Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé, click here
- For more on unusual single origin bars from Hotel Chocolate’s Rabot range, click here
- For more on Demarquette, Pump St, and other personal favourite chocs, click here
Image credit: Dom Ramsay portrait by Jennifer Earle, founder of Chocolate Ecstasy Tours