My 2016 in chocolate: Hazel Lee, chocolate judge, maker & consultant

hazel-lee-chocolate-expert-guide-judge-consultant-interview-the-chocolate-show

To say that Hazel Lee is a committed champion of the bean-to-bar chocolate movement is a crude understatement. I’ve rarely met someone so enthused over anything, ever. And, over the past few years, an increasing amount of her professional life has become chocolate-flavoured; formerly a fan with a job unrelated to her primary passion, she now works as a consultant, awards judge, maker, educator and even cacao-themed jewellery artist…

Your highlights of the year?

Carrying out a 3-day bean-to-bar training course all by myself in a foreign country. It was the first time that I’d done anything like this, and I put a lot of work into it. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and found new confidence in my consultancy capability.

Favourite chocolate product you ate in 2016?

It’s very difficult to narrow this down to one maker, let alone one product. Many chocolates blew me away this year. I think the highlight was probably my visit to Salon du Chocolat in Paris, which I blogged about here – a very special day where I tried a multitude of bars.

I also have to mention one of my favourite makers: Smooth Chocolator. I think I’ve now tried all of Yoon Kim’s delicious, irresistibly smooth creations.

The makers you think have done exceptionally well this year?

It’s fantastic to see Vietnamese bean-to-bar maker Marou expand its single-origin dark chocolate range with inclusion bars and filled chocolates – both of which are made at the company’s recently-opened patisserie, Maison Marou. The coconut milk bar and cashew nut praline bar are my favourites.

I think that Jamie from JK Fine Chocolates has done really well this year, too. I have been fortunate enough to try samples of his development work for a rum company; the truffles were some of the most delicious I’ve ever tasted, and I now make custom requests for them. And I always enjoy his unique triple truffles!

Favourite chocolate creations you made in 2016?

With a new full-time job plus side work for the Northwest Chocolate Festival, I’ve had little time to make my own chocolate. However, I started some new project this year, including cocoa jewellery – so my favourite ‘chocolate creation’ would be my new range of jewellery made with cocoa beans.

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2017 goals and plans?

More cocoa adventures! I fly to Mexico on Boxing Day, and hope to visit a cacao plantation in January. I plan to return to Grenada for the chocolate festival in May and, although my heart belongs to Central America, I have a calling to visit Asia.

I’d like to visit India to combine my passions for yoga, cacao, and Indian food. From the Mirzam Chocolate range I tried a few months ago, my favourite bar was from Indian cacao, and I am in contact with the farmers.

I currently have a full-time job as  product development scientist and, although I dream of working in chocolate full time, I still enjoy my day job and I am learning a lot, so I feel that it’s where I need to be for the time being. But I would like to expand my small side projects a bit more, along with my portfolio of clients for consultancy.

Who would you crown your chocolate hero of the year?

I would say the aforementioned Yoon Kim from Smooth Chocolator. I first tried her chocolate when we did a #chocswap in summer last year, was truly blown away by the quality of her bars. Since then I have tried almost all of her subsequent bars and enjoyed them all. I’m now seeing her chocolate pop up around the world – all the more admirable given the fact she does all of this on top of a full-time job.

  • To read Spencer Hyman from Cocoa Runner’s 2016 highlights, click here
  • To read Isobel Carse from Dormouse Chocolates’ 2016 highlights, click here
  • To read more about JK Fine Chocolates, click here
  • To read about my favourite bean-to-bar chocolate of 2016, click here
  • To read about my chosen chocolate Christmas gifts for 2016, click here
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