Judging for the 2008 Next Generation Chocolatier competition happened last week, on Wednesday October 8th to be exact. The six judges (Kee Ling Tong and Fritz Knipschildt - chocolatiers; Rose Potts (Blommer) and Laura Tornichio-Vidal (Guittard) - chocolate makers; Steven Millard (Dean & Deluca) and Linda Sturges (Bloomingdales) - retail) gathered in New York City to judge the entries.
In all, 25 bonbons and 7 bars entered into the judging. The scoring system developed by me consisted of two major sections: Technical and Taste/Mouthfeel. Within each section, the judges awarded a set of scores to each piece. All 32 pieces were tasted in a first
round and the order the pieces were tasted in was random. During the first round, each judge had background sheets that listed only the name of each piece plus a marketing description and an explanation of what salt was used and why. During the first round the judges were able to ask me questions but were discouraged from talking among themselves.
Once the first round was over, the judges were asked to review their scores and cast their votes - each judge was asked to choose their top 3 bonbon recommendations and their top 2 bar recommendations PLUS indicate a choice for Rising Star. During this process they were able to discuss among themselves the pieces, re-taste, etc. Once the scoring was completed I tabulated both the raw scores as well as the recommendations using a spreadsheet. The votes were preferentially counted and the raw scores were there in case there was a need to break a tie.
Finally, as Head Judge, I was not involved in the actual judging and did not cast votes. Furthermore I refrained from making comments and remarks that might influence the judges until after the scoring sheets were collected. My role was to be there to answer questions and interpret the rules as well as keep the judging on track and on
Technical considerations for the judges included visual appeal, temper, etc., parameters that spoke to the work skills and habits of the chocolatiers whose work was being judged. The Taste part of Taste/Mouthfeel had two major components; a) how well the flavors of the piece worked together, and b) how well the flavors reflected the theme. Mouthfeel covered the "bite" of the piece as well as the texture of the center and how the piece melted/chewed.
There were several things about the entries, taken as a whole, that impressed the judges. One that I was really surprised by is that there was no duplication of molds for the shell-molded pieces. I know that there are hundreds of polycarbonate molds that are commonly used - and we saw many of them - but no two molds used were alike.
Another aspect of the entries that impressed the judges was the willingness of many of the chocolatiers to take flavor risks. When the organizer of the competition, Curtis Vreeland, and I first discussed the theme flavor several months ago we were worried that we might get only caramels with fleur de sel. While we did get several of these - and they were well received by the judges - pieces that really explored the competition's theme of Salty
Sweets received slightly higher marks and ended up being selected as finalists.
Finally, we were impressed by the number of entries in the initial application pool that qualified for the Rising Star award. In past years, the ratio of established chocolatiers to new chocolatiers was the reverse of this year. This fact gives me great hope for the future of artisan chocolatiers in this country.
Overall, the technical execution of the pieces was very high. We saw elaborate and beautiful surface decorations on the insides of molds and exquisite transfers as well as several different ways - often unusual - of incorporating salt into the pieces, including several that focused delivering the texture of the salt not just the flavor. Furthermore there were a number of multi-layer pieces - and not just ganache/pate-de-fruit pairings - that provided not only unusual texture combinations but also new and wonderful taste sensations.
In the end, the judges made their decisions and it was not obvious to me from a quick glance at the scores who the winners would be. From the 20 chocolatiers invited to submit entries for judging, the SIX finalists are (in alphabetical order by the name of the piece):
Dark Chocolate, Dried Blueberry, and Salty Almond Bar
Maria Valente, Chocolations, Mamaroneck, NY
Mayan Chile Verde Ganache w/ Sweet Corn Bonbon
Joanne Hansen, Bon Bon Bakery & Chocolates, San Diego, CA
Mexican Mango Bonbon
Bill Brown, William Dean Chocolates, Largo, FL
Molasses Shoo-Fly Caramel
Stephanie Marcon, Coco-Luxe Confections, Sausalito, CA
Salty Nutty Toffee Bar
Sarah Hart, Alma Chocolate, Portland, OR
Three Hot Nuts Bar
Gail Ambrosius, Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier, Madison, WI