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SF Chocolate Salon Tasting Panel Winners: Amano Cleans Up

The winners of the tasting panel awards from the recent 2009 "International" SF Chocolate Salon have been posted.

Art Pollard's Amano Artisan Chocolate company walked away with many top honors, including:

Best Dark Chocolate
Best Milk Chocolate
Top Artisan Chocolatier
Best Dark Chocolate Bar (?)
Best Milk Chocolate Bar (?)
Best in Salon
Most Gifted Chocolatier / Chocolate Maker

If you take a look at the awards and categories, you'll see some deep confusion about the makeup of the chocolate industry. This is a criticism I have long leveled at the organizers: their hearts are in the right place but they really don't know what they're talking about when it comes to the chocolate business. As with the organizer's books I found the information about the awards profoundly lacking in the basic - for example we only know the name of the company who won an award, not what product they won it for. We know that Amano won best dark chocolate bar over Tcho and Brix, but all three companies make more than one bar. WHICH chocolates were being awarded?

It's also impossible to know what the difference is between the award for Best Dark Chocolate and Best Dark Chocolate Bar is. (It's not an editing mistake because it shows up in the 2008 LA awards list.) In another confusing award, because Amano does not make confections, it's hard to understand why they won as best artisan chocolatier. Finally, there is no distinction (that is obvious) between companies that make chocolate from the bean and companies that either melt and mold a single commercially available chocolate or that melt and mold a blend of commercially available chocolates. What you say, too nuanced? Not at all - it's recognition of different skills.

On the other hand, the awards do not seem to suffer from two of the challenges of the Academy of Chocolate awards - a dearth of judges, and obvious sponsor favoritism: more than 35 judges are listed and none of the apparent sponsors won awards. To their credit, the organizers did not have a single judge whose product was submitted for an award. As is most common, there is no description of the judging instructions.

One other place where these awards differ from the Academy of Chocolate awards is that it appears you must be an exhibitor to submit product for judging. In the AoC awards, anyone can enter - they don't have to be Academy members. So, there is no obvious sponsor favoritism but the awards reflect a shallow pool of entries.

These differences highlight the difference in intent in the purpose of the Awards and only begins to expose some of the challenges in creating the rules that govern a competition, including not only what will be judged, but how it will be judged, and how the judging process will be explained (or not) to the companies whose work is being judged as well as to the general public.

In saying all this I don't want to be seen as diminishing Art's accomplishments. He - along with the many other young small bean-to-bar manufacturers - have done great work in a very short period of time. He deserves recognition for his success: Congratulations, Art.

But it does say that there is a long way to go in crafting a competition that accurately and meaningfully represents the chocolate business in a way that is truly helpful to the consumer.

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Very well stated.
I agree with all that you've said as well.

But I did also want to point out something that I personally view as significant. Local girl... Ms. Cocoa Gal (on this community) owner of NeoCocoa won the award for best truffle. Why is this significant? NeoCocoa truffles are not shelled.

This shows a shift in perspective from rewarding what is "correct" to what people find most enjoyable. I for one welcome this change and can only hope that more chocolatiers take the chance to do what they find best and not be so hung up on the "right way" of doing things. (I see far too many dogmatic questions in forums like this and elsewhere.)

Also... on the awards, I'd love to see the judging split in to qualitative/subjective (taste) and quantitative/objective (structure, texture, etc) catagories.

Cheers,

Rob
I thought I had missed something when I was looking at the winner listings and the website. I too could find no description of the categories or specifics about what products won. I'm sorry to see that more information isn't available (though it appears that going to the website for the winners seems to help as they're happy to provide details).

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