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A few minutes ago I started taking the survey, and a glaring flaw stood out, which caused me to stop taking it.  Here is the flaw:

 

Here I was, the maker and purveyor of fine chocolate, taking a survey which could very well impact the definition of "fine" chocolate (at least from a public marketing perspective) according to this new "International Awards" group.  But who's to say that I have the right to decide whether good chocolate is defined by the inclusion (or exclusion for that matter) of vegetable fat, or lecithin, or vanillin, or any other ingredients for that matter?

 

Who's to say my chocolate is even any good?  After all, I'm biased because it's MY chocolate.  MY recipes are based on what MY customers want.  I don't care about the rest of the world because I don't ship or deliver and can barely keep up with local demand.  Who am I to say that because my customers don't want vegetable fat, that "good chocolate" for tropical climates shouldn't include a vegetable fat to make it more stable?  Maybe to someone in Barbados, good chocolate is defined as a bar that isn't goo when they open it up.

 

We are all in business to sell our wares and pay our bills, and all of us who make chocolate and chocolate confections are proud of our creations.  Some of us pay more attention to consumer demands than others.  As a result, some of us make more money and can do more things with our crafts than others.  To ME, the true definition of good chocolate is that which is defined by our customers, and not a small subset of biased industry professionals (myself included).

 

I will be happy to participate in a competition such as this only when the end consumer is the judge, jury and executioner.

 

That's just my two bits for what it's worth.

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Replies to This Discussion

Brad:

You bring up some very interesting points.

I had some similar concerns, and even though the survey was not constructed to accept some kinds of answers, I ended up writing in many of them in the closest text box I could find and referred back to the question I was answering. One of the challenges of the questionnaire, for me, is that it appears to try to come up with an ingredient definition for "fine" chocolate and to use that definition as a baseline for consideration as an entry. 

My point was that if Lindt wanted to enter a Lindor truffle into the competition - and it won a blind tasting - that would say a lot. I am all for a system that would allow something like this to happen.

With respect to the public, I am also all for figuring out a way to let "non-professionals" participate. I've been thinking about this very topic a lot, and I don't know how to construct a system that can't be gamed and that ends up being a popularity contest. I think we all know where you stand with respect to how you view your company's products and market, but I would encourage you consider how you might construct a system that engages the public in a meaningful way that doesn't make the competition open to ballot stuffing. I have some ideas on how to do this, But I am completely open to insight from anyone and everyone about how to go about this.

I think Ricardo also has an interesting idea, which would be to create a panel consisting of judges between the ages of 12 and 18 to see what they liked. One of my ideas for involving the public is to create a judging panel of non-professionals who volunteer to judge and are selected at random.

I too like Ricardo's idea, and have no idea how to create an impartial system which, like you said, doesn't end up being a popularity contest.  Definitely food for thought while I'm driving out to the mountains this weekend.

 

Cheers.

Brad

Hi Brad,

Thanks for your input. I think it's hard to make any awards system perfect, especially at the first attempt. While we are asking for people's opinion on what exactly fine chocolate is, we do also ask whether or not it should be a limitation criteria for entry.

We are trying to create an awards system that is as independent and transparent as possible, and we do see ourselves on the consumer side of the counter - albiet now rather specialised consumers due to amount of chocolte consumed! On the other side of that, we believe it would be wrong for a group of non-professional expert consumers to sit behind closed doors making unexplained decisions about what does and does not constitute a good chocolate product.

Because of this, we believe it's important to have the entrants opinions on how the awards are run and what the rules and categories will be. While the opinion of normal consumers is of course important, they are unlikely to have the technical knowledge to tell us that eg. vegetable fat should be allowed because its important for Barbadan chocolate (for example). Chances are they wouldn't even know it's an ingredient.

Also it's important to keep in mind what the public want from an awards scheme. Generally an important point is credibility, so if the awards were just given through a raw public vote, many consumers would not find that useful, but would prefer some expert input and regulation.

Once we have our judging scheme in place though, it could well be used for a wider input from non-specialists, eg having specific "peoples'" awards. I like the idea of say using groups of 12-18 year olds (or 4-8, who often have great palates) and allowing them to input into the judging.

These are all good ideas that we welcome.

There's a lot in our survey and a lot to be discussed. We've tried to make the survey a mix of direct answer to specific questions, along with open text for longer discussion. We felt that some steering of the discussion was necessary otherwise the output would be unmanageble, but we still very much welcome all opinions.

It would be great to have your input, even if you disagree wildly with our suggestions. We welcome all feedback, both positive and negative! So if you feel like giving the questionnaire another go, please feel free to express your concerns so they can fall into our process.

Many thanks,

Martin

I have to agree somewhat.  Having completed this survey, I really wonder if these awards are just going to be an excuse to give "rubber stamp" golds awards similar to those that flood the wine industry but lack real credibility.

Ultimately, the quality of judges/judging, and the caliber of entrants, will make or break these awards.

Hi Stu,

We will be working really hard to create a consistent and fair judging system, and to situations where the system is applied in a transparent and qualified way, with guidance and training for the judges. We will publish the juding form and scheme details on the Awards website.

Our hope is to give considered awards rather than a flood, and we are recruiting a number of oversight committees to ensure that the system does not get abused. We are very happy to be monitored and critiqued on this role!

Martin

I wonder if a helpful analogy is to think about the Academy Awards for movies?  I don't have time to develop this, but they are a panel of knowledgeable people vs. what movies sold best at the box office.  The average movie goer cannot tell you much about the technical terms in movies, they just know if they liked it or not.  To me it's pretty clear that a popular movie doesn't necessarily mean a good movie.  Then you have to consider all of the taste differences in the numerous viewer demographics.  Kids tend to like cartoons and animated movies.  Teenage boys tend to like action and graphics and don't care so much about plot... You get the idea.

In the end, my opinion is that any search for "best" is impossible anyway, for a variety of reasons.  The best that can be done is to determined "favorites".  I look at those deemed "best" as merely an aggregation of what knowledgeable people's "favorites" are.  It gives me a good place to start, but their favorites may or may not be my favorites.  Just like the Academy Awards. 

I agree that the quest for the "best" is nebulous.  Everybody's tastes are different, which means "the best" to one person will be different than what the next considers "the best".

 

I don't really know that using the Academy Awards as an example is a good choice, other than to demonstrate how an award ceremony can be stacked.  There have been rumblings for years that the Academy Awards is very biased in many ways.

 

For chocolate makers, I think the only way to determine winners of a contest would be to:

1. First split the contest geographically.  European consumers prefer a very different chocolate to North American consumers. 

2. Have each contestant for a geographic region submit a 5kg block of chocolate to the organization overseeing the contest, where they melt, temper, and mold it into a common shape weighing about 5g.  EVERY chocolatier's chocolate gets molded into the same shapes.  The Lots get numbered and are kept blind.  5kg would easily make about 1,000 sample callets - more than enough for the contest, and at a cost that isn't prohibitive to the chocolate maker.

 

3.  The lots are then publicly blind sampled to a couple hundred members of the general public.  Each person is given a score card where they judge the chocolate in simple criteria - criteria such as texture, intensity, flavour, bitterness, astringency.

 

4.  There would have to be a series of "tastings" where no more than 5 chocolates are paired against each other.  The top one or two of each group are then paired against each other in another blind tasting, until such time as most popular one prevails. (kind of like an elimination tournament)

 

In the end, only the impartial hosting organization will know the winner until the results are published, and in no way can they sway the results, as all ballots/score cards can be accounted for to justify the results.

 

I think THAT would be a step in the right direction.  It's impartial, and in no way can some bloated, self important, self proclaimed chocolate "expert" sway the results and potentially damage a company's business reputation because he/she doesn't like them.

 

Again, just my thoughts....

 

Brad

As I recall, Frank Capra and others cooked up the academy awards during a writer's strike.  It was  a whim that struck gold in terms of publicity, the oil of the movie industry machine, to mix a metaphore.  I think the AAs now try to honor film as art -- would we have seen Slumdog Millionaire otherwise? On the other hand, the People's Choice Awards do seem popularity contests that flatter majority tastes and values.

And speaking of movies, remember Gene Hackman in French Connection coming off a forced heroin addiction and asking for chocolate: "Hershey's, none of that French ****, Hershey's, with nuts.."  For me this epitomizes a rigidified attitude toward chocolate -- 'good chocolate is what I say it is, in this case the same type that comforted me as a child, etc'.  

This is suggest that there are two extremes to avoid in chocolate awards: the you-have-to-be-a connoiseur even to understand how fine this chocolate is, and the Popeye Doyle with nuts award. 

You could get some decent statistical sig. with that amount of chocolate Brad, you could get all sorts of other useful data out then too such as standardised flavour profiling, this could help with choosing a personal fav if you had access to the data represented in a web diagram coupled with other ratings.

Martin are you using a company that does market research for the food industry to collect and collate? This kind of data could be very valuable, you may be able to strike a deal with one. My wife worked for MMR http://www.mmr-research.com/ in the UK when we lived there and did heaps of food industry sensory analysis.

I'd argue against remolding.

I think the appearance of the chocolate (tempering/molding) is one of the factors that the chocolate should be judged on.  Once you start messing around with things like this, you're no longer judging the final product as the maker intended, and potentially introducing problems if the person doing the molding doesn't do a perfect job on a particular entry.

I also think it's important that all entries in all categories should be retail products that are on sale to the public, otherwise people will end up making chocolates specifically for the awards that have little resemblance to the version the public can buy (we've seen this in other chocolate awards).

Lowe -

This does provide some interesting room for thought.The Academy Awards are very political and self-referential. Plus, different juries (e.g., Golden Globes, People's Choice, Teen Choice) all have different opinions on what is "best." Where the Academy gets it right, I think is that they give a whole slew of other, less publicized awards that recognize a whole raft of categories of technical merit that could apply in the case of these awards.

I personally don't think that a definition of "fine" chocolate should be a part of the "DNA" of the awards. I also don't think that an overly complex category structure should be erected in advance, instead I would favor a small number of broad categories and a system that enables the judges to recognize exceptional work within those broad categories - as an integral part of the judging process - in order to respond to what's actually entered, rather than to triage entries before they are submitted.

That said, I do think Martin is right when he says that a large part of the public does look to awards like these for guidance. We can strive, not for perfection, but consensus on what represents a fair and open system for awarding good work and then do our best within the system. Openness and transparency are key to public trust in the system and if there is one place where I think compromise should not be made, this is it.

And Stu is right. The makeup of the judging panels need to be disclosed as well as how the awards are chosen. I don't think there needs to be a winner in each category. But how to accommodate multiple winners in a category is an interesting question. The point, I believe, is to recognize good work in whatever form it comes in.

Sensory analysis should be first and foremost. Not ingredients. I heartily endorse rule that require that products entered into the competition be commercially available for at least a month (preferably three months or more) before being entered and that they must be commercially available following the competition. 

Furthermore, there is a history of judging standards in the competitive pastry field that can be applied to these awards. The World Pastry Team Championship, Coupe du Monde, and other international competitions have forms and standards for judging bonbons that can easily be extended to include bars. There is no reason to make all of this stuff up from scratch.

Hi!

We've been making various types of chocolate in El Salvador for nearly 30 years, and have learned quite a bit during the process, through trial and error, and through demystification by experts from different parts of the world.  We are a bean to bar shop, and buy our cacaos directly from many farms throughout central america (mostly from one co-op in the north of Honduras).  We are also trying to incentivize local agriculture to grow finer and finer cacaos.  For us, to be doing business and employing many people here, where it is greatly needed, and sharing techniques in El Salvador to not only export, but also convert these magical beans locally, is a wonderful thing.

We were excited about this new competition, and have a friend travelling tomorrow to Florida where we could more easily ship some entries to New York, but were greatly saddened by the "only natural, real vanilla" rule.  We roast and press our own beans, and use only 0.00015% of vanillin.  The state of "vanillin"as being natural or not seems to be a controversial topic.  From what we understand, it shares the exact same chemical composition whether it's derived from vanilla or wood.   Where does the panel stand on this topic?  We'd like to send some entries!  If not, please let us know where we can find 100% natural-deemed vanillin so we can enter next year!

We do use only cocoa butter, which has negative effects in our energy consumption because of our warm climate, and very high electricity costs, and go for the freshest in ALL ingredients we use especially based on the wonders we have available locally.

Here's some of our info (yes, we need to update our web sites-  http://www.cacaoterra.com)

Thanks for your input!

Jon Quiros

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