The Chocolate Life

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Why the Academy of Chocolate is garbage

For full disclosure sake, we did enter this year and we did not win anything. However, we did not expect to win anything and my only desire was non-American feedback from people who don’t know me. (I only sent them my aesthetically imperfects as we don’t need feedback on looks and saw no reason to waste good product)

Devil in an Apron is a nonprofit organization, yes we do offer a few products, for cost, that demonstrate new concepts in chocolate and confection: fat based marshmallows, the use of UV-C instead of boiling to sterilize, using ultrasound to form emulsions and control crystalization, and generally deconstructing items as physio-chemical systems to rebuild them in new wasy. Some of these are novelties and some are technological advancements in the field.

Now that you know who I am, on to what is wrong with the Academy of Chocolate

Nepotism and Judgment
There was a recent post on the ethics of publishing reviews of your competition, which raised some interesting points. What about the ethics of reviewing yourself and your friends? Although it is claimed that entrants, who are academy members are not allowed to judge on their own products, the judging process is highly flawed. Secret ballot using a contained point system is ideal, using an open table system might be the worst possible. Guess which the Academy of Chocolate uses? It is very, very easy, even if unintentionally to drive the table when a product you know is up. Think, Ouija board, where an individual is capable of subverting an entire group through unspoken communication.

Even the most casual glance at the list of winners, special awards, and members reveals that judgment is not on the level.

The Academy of Chocolate is run by members of the Academy of Culinary Arts. The Academy of Chocolate, does not list sponsors, the Academy of Culinary Arts does. Yes, Amedei is listed right at the top. I’m sure that had no bearing on their winning of the Golden Bean eachand every year for a different product.

Oh yeah, let us not forget that William Curley uses Amedei and they even produce a special blend just for him.

Attitude of the Entrants
William Curley… assuming that your awards are legit, why do you keep entering the same products? Is this all you make? Is winning so important to you that you only submit previous winners? How boring would the Oscars be if the same winning movies were entered year after year? I’m not going to comment on the deservedness of the awards; just seeing the same products, year after year is hardly sportsmanlike.

Unofficial/Irregular Communication
Several judges wrote me directly with comments about my entry before the results were made official. Each gave high praise and then wanted to know if the product was available retail in the UK (must products be available for retail in the UK to be valid entires?). The really bizarre thing about this was that each judge contacted me well after the judging was supposed to be completed, and informed me that they had just had my product (“I tried your product yesterday/a few hours ago/earlier today”). How could it be that several judges liked the product enough to go out of their way to contact me about it without even placing a bronze? I would like to say that I really appreciated these judges contacting me directly and offering their feedback but, it seems like the quality of judges might be in question when so much variance occurs. Are they voting on quality or their personal taste? Why were these judges trying my product after judging was completed?

No Feedback
The final kicker, I have not received official feedback! Not even, “why did you throw all the products together into a bag without individually wrapping them for overseas shipment?” Nothing. This part pisses me off as I made it very clear to everyone I spoke to that I was only seeking feedback, you’d think they might have mentioned that they don’t provide feedback.

Ultimately, I feel that non-sponsoring, non-academy members merely pay for a bunch of friends to get together and enjoy lots of free chocolate. Am I bitter? Yeah, I thought I was buying expert feedback and instead I merely contributed to artificially boosting the delicate egos of William Curley and Amedei.



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Comment by J'aime le Chocolat on February 25, 2009 at 3:43am
I have enjoyed reading the comments and must share with you that I fully agree on how fishy the AoC seems to be. I also saw how seventypercent adopted 1980's censorship techniques used by Communist regimes to limit thought, information and freedom. This typifies how the AoC are a minority community of inbreed halfwits! why ? needless to ask off course.

The behavior of protectionism is cleary despicable and the level to which the members are prepared to help each other out during this time of need is even more amusing! At the end of the day the entire saga is a comical way of trying to raise money to promote themselves at small village fairs. The issues and importance of promoting the entire value chain of cocoa from bean to bon-bon seems to have simply vanished unless this suits the Curley / Amadei clubs. To push a tiny inadequate Couverture maker in Italy over and above the clearly and globally acknowledged businesses such as Valrhona or Cacao Barry who have supported small artisans around the world is a clear indication of the tunnel vision the AoC has. Needless to say how important it is for all efforts to be supported and acknowledged, There is a time and place for this.

All businesses come and go and hence business is like the natural order, will have survivors and regrettably some casualties, The natural order is a very good example in my view on how we should regard the AoC and any other small isolated groups of similar nature. Eventually such inbreeding will reduce the genetic make up and the species with be wiped out by a simple common cold. Such is the natural order, survival of the fittest. I strongly believe that this is the same in business. I believe we are seeing the last days of the AoC as it cannot be allowed to survive as it stands today.

I am simply amused at how the ostentatious AoC have behaved and how childish they seem to be, It is clearly clumsy bully boy tactics which have not worked. Why? There is nothing in the British national press to support such an event. We see nothing that positions the AoC as the voice of authority. What a shame, as the original ideas and structure could have made the AoC into a great organization to be applauded.

It seems that change should be instigated, but if we learn from the past and current dictatorships, “talk” about word change means nothing. People have to be changed or replaced. Alternatively a new organization should be set up with more concrete foundations and more importantly – transparent. Long live chocolate and those who enjoy making and eating it.
Comment by Robert Shea on February 20, 2009 at 5:14am
- Open books... finances, procedures, the lot like a standard nonprofit in the US.
- Aesthetics should be a seperate catagory, not part of each score.
- Scoring should be done year round, with the awards addressing the highest scores in the given year to NEW/previously unreviewed products. (This would ease logisitical issues as well)

It is simply not possible to effectively taste more than a handful of complex foods in a day without them impacting each other... this is compounded when there is no opportunity to prime the tastebuds due to limited supply (1/4 truffle each?).

- Accountability of each judge, publishing of score and notes.

- The application of traditional statistical anomaly containment technqiues.
Comment by Artisan on February 20, 2009 at 4:56am
I am still hoping that the Academy will take some of the feedback on board and change practices next year. I have my views on what would need to change but i would be really interested in the forum view on what the Academy can practically do to try to sort out the issues we all raised.

My list would be in no particular order
- Reduce number of categories
- Reduce the mumber of product tasted to a level that allows proper judging
- participants to enter 1 product per category except for filled chocs, may be 3 max
- any previoulsy awarded product should not be re entered for a period of 3 years unless there was a change in recipe (gold awards should not be reentered for 3 years)
- Judging standards should be set and made public
- Judges panel should reflect broad section of industry and press, with a min of chocolate knowledge required
- Tasting should be really blind (i.e blindfolded) as shapes are still highly recogniseable
- Tasting should be recorded as individual scores, not shared and discussed as a group table
- Special awards not based on scores should be stopped completely
- Ideally some sort of independent organisation should oversee the organisation
- The chairman of the Academy should be replaced by someone who has not been tainted by strong link and personal perferences to a manufacturer. Indeed i would suggest a journalist.
- Membership of the academy should be much more widely increased to reflect the fine chocolate industry as a whole
- Some sort of feedback mechanism should be in place for all products entered- at the bare min the scores against the judging criteria
- Products to judge should be bought anonymously via retail chanels and not submitted by the chocolatier. Most chocolatiers worlwide have online sales facilities anyway.

that's start for me but what do you think?
Comment by Robert Shea on February 20, 2009 at 4:40am
The real poin here, is that chocolate is amazingly complex. A quick look at chocolatiers or better yet, chefs, indicates the huge range in perspectives. El Bulli uses Chocovic, given a low sevens by who you gonna trust? Is it even about trust?

With such a wide range of opinion, for the awards to nearly be mirrored from year to year, leaves only one possible answer.
Comment by Artisan on February 20, 2009 at 3:26am
Hardly any purprise in this years results when some gold winners reentered the same winning products as last year. What is the point?
And the Oscar for best film 2009 goes to.... Citizen Kane? And in 2010 and in 2011...
Comment by Clay Gordon on February 19, 2009 at 5:24pm
Just FYI, here is the official press release listing recipients of Academy of Chocolate awards for 2009.
Comment by Robert Shea on February 16, 2009 at 6:26pm
See, the thing is, it's not about the winners or losers, it's about the method of getting there.
Comment by Artisan on February 16, 2009 at 6:56am
Last one. I has not realised that William had entered the same awarded products as last year. Surely this defies the purpose. should be one product entered per categoty and per participant (may be for filled chocs, this could go to 3 due to different flavours) and products with previous awards should not be entered again, unless there was a change of recipe. All seems common sense to me!
Comment by Artisan on February 16, 2009 at 4:14am
Would like to add that a similar thread has been locked on
I would welcome the academy to have a grown up debate about their position instead of
censoring comments.
Comment by Artisan on February 16, 2009 at 3:42am
This time, i agree with Samantha (despite our previous differences). That's why we declined to participate this year . The funny thing is that the Academy heard that i was raising doubt on the organisation so called me to be a judge. As if my presence with no other change would remedy the major problems with the judging (far too many entries - 70 or so products to taste in a few hours, no standard or judging, open table discussions, products are still recogniseable, no check against "special batches", no policing of how the awards are used by the brands, even some of the PR for the brands participating are in the committee etc etc). I declined too as it would have made me validate an event which i don't approve for its practices.

I can understand Art Pollard comments and i think there is no systematic biais and overall the aim of the Academy is noble. But the problems that one excused in the infancy can not be ignored after 4 years. I have tried since the start to change the Academy from within by talking to them about the areas on concerns and let me tell you there was no willingness to change at all. The Academy sees nothing wrong with how they run the awards and i very much doubt will review feedback to change anything.
For example last year, i had to threaten the academy to police Amedei as they were presenting their awards in Tokyo without reference to the product and calling them World awards. Even when there are clear rules, the Academy only very very reluctantly made a comment to Amedei. It is no secret that Amedei is extremely close to the Academy. That being said, Amedie probably deserves their awards as they make great chocolate but this does not excuse the shortcomings of the Academy.

For my part, either they put the right people and processes to become a professional organisation or they should stop. We are the only UK company that never advertised the awards we had in the past from the Academy (unlike many others who hang it in their shops) as we always thought they were meaningless. Several other chocolatiers in the UK think the same but they still participate for commercial reasons and because they would rather stay in good terms with the "experts" at the Academy who are often quoted in the papers and of course systematically promote the award winners in print, radio etc etc.

Last year when the awards were published on their site, it listed at the bottom contact details and PR details, not for all winners, only for 2 of them: Amedei and William curley who uses Amedei. That tells it all.

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