The most prestigious competition in the world for chocolate professionals takes place here in the UK. The Academy of Chocolate awards is an absolutely mammoth affair. Hundreds of people involved in the logistics and judging of hundreds of different entries from across the globe.
I was honoured to be invited to participate in the judging process this year. Sadly, I was only available on one of the filled chocolate days. Don’t get me wrong, it was fascinating, and I enjoyed it. I just think that the bean to bar categories would have been more up my street. However, I still had a really fun day with the Academy in London.
Top of the Chocs
Judging takes place over a number of weeks as there are so many categories and entries to organise. Of course, tasting a large number of chocolates in a relatively short space of time is a tricky business, and your palate can quickly tire. We were well stocked with water, dry bread and slices of apple to help clear our palates between each entry, but your body does reach its limit!
I did both the morning and afternoon session and judged around 40 chocolates in total. We were working in teams to allow for deep discussion and debate around the set criteria. Chocolate really does have it all, with a deeply technical construction, an important role of flavour balance and an instantly recognisable impact from quality of ingredients. That’s what makes it such a pleasure to judge, because a really good chocolate is truly an incredible experience.
I really enjoyed meeting so many other illustrious judges from a range of professions. Many, but not all by any means were immersed in the chocolate industry and their expertise was invaluable when a particular chocolate divided opinion.
A learning experience
Undoubtedly the most interesting part for me was the clear divide between the successful experiments and the unsuccessful ones. Generally speaking, although we did not come across any ‘gold standard’ chocolates in our group, the majority of silver and bronzes were awarded to chocolates that took a single key flavour and executed it incredibly well. Of course, appearance, texture and technical accomplishment were all under scrutiny, but at the end of the day it’s how it tasted that was important.
A number of flavour combinations that were less familiar failed because they were out of balance. In these cases, the chocolate simply didn’t taste of all the things claimed on the labels. I remember one example that included espresso and white chocolate (amongst other things). How you could ever hope to balance such a bold flavour against a relatively light one I do not know. Other new combinations didn’t work because they simply didn’t taste very nice! I won’t give any examples. but I think the producers will know from the judges’ feedback.
We can all applaud innovation that moves a profession forward and keeps it fresh. However, there is still always a lot to be said for the basics and the classics. A simple idea, well executed, will always beat an over complicated idea that has not been properly realised.
How do you like your filled chocolates?
Are you a fan of the old faithfuls or do you seek out the new?