As Hollywood occupied itself with the Emmy Awards last Sunday, San Francisco feverishly prepared for a different ceremony. Each year, the Good Food Awards honors artisanally-made American food products that exhibit high standards of taste and ethical, sustainable manufacturing practices. Chocolate committee chair Sunita de Tourreil (founder of Palo Alto’s amazing The Chocolate Garage) sought volunteer help for the weekend’s operations. So, bright and early, I headed to the Mission District’s Impact Hub coworking space, finding it transformed into a buzzing food mecca for the day.
I settled in to my duties as a chocolate bar chopper, getting up close and personal with the day’s nominees before arranging the chocolate squares onto numbered plates for the judges’ tasting flights. The chocolate itself was often patterned with logos or designs, but these had to be turned face-down so as not to reveal anything to the market-savvy judges! Likewise, we were not to show any bar packaging in personal photos to be posted (such as the one above). While the often gorgeous boxes and wraps would entice me as a consumer, they annoyed me as someone who had to get the chocolate denuded and diced in a hurry. (The worst offenders were the bars in cardboard boxes with adhesive stickers sealing them shut. They would be Christmas in September for some lucky person in a store, but not for me in a work kitchen.) Roughly 80 percent of the entries were dark chocolates, with milks, dark milks, white chocolates, and inclusion bars (that is, bars with nuts or other ingredients added) rounding out the mix. I vowed I wasn’t going to sample any wares, but naturally my resolve wore down as the day wore on. (Since I have an entire chapter devoted to the Santa Cruz Chocolate Festival in Going Coastal, I should have known myself better.) Normally I’m a dark-chocolate purist, but perhaps it was palate fatigue that had me enjoying two inclusion bars best : the Brown Butter bar from Portland, Oregon’s Creo Chocolate, and the Bananas Foster bar from Brooklyn’s Raaka. (Speaking of palate cleansing, I learned a trick that will be useful for those organizing chocolate tastings in the future. We supplied the judges with bland crackers and slices of baguette, but kind souls at the confectionery tasting table informed us that slices of jicama clear the palate more effectively. They were right. Who knew?)
Eventually, the 150 chocolates were narrowed to sixteen (as I recall) finalists. Who won, you ask? No one will know until the awards ceremony in January, since all high scorers have to be vetted for ethical production practices before the results are finalized. I’m really curious to learn who won, since I know the judging could not have been easy! It was an honor to participate (even in such a small way), and I’ll enjoy seeing what the Good Food Awards have to offer in the future.