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And the Winner is...

The 6th Annual Oregon Chocolate Festival!

6th Annual Oregon Chocolate Festival 2010, Ashland Springs Hotel

6th Annual Oregon Chocolate Festival 2010, Ashland Springs Hotel

Oregon has its share of fine chocolatièrs, and thanks to Karolina Wyszynska and her staff at the beautiful Ashland Springs Hotel, they were gathered in historic downtown Ashland the weekend of March 5-7 to share a taste of their wares. The weather was lovely, with blue skies, comfortable temperatures and fruit trees in early bloom, and the event was very well attended.
Though there were a host of accompanying lectures and demonstrations, I decided to focus on participants in the main event, meeting the chocolatièrs and yes, tasting a lot of chocolate! The program was no joke – these innovative culinary artisans presented just about anything you’d hope to find at a chocolate festival, from fine chocolates created in the classical Belgian tradition to chocolate crackers, with a range of organic, raw, ethically sourced, fair trade, herb-infused, vegan and allergen-free brownies, cookies, truffles, madeleines, meringues, bars, drinking chocolate and toffees, along with locally produced artisanal cheese, coffee, beer, wine and spirits to accompany them. Every detail was coordinated with the chocolate theme, from the “Beyond Chocolate” gift market featuring jewelry, body care and decor artists right down to the chocolate mint soaps in the ladies room.

Why was I surprised by the number of artisan chocolate makers who call Oregon home? Our champion dairy producers do provide a quality ingredient for this particular art, and Oregon is known for its cottage industries. Still, it took me long enough to introduce myself that by the time I had met them all (well, almost all) the grand ballroom and a second room nearby were both standing room only with chocolate lovers from near and far. Turning to a festival attendee, one of the many mobbing the Coastal Mist booth, I asked how she had heard of the Chocolate Festival. “I’ve been thinking of moving to Oregon for a while,” she said, “so I asked my friends in Ashland when to visit. They said I should plan my trip when the Chocolate Festival was happening. I started with the Chocolate Maker’s Dinner Friday night, and now that I’m here at the Festival, my decision’s made. I’m moving to Oregon!” Way to go, Oregon chocolatiers! Each vendor I spoke with was friendly, knowledgeable and gracious; I was impressed by their overall commitment to excellence, innovation and artistic achievement in flavor and design, and concern for the environment, for fair trading practices and for people with special dietary needs.

Oregon Chocolate Festival 2010 Dessert Judges

Oregon Chocolate Festival 2010 Dessert Judges

Though in my estimation there were no losers in this group, there were indeed winners. Several competitions took place, beginning with chocolate desserts. Eleven gorgeous entries created by local chefs were arrayed at the center of the ballroom for all to admire as entrants awaited the judging. Judges were Art Pollard, chocolatièr & owner of Amano Chocolates, Leslie Haze, radio host at Lite 102 FM, culinary writer Jennifer Strange, and Neil Clooney, chef at Dragonfly Café & Gardens. After tasting, the judges took a long time to deliberate on their choices. In the end we learned why: two contestants were in a dead heat for a photo finish! There was a near consensus with the winning entries separated by only one point; 2 judges placed them #1 and #2, the remaining 2 judges placing them #2 and #1.

Winner - Best Chocolate Dessert, Oregon Chocolate Festival 2010

Chef Brandan Cunningham, winner of the Best Chocolate Dessert

Chef Brandan Cunningham, winner of the Best Chocolate Dessert

Congratulations to Chef Brandan Cunningham of Callaghan’s Siskiyou Lodge, Ashland,  winner of the Best Chocolate Dessert category with his creation, Chocolate Chili Torte with Black Cherry Compote. “It’s an honor!” the young chef said. His winning dessert scored 89 of a possible 100 points.

The runner-up scored 88 of 100 points with a brilliantly designed Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse Cake submitted by Omar’s Restaurant of Ashland.

After the winners were announced, all desserts were moved to a silent auction table for festival goers to bid on, with proceeds to benefit ACCESS, Inc., a community action agency in Jackson County which has been serving the needs of seniors, persons with disabilities, children, and people of low income since 1976.

Best in Show, Oregon Chocolate Festival 2010

Best in Show: PremRose Edibles - Raspberry Rose Truffles

Later the winners of the chocolate competitions were announced. Linda Shumate of PremRose Edibles, Creswell, Oregon, was awarded Best in Show for her Raspberry Rose Truffle. I tasted one, and the fragrant perfume of rose and chocolate was heavenly! Linda Shumate is a graduate of the Ecole Chocolat Professional School of Chocolate Arts in Vancouver B.C. She grows roses on her own farm, which has been committed to organic methods of land management since 1962. She’s been making her lovely rose petal jam and chocolate truffles since 1982.

Runner Up: Best Chocolate Product, Oregon Chocolate Festival 2010

Tara Shaw and partner Nicole Mallory at Coastal Mist Fine Chocolates & Desserts

Runner-up for Best in Show was the winner of the Best Non-Traditional & Innovative Use of Chocolate and last year’s Best in Show, Coastal Mist Fine Chocolates & Desserts of Bandon, Oregon for “Mother & Child Reunion.” Owner Kevin Shaw said “What matters most to me are the people who come back day after day, year after year, in support of our work!”

Chocolatièr/Patissier Kevin Shaw went to Belgium in 1995 to learn the fine art of making Belgian chocolate. In 2002 he brought his lovely wife Tara, and there she learned the chocolate making art as well. In 2008 the Shaw’s star apprentice, Nicole Mallory, became a partner in their business. The trio’s partnership and mastery of the traditional art has clearly led to innovative experiments which both impress culinary peers and critics as well as pleasing the crowd. I tasted the Black & Gold Chocolate. Six types of dark chocolate including cocoa nibs all in one smooth filling wrapped in a gold painted dark chocolate shell. An intensely beautiful flavor, so rich, creamy and real I nearly had to sit down. Seriously. Dark. Chocolate. Congratulations, Kevin, there’s no question that you are a true artist!

Further congratulations to the winners in these categories:

• Best Non-Traditional & Innovative Use of Chocolate:
Best: Coastal Mist – Mother and Child Reunion
Runner up: Enchanted Florist – Drinking Chocolate

• Best Entrepreneurial Venture (Under 2 years)
Best: Enchanted Florist – Drinking Chocolate
Runner up: Karry’s Sweet & Spicy Chipotle – Peach

• Best Chocolate Candy (Best Marriage of Chocolate and Candy)
Best: Homemade Confections – English Toffee
Runner up: Recession Candy Company – English Toffee

• Best Truffle
Best: PremRose Edibles – Raspberry Rose
Runner up: Zorba’s “Raw” Chocolates – Date Rose “Karamel”

• Best Bean to Bar Product (Vendor control from bean to finished chocolate)
Best: Zorba’s “Raw” Chocolates – 77% Dark Chocolate Raw Bar
Runner up: Stirs the Soul – Origins Bar

Below, our Chocolate Festival image gallery!

[slidepress gallery=’oregon-chocolate-festival’]

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