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Big Island High School Chefs Take Top Honors at Chocolate Festival

April 30, 2018, 1:11 PM HST (Updated April 30, 2018, 1:21 PM)
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Kealakehe High School’s culinary teams earned both savory and sweet People’s Choice Awards at the 2018 Big Island Chocolate Festival: (L–R) Kai Kale, Keoni Gandolf, Celia Goddard, instructor Karen Sheff, Alex Gambing, Clarissa Pellicia, Branden Okubo, Jett Johnson and Avan Becerra. PC: Kirk Shorte(

Chocolate may not make the world go ’round, but it sure makes it taste sweeter.

On Saturday, April 28, 2018, 675 chocolate connoisseurs gathered at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel to taste, savor and indulge in some of the best and most creative chocolate recipes on the island.

The 7th Annual Big Island Chocolate Festival brought together chefs from local resorts, as well as high school culinary students and chocolatiers, to share samples of their creations.

L–R) Professional winners at the 2018 Big Island Chocolate Festival gala were from left: Suzanna Angeles and Kalani Garcia of Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Dayne Tanabe and Eddie Enojardo of Hilton Waikoloa Village, Michelle Yamaguchi of Wailua Estate, Gage Smit and Daniel Sampson of Fairmont Orchid, Hawai‘i; Wesley Campbell accepting for Nine Fine Mynahs and Susan Bassett of Mauna Kea Cacao. PC: Kirk Shorte

This annual extravaganza featured food, wine, entertainment, chocolate body painting, chef competitions and a silent auction.

2018 Big Island Chocolate Festival: Cacao Braised Feral Pork with taro leaf emulsion and white chocolate chevre foam. PC: Karen Rose

Chefs from Hawaiʻi Island restaurants brought their best and most unique chocolate dishes to compete in the culinary taste competition. They represented resorts and restaurants such as Hilton Waikoloa Village, Four Seasons, Fairmont Orchid, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Cafe Pesto and Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel to name a few.

In addition to the 33 restaurants and chocolatiers, culinary students from three of the local high schools also brought their A-game to the festival. The students delighted attendees with their unique chocolate-inspired creations.

The event theme, “Chocolate Around the World,” was infused throughout the evening.

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Fairmont Orchid chefs took home the honor of “Best Decorated Booth” with their giant revolving chocolate globe.

Also judged were the dishes by chefs, chocolatiers and culinary students.

The delicious goodies were critiqued on taste, texture, appearance and creativity by a team of celebrity judges.

Gala culinary winners were Chef Dayne Tanabe of Hilton Waikoloa Village for “Best Savory,” Chefs Suzanna Angeles and Kalani Garcia of Four Seasons Resort Hualalai for “Best Plated Dessert,” Chef Eddie Enojardo of Hilton Waikoloa Village for “Best Bonbon” and Michelle Yamaguchi of Wailua Estate for “Best Bean-to-Bar Chocolate.”

2018 Big Island Chocolate Festival: Coco Dusted Charred Octopus. PC: Karen Rose

Winning the cacao competitions were Nine Fine Mynahs for “Best Criollo Bean” and Mauna Kea
Cacao for “Best Cacao Bean.”

In addition, three Hawai‘i Island high school culinary teams vied for People’s Choice Awards Saturday night.

Kealakehe High School culinarians took top honors for both savory and sweet offerings.

With a ballroom full of chocolaty sweets, the savory chocolate dishes were a huge hit among guests.

2018 Big Island Chocolate Festival: Flourless Chocoate Banana Globe. PC: Karen Rose

Examples of some of the savory dishes included Coco Dusted Charred Octopus, and Cacao Bao—a coco nib crusted, wagyu beef, chocolate foie gras with savoy white ganache.

The primary goal of all the delicious indulging was to raise money for charity, as well as support the mission of the Kona Cacao Association (KCA).

The Big Island Chocolate Festival was created by the KCA. Its mission is to promote the cacao industry on Hawaiʻi Island by presenting the festival as an educational and outreach opportunity for local cacao farmers, the hospitality industry and chocolate aficionados.

2018 Big Island Chocolate Festival: House-made churros with lihing mui sugar and dark chocolate ganache. PC: Karen Rose

Hawai‘i is the only U.S. state with a climate suitable for growing cacao—the same is true for coffee and vanilla. While the chocolate industry is still new to Hawaiʻi, it’s speculated to become a popular bean-to-bar industry in the Aloha State’s future. In the meantime, chocoholics will continue to look forward to one of Hawaiʻi Island’s favorite annual foodie events.

2018 Big Island Chocolate Festival: Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Crunch Torte. PC: Karen Rose

Monies raised from the gala’s silent auction benefit the following charitable organizations—University of Hawai‘i Maui College Culinary Arts Program, Kona Dance & Performing Arts, HIP Agriculture, Kona Pacific Charter School and Waimea Country School.

2018 Big Island Chocolate Festival: Ulu’s Manjari Crema Macaroon. PC: Karen Rose

For more information about the Kona Cacao Association, visit konacacoassociation.com.

Karen Rose
Karen Rose is a writer and journalist living on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel, arts and entertainment. She never met a food she didn't like—except black licorice.
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