Everyone’s a Winner at the Big Island Chocolate Festival

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From seed to plate there was a whole lot of chocolate to feast on at this year’s Big Island Chocolate Festival, held Friday, June 8th, at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai.

The festival, which was presented by the Kona Cacao Association, packed in a full day of chocolate themed activities starting with a walking farm and kitchen tour of the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory orchard in Keauhou. The tour, conducted by host Bob Cooper, showed folks what the cacao bean looks like and the process it goes through to become a chocolate bar.

Reconvening at the Four Seasons in Hualalai, there was a series of symposium sessions on chocolate throughout the day. The educational sessions explored the world of chocolate from different angles.

Tom Sharkey, owner of Hilo Sharks Coffee who has been growing cacao beans for 10 years, gave a talk entitled “Bean to Bar.”

Sharkey’s passion for farming, and cacao in particular, were evident as he discussed how to grow cacao, how much is being grown locally in East Hawaii and how cacao farming has evolved on the Big Island over the past decade. He even gave away some cacao plants to attendees. Sharkey is passionate about building the infrastructure needed to increase cacao-processing – a necessary step in order to increase the viability and profitability of Hawaii’s chocolate industry.


Tm Sharkey discussed farming techniques to grow cacao on the Big Island. Photo by Denise Laitinen.

“We need more people interested in chocolate,” says Sharkey. “We need more people interested in growing the trees.”


Dr. Nat Bletter approached chocolate from a completely different point of view. An ethnobotanist by training, Dr. Bletter went into great detail about the origins of cacao in Mexico, as well as Central and South America discussing chocolate from a botany point of view. Co-founder of Madre Chocolate, Bletter took participants step by step through the process of how to create authentic Aztec drinks using cacao.

Bletter carefully explained and passed around samples of the dozen or so ingredients used to create Aztec hot chocolate, including smoked chili peppers, fresh ground allspice, and mamey sapote. Using an ancient wooden tool called the molinillo (little grinder), Bletter whipped the ingredients together. He showed folks how to create a chocolate foam in additional to Aztec hot chocolate.

The symposium was finished off by a lesson in mixology from the staff at the Four Seasons who created specialty chocolate drinks using coconut milk, vodka, and chocolate liquer.

A few short hours after the symposium concluded, the Festival’s main gala and silent auction got underway. There was something for everyone of the nearly 300 guests at the gala. Chefs from Big Island resorts showcased both sweet and savory chocolate foods. Samplings included kalua pork with chocolate mole sauce atop a petite bite of sushi to sausage with a chocolate flavor.

Confectioners from around the state showcased hand-made chocolates made with everything from chili pepper to lavender and peppercorn. As attendees sampled the chocolate confections, a silent auction was held as a fundraiser. Kona Pacific Charter School in Kealakekua and the “Equip the Kitchens” Campaign for the Culinary Program at the Palamanui Culinary Arts Program were just two of the beneficiaries of the silent auction fundraiser.


Earlier in the day world renown pastry chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres judged the chefs entrees at the gala and the awards were announced during the event. Below is a list of the winners:

Best Savory

The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii

Big Isle Chocolate Pork Mole w/Tomatillo Salsa over Kabocha Pumpkin Maki

Best Dessert


Hilton Waikoloa Village

Orange Ginger Chocolate Mac Nut Crunch Torte

Best Bon Bons

Sweet Paradise Chocolatier

Island Bounty Assortment: Lilikoi Silk, Ka’u Cappuchino, Kula Lavender ’N Maui Honeycomb, Coconut Creme Brulee and Mango Eruption

Best Bean to Bar

Madre Chocolate

First Place People’s Choice

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai

24-Hr Braised Wild Boar Grilled Cheese w/ Chocolate & BBQ Bourbon Sauce and Hawaiian Chili Pepper AND MacNut Crusted Chocolate Pop w/ Lilikoi Foam and Alae Salted Caramel  (2 culinary offerings)

Second Place People’s Choice

Kailua Candy Company

Cathy’s Retro Mai Tai

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