Big Island Chocolate Festival awards top chefs, culinary students in 10th annual event

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Professional culinary winners at the 2023 Big Island Chocolate Festival (L-R): Kalani Garcia, Four Seasons Resort Hualālai; Daniel Sampson, Fairmont Orchid, Hawaiʻi; Victor Palma, Kona Village Resort; Alyssa Tokumura, Four Seasons Resort Hualālai; Helen Hong, Kona Village Resort; Michelle Yamaguchi, Waialua Chocolate Factory; and Laura Field, Mapele Fields. (Big Island Chocolate Festival)

At the 10th Big Island Chocolate Festival, creations by chefs, chocolatiers and culinary students were critiqued on taste, texture, appearance and creativity by a team of celebrity judges. 

Event newcomer Kona Village Resort won two awards with chef Helen Hong winning Best Bonbon and chef Victor Palma tapped for Best Savory in a tie with chef Daniel Sampson of the Fairmont Orchid, Hawaiʻi. 

The festival was held April 27-29 at the Waikōloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa with a soldout crowd of 400.


Four Seasons Resort Hualālai also won two awards. Chef Alyssa Tokumura took Best Plated Dessert and chef Kalani Garcia earning Best Decorated Booth.

People’s Choice Awards were given to Sampson for Best Savor and Hong for Best Sweet. Waialua Chocolate Factory was tapped Best Bean to Bar and new competitor Mapele Fields of Oʻahu was named Best Cacao Bean from 11 entries. 

  • One of many featured desserts at the Big Island Chocolate Festival. (Courtesy photo)
  • Big Island Chocolate Festival People’s Choice for Best savory creation, Chef Daniel Sampson. (Courtesy photo)
  • A chocolate fountain was featured at the Big Island Chocolate Festival. (Courtesy photo)
  • A detailed festival sculpture. (Courtesy photo)

For Friday’s college culinary competition, six 2-person teams from Oʻahu and Maui had their chocolate creations evaluated by professional chefs. 


Kau’ilani Kekamahilina’iOkealoha Garso-Steward and Briana Jade Valentin of University of Hawaiʻi-Maui College won first place. Derin Pascual and Alec Parker of Leeward Community College took second place. And, Ciera Lynn Shugart and Angeline Stone of Kapiolani Community College placed third.

Chefs judging the various competitions hailed from throughout the state and mainland: James Beard winner and new island resident Vitaly Paley, Michael Moorhouse of Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Autograph Collection, Stephane Treand of The Pastry School, Alicia Boada of Felchin, Bruce Trouyet of Four Seasons Resort Lānaʻi, Sean Meyer of Kona Pasta Co. and Richard Polhemus of Four Seasons Resort Hualālai. 

“This year’s event was especially rewarding as we could return to our pre-COVID format with multiple culinary booths and more participants using and enjoying chocolate,” said Farsheed Bonakdar, president of the Kona Cacao Association that puts on the festival.


2023 festival beneficiaries included: Hawaiʻi college culinary programs, Hawaiʻi Institute of Pacific Agriculture, Kona Dance & Performing Arts and Keāhole Center for Sustainability. 

The festival offered a full lineup of chocolate-industry educational activities from fermenting cacao beans to tempering chocolate and tasting the flavor profiles of chocolate couvertures. 

Visit for updates on next year’s event.

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