Sweet success: 11th annual Big Island Chocolate Festival competition winners announced

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Chocolate once again was the sweet — and even savory — star during an annual event aimed at cultivating the Big Island’s cacao industry and providing an educational beacon for cacao farmers, the hospitality sector and others.

The 11th annual Big Island Chocolate Festival was hosted the last weekend of April at the Waikōloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa in West Hawai‘i.

This year’s festival included a guided farm tour, agriculture seminars, culinary demonstrations, food, fun and a festive gala, which this year had a glitzy Mystical Chocolate Masquerade theme.

File photo courtesy of the Big Island Chocolate Festival

It also featured several culinary competitions.

Chocolatey creations by chefs, chocolatiers and culinary students were critiqued by a team of celebrity judges based on taste, texture, appearance and creativity.


Chefs Pauline Lam and Randy Ishizu of Mauna Lani-Auberge Resorts Collection were served up the best savory dish. It was a sweet win for chef Daniel Sampson of the Fairmont Orchid, Hawai‘i, who made the best plated dessert. Patrick Merritt of Cacao Farmers of Hawai‘i brought home the prize for best bean to bar.

People’s Choice awards were also given to those who dazzled the crowds of chocolate enthusiasts and others with their creations.

Best sweet went to chef Alyssa Tokumura of Four Seasons Resort Hualālai. Lam and Ishizu claimed best savory. The Fairmont Orchid, Hawai‘i was voted winner of best decorated booth.

The competition April 26 was all about college chefs showing off their culinary skills.


The day included University of Hawai‘i community college students competing in the annual student plated dessert contest. Teams from three Oʻahu and Maui community colleges had their chocolate creations evaluated.

“The competition is student-led and participants receive standardized assessment for their plated desserts,” explained chef Jacquelyn Naeole, chairperson of the competition. “Conceptualizing and executing plated desserts for the competition cultivates students’ leadership capabilities by empowering them to take ownership of their creations, make decisions under pressure, collaborate effectively with teammates and communicate their vision to others.”

It also challenges students to lead their team toward a common goal, fostering valuable skills in organization, delegation and problem-solving.

Earning first place was Kawenahuluikeaolimaikalahiki Mau and Tricha Arquero from UH-Maui College. Mariah Theresa Concepcion and Angeline Stone from Kapi‘olani College earned second. Malorie Murakami and Jennifer Giubardo from UH-Maui College took third.


Chefs judging the various competitions hailed from throughout Hawai’i and the mainland:

  • Stéphane Tréand, Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF) patissier chocolatier of Francium Chocolate.
  • Vitaly Paley, culinary ambassador from Blue Ocean Mariculture.
  • Frederic Hoffman, executive chef at Hilton Waikōloa Village.
  • Tiffany Naughton, pastry chef of Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui.
  • Steven Arakaki of Desserts Hawai‘i.
  • Kalani Garcia, executive pastry chef at Four Seasons Resort Hualālai.
  • Helen Hong, executive pastry chef at Kona Village Resort.
  • Yoshikazu Kizu, executive chef at The Westin Maui Resort and Spa, Ka‘anapali.
  • Terry Ann Manegdeg, pastry chef from Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort.
  • Ippy Aiona of Ippy’s Hawaiian BBQ.

But the real winners of the annual festival that celebrates everything chocolate are the 2024 beneficiaries: Hawai‘i Institute of Pacific Agriculture, Kona Dance and Performing Arts and the Hawai‘i Keiki Museum.

The Big Island Chocolate Festival is presented by the Kona Cacao Association and dedicated to community impact.

The festival continues to support Big Island nonprofits, with funds raised allocated to beneficiaries determined by annual applications.

For more information and to keep up to date with plans for next year’s event, visit the festival website.

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