Tuesday, November 16, 2010

San Francisco Fall Luxury Chocolate Salon 2010

TasteTV puts on a highly successful chocolate salon at San Francisco's Fort Mason every spring. It grew a few years ago from a tiny conference room near the entrance of Fort Mason to the huge pavilion space.

Now TasteTV has created a fall version of the popular chocolate salon, and they returned to where it all started in the little conference room at Fort Mason. I attended the first San Francisco Fall Luxury Chocolate Salon on Sunday as a guest because I was one of several judges on the tasting panel.

The challenge with the earlier chocolate salons was the crazy crowds in the tiny space, which is why they've grown to the larger pavilion space. To avoid that problem with the launch of their fall salon, tickets were limited and were only available in advance online. They also restricted the number of vendors, leaving the center of the room open to allow visitors hopped up on sugar to mingle in the center.

It was my first time on the tasting panel, and all I basically had to do was attend the event, taste the chocolates, and then later vote on my favorites in some 20 categories. How hard could that be? It actually turned out to be very very hard.

In the past when I attended events on my own, I would just taste chocolates that looked interesting. But as a judge, I felt it was only fair that I tried every chocolate from every vendor. Just one hour into the event, I was on a sugar high and could barely get past half the vendors. Worst of all, I had a hard time comparing some of the chocolate makers because they were quite similar, so that meant I had to go back and tried some of them again just to be sure.

Let me just say that I worked really hard. Really hard.

The full listing of chocolate winners can be found here, and I have to say I'm a bit surprised by some of the gold winners, especially some repeat winners when I thought there were several other good choices. But I'm just one newbie judge. Here's a look at some of the interesting chocolates I tried. Not all of these are my favorites, just what were unusual or different.

I just had to shoot this baseball chocolate from Plumeria Flours. This chocolate maker creates chocolate covered Oreo cookies and then decorate them in interesting designs, like the one above that reminds me of the WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS. (Sorry, but when you're champions you're allowed to type it in uppercase for the entire year.)

This chocolate maker had some really interesting flavored truffles, such as this root beer float truffle. I thought it might be really interesting and remind me of my childhood or something, but instead it was just really sweet.

Since it was the fall, there were actually several chocolate makers who used pumpkin spice flavors. This one was from Coco Delice Fine Chocolates, which has its factory in Emeryville. (I actually liked its newest product, a Sonoma Brut champagne truffle. You can't get the bubbly from champagne, but you could definitely get the wine undertones. A lot of other people tried a champagne flavor truffle and the flavor wasn't as distinct.)

What really saved me from the endless chocolate tasting was this sorbet from Garden Creamery of Novato. They were passing out scoops of chocolate and raspberry sorbets, a perfect combination. I loved the texture, which was almost creamy like gelato.

This was a vodka blueberry chocolate from Saratoga Chocolates. The blueberries were whole fresh blueberries, but I didn't get much of the vodka taste. (Hey, I just realized that I tried a lot of the liquor-based chocolates. Now you know what I lean toward.)

Several chocolate makers have been to these chocolate salons before, but this was a new one I haven't seen before. It's called Au Coeur Des Chocolate and the chocolate maker had some really crazy flavors, like the above caramelized corn nut. I actually liked it, and thought it was really innovative. The corn nut gave the chocolate a nice crunchy texture, but not overly so.

Here are some chocolates from Socolo Chocolatier. They have some of my favorite truffles. In fact, I voted for them in the categories of "Most delicious ingredient combinations" (they had unusual flavors that tasted very balanced), "most attractive designs" (just look how pretty they are), and "Best gift set." (Update: Socolo did win for "Most delicious ingredient combinations" and I so agree.)

I'm sure this chocolate event will grow in popularity as well, just like its older sister event in the spring. One can never get enough of chocolates (unless you're a judge), so maybe this may be a quarterly event.


foodhoe said...

oh poor you! I jest... I feel your pain, I really do single guy. I tried a chocolate covered corn nut from a chocolatier in Berkeley that I didn't like, but I think that the caramelization and the fact that it looked more like corn nut bits rather than entire nuts... sound really good.

Carolyn Jung said...

I remember judging that event twice. It's chocolate overload. But in the best of ways! ;)