Knowing we would be on the Big Island of Hawaii by March 21, we looked at the calendar and saw the BIG ISLAND CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL put together by the Kona Cacao Association scheduled for March 22-23. Oh my. How do you resist something that has three of your favorite things in its title?
What a concept for a community-based special event. Some of the farmers on the island grow cacao and produce chocolate. Some of the microbreweries add chocolate to their stouts or porters. Several of the wineries use chocolate as an ingredient in special wines. Some of the chefs at the four and five star restaurants serve chocolate-based sauces in their savory creations.
And clearly, people love chocolate. The potential for thematic convergence around this delicious ingredient seems obvious. But the best
festivals are designed to support a good cause and in this case, the festival funds generated by a series of events including demonstrations, competitions, auctions, and a capstone gala will benefit the $1 million “Equip the Kitchen” campaign for the future Hawai‘i Community College-Palamanui and efforts to build a community amphitheater at the Waldorf-inspired Kona Pacific Public Charter School in Kealakekua.
We arrived at the sold out gala at the Fairmont Orchid Hotel just after the doors opened at 5:30 PM anxious to find out what happens at a chocolate festival. Fortunately, a friend, whose company, Dolphin Journeys, happened to be a generous sponsor of the event had offered us VIP tickets. We were in. The outer wall of the ballroom had tables with chefs putting their best chocolate forward. Our job was to eat as many of these delightful items as we could stand and vote for our personal favorite. There were eight kinds of chocolate wine from local wineries at a tasting table and craft beers with chocolate added to porters or stouts were free with the ticket.
We wandered and ate and enjoyed the wonderful flavors. Our personal favorite by the Waikoloa Hilton chefs was a small bun with a tasty chocolate sauce drizzled over a delightful mix of pork, veggies and jalapeños. The chocolate torte at their dessert table was delicious. Most of what we tried was beyond wonderful. Portions were small, allowing us to try a wide variety of treats (gelato, chocolate fountains with fruit and tiny crème puffs, veggie/meat mixtures with delicate sauces, cheesecakes, truffles, and more) without
feeling overstuffed. Chef Donald Wressell of the Guittard created a beautiful chocolate sculpture with flowers and leaves as the crowd watched in awe. A live band played jazz in background. We took part in the evaluation of the varied sweet and savory creations with enthusiasm, bid on auction items, chatted with people, and danced a bit. It was a perfect evening.
The 400 plus people at the gala ultimately voted to give the People’s Choice Award to the Fairmont chefs for their spicy ahi cone. This Second Annual Big Island Chocolate Festival obviously took a lot of work by volunteers and sponsorships by restaurants, chocolatiers and local tourism businesses, like our friends at Dolphin Journey. As far as we were concerned, the Kona Cacao Association has a hit on their hands. We left with a very warm feeling for the event, the food and the good people who put it all together. As much as we enjoy the whales, this gave us another reason to keep coming back to the Big Island.
– Tim Merriman