Cacao has often lured me into situations beyond reasonable conjecture, and Sunday was no exception. Moments after walking into the Fort Mason Center, home to San Francisco’s biannual chocolate salons, we’re talking before I had even reached my first sample, I spun The Winery SF’s wheel of fortune and won big: a $250 wine and barrel tasting party. Yep. And the fun had just begun.
Upon entering the main hall, I sampled my first-ever Feves and found an easy favorite with the coconut truffle. A quick glance revealed an intimate event, still calm just before noon. It also revealed the popularity of toffee and truffles, which of course couldn’t obscure the event’s sole craft chocolate maker, Amano Artisan Chocolate, standing in the far corner singing its single-origin siren song.
A dozen or so chocolatiers engaged and indulged me en route to Amano, where passionate Phil led a grandiose perpetual tasting of Amano’s current selections. I conveniently paused long enough to hear about and taste them all. Twice.
I might’ve gone for thrice, but I turned to find myself chatting with Art Pollard, Amano’s papa, and none other than Joseph Schmidt, famed San Francisco chocolatier who’d sold his celebrated confection business to Hershey back in 2005. Before long, Joseph had fetched photo albums of his whimsical, vibrant chocolate sculptures to peruse as if we’d known each other for years.
Too soon, a few of Joseph’s eager admirers drew him away, so I got down to brass tacks with Art. In breaking down Mission: Craft Chocolate LA, (my pet project to alleviate LA’s strange craft chocolate drought,) musing about optimal chocolate packaging and even sampling a culinary concoction literally potent enough to set a sh*tty day right, I savored my exchange with Art about as much as I do his chocolate. Sorry, can’t dish further details or I’d have to kill you.
But I can tell you how I voted on the salon with the contents my wallet: Amano’s Chuao, Guayas and Ocumare bars easily snagged more than half of said wallet content votes. Marti Chocolatt’s tropical Asian Ube, Buko Pandan and Senorita truffles, tried and true favorites, unquestionably captured a firm share of remaining votes. So did Socola’s inventive Signature Selection box, with Guinness Stout and Vietnamese Espresso truffles. Plumeria Flours snagged my last handful of votes by fulfilling my quest for a treat for both parents and kids with their sophisticated yet totally whimsical pop rock dark chocolate dinosaurs.
Unfortunately Plumeria Flours was out of Humuhumunukunukuapua‘a, better understood as a sweet/salty/savory seaweed caramel popcorn creation, as was Sixth Course Artisan Confections already out of their boozy box of trufflicious delights. I realized that Dandelion Chocolate was likely MIA because they were preparing to open their new shop later in the week. Sixth Course amply consoled me with a whiskey truffle prior to my expected departure.
Before taking off, though, I ran into Steve, a Chocolate Salon veteran volunteer, who generously offered me sweet homemade creations and an ear for my story of how my most compellingly worded request to become a judge years ago was met three months later with a curt “We may consider it.”
“Yeah, that’s how it is sometimes, but you should go ask the organizer now. He’s right there.”
Nuff said. No sooner had I begun my campaign to become a judge at the next salon when Andre the organizer appointed me judge on the spot. Yes, right there at the eleventh hour, I became a judge of fine chocolate. Giddy with newfound power, I found tummy room to gleefully waltz with as many vendors as I could before the chocolate-covered event came to a close.
I’ll spill the beans about my votes, along with the list of winners, soon.