Big Island Chocolate Festival awards top chefs

At the 10th Big Island Chocolate Festival, a panel of esteemed judges assessed the taste, texture, appearance, and creativity of delectable offerings presented by chefs, chocolatiers, and culinary students.


Impressively, Kona Village Resort, a newcomer to the event, secured two accolades. Chef Helen Hong’s exceptional talent shone through as she was awarded Best Bonbon, while Chef Victor Palma shared the Best Savory title with Chef Daniel Sampson from the Fairmont Orchid, Hawaiʻi.

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The festival, held at the Waikōloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa from April 27-29, attracted a sold-out crowd of 400 enthusiastic attendees.


Notably, Four Seasons Resort Hualālai also garnered two prestigious awards. Chef Alyssa Tokumura’s culinary finesse earned her the distinction of Best Plated Dessert, and Chef Kalani Garcia’s booth captured the attention as the Best Decorated.


The People’s Choice Awards were bestowed upon Chef Daniel Sampson for Best Savor and Chef Helen Hong for Best Sweet. Waialua Chocolate Factory outshone its competitors to claim the title of Best Bean to Bar. At the same time, the promising Maple Fields of Oʻahu was recognized as the Best Cacao Bean among 11 contenders.

During the college culinary competition on Friday, six teams composed of two participants, hailing from Oʻahu and Maui, had their chocolate creations meticulously evaluated by seasoned professionals.

The winning spot was secured by Kau’ilani Kekamahilina’iOkealoha Garso-Steward and Briana Jade Valentin from the University of Hawaiʻi-Maui College. Derin Pascual and Alec Parker from Leeward Community College demonstrated their talent and took home second place, while Ciera Lynn Shugart and Angeline Stone from Kapiolani Community College emerged victorious in third place.


The judging panel for the various contests encompassed renowned chefs representing both the Hawaiian Islands and the mainland: the esteemed James Beard awardee and recent island resident, Vitaly Paley; Michael Moorhouse from Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Autograph Collection; Stephane Treand, the esteemed Pastry School instructor; Alicia Boada from Felchin; Bruce Trouyet from Four Seasons Resort Lānaʻi; Sean Meyer from Kona Pasta Co.; and Richard Polhemus from Four Seasons Resort Hualālai.


Farsheed Bonakdar, the president of the Kona Cacao Association, which organized the festival, expressed his satisfaction with this year’s event, stating, “This year’s event was enriching as we could return to our pre-COVID format with multiple culinary booths and more participants using and enjoying chocolate.”



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


In addition to the thrilling competitions, the festival offered a comprehensive lineup of educational activities related to the chocolate industry. Attendees had the opportunity to explore topics such as fermenting cacao beans, the art of tempering chocolate, and a journey through the diverse flavor profiles of chocolate couverture.

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