I was kindly invited to this year’s Chocolate Salon held at Fort Mason. It consisted of dozens of vendors, each with their own table displaying their goods and with samples for patrons to try. Since I was invited as a judge, I was requested to vote on my favorite vendors after the event. All the winners are listed on their website — click the blue circular award in the right margin (why no link, guys?).
I generally had a good time. I was in good company (my chocolate-loving friend Mala accompanied me), the event was free for us, and it was a beautiful day. I did have a few qualms with the arrangement and execution of the event itself, which I will turn into suggestions for the event organizers below. But first, let’s talk about the best chocolate (in my opinion, at least).
As I did not review the myriad of award categories before the event (one of my qualms, see below), I was more thinking general 1st, 2nd, 3rd place overall as I was judging the entries. So, in my mind, I came up with these favorites:
1st Place and very very very best: Smitten Artisan Truffles. They had four dishes filled with truffle filling, and the owner herself would scoop a tiny spoonful of the truffle for you to try. She was sweet and bubbly and generous with her samples. The flavors were amazing, though I believe they were a bit different than they sell on their website (which you should totally check out because the online ordering is rad).
The cacao caramel vanilla bean was amazing, and the one infused with raspberry vodka was also so good (and I’m not often a fruit and chocolate person). Mala loved the one infused with bourbon… and I even bought an adorable package of four for my man friend to enjoy later. Just really really really good. Love.
3rd Place: Toffee Talk. Now, I’m not traditionally a huge fan of toffee. It’s always rock hard and makes me feel like my teeth are going to break off. So I generally stick with caramels. But, both Toffee Talk and the Cowboy (above) were a softer toffee. Still crunchy, but not jaw-jarringly so. And the flavor was amazing. Toffee: you’re back on my list.
Runner Up: Scharffen Berger Chocolate. Ever since my man friend surprised me with a bar of their semi-sweet chocolate, I’ve been digging it. They’re not doing anything extreme, there’s no crazy flavors or textures — it’s just good chocolate. Me likey.
So, those were my favs. I basically scattered those four names (and a few others) all over the scoring survey they sent me. And most of them won some prize, so good job, chocolate makers.
Now, on to my suggestions on how to improve this event:
- Better vendor-to-space ratio. This event was held in a huge open warehouse and the number of vendor tables was highly disproportionate to the size of the space. I’ve been to other events here that filled out the space much better and it makes the event seem a lot more legit.
- Savory vendors*. I love chocolate. I can eat it for a long time. But you know what I want after a while of eating nothing but chocolate? Some bread. Or pretzels. Or french fries. Or pretty much anything else. They had a couple other types of vendors (beef jerky and kettle corn come to mind), but I think they could have stood to add more to change things up for my weary palate.
- WATER. Good lord. It was like a desert island of chocolate in there. Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink, and all that. They had these nice hand wash stations scattered around the space, but no water (not even for sale)! I was parched, and it was unnecessary.
- Check in procedure. Check in consisted of me giving my name to a woman at a table, and her putting a bracelet on my wrist. No map of the event, no list of vendors, no printout of the intense survey I would take afterwards to complete my judge duties. Any or all of these would have been extremely helpful. They should take some lessons from La Cocina event planners.
Otherwise, the presentation of each individual vendor table was generally excellent (great packaging, cool logos, nice marketing materials), and the quality of the samples was very high. I think with minimal changes by the event planners, the Chocolate Salon could be easily raised to the next level.
*The vendors themselves need not be savory, nor would I know how to evaluate that distinction, but they should offer savory foods.