The Academy of Chocolate annual awards take place in London this year over a 16-week period between February and May – with deadline for entries from producers and chocolatiers on Friday 31 January.
One of the judges announced this year is US-based CocoVaa Chocolatier, Vata Edari, a former competitor and recipient of 29 awards in the prestigious international competition for the craft chocolate industry.
Launched in 2005, the Academy of Chocolate awards have gone from strength to strength mirroring the growth of the fine chocolate market. In the first year, there were 12 entries. In 2019, that figure had grown to a record-breaking 1,600 submissions from 45 countries.
“I’m excited to be invited as a judge this year“ Edari says, “it’s an honour and an opportunity I don’t take for granted.”
She was speaking to ConfectioneryNews while finalising her Valentine’s Day season in her studio in Madison, Wisconsin, before heading to London for the awards.
‘International Rising Star’
The lawyer-turned-chocolatier has been included in the Academy of Chocolate Award’s Roll of Honour Board as an ‘International Rising Star’, making her one of only a small handful of US nationals to receive the accolade.
Edari attributes her talent for unique flavour combinations, in part to her diverse background which is primarily Kenyan, but also including Russian, Irish, East Indian and American influences.
She says she hopes her participation as a judge will be a positive contribution to the AoC’s legacy of being at the forefront of the artisan chocolate movement.
“Competitions that recognise real talent, high quality as well as ethical sourcing, lift up industries and the people in them who may otherwise have gone overlooked”.
Edari says it is something she experienced - referring to the impact the international awards have had on her own company and other newcomers in the fast growing world of fine chocolate.
“Competing (and winning) has been a great confidence builder and has allowed me to establish networks with other chocolatiers and chocolate makers Internationally,” she says.
The chocolate entrepreneur is still in the startup phase of what she describes as 'a capital intensive business'. With no outside investors, she has self-financed the growth of her chocolate company, including the construction of its first premises.
In next month’s judging sessions, Edari will be judging in the filled chocolate category, which is her area of expertise. She is unsure of the exact rubric that will be used to judge but points out there are common industry standards for determining the quality of a chocolate truffle such as mouth feel, snap and aroma.
Chocolatiers and chocolate makers are able to enter multiple products across five key categories – bars, filled chocolates, drinking chocolate, chocolate spreads and brand awareness - giving them the opportunity to be recognised on a global stage.
With the increase in ‘Tree to Bar’ submissions, the Academy has expanded this area in 2020 to include separate categories for dark, milk and white bars.
Golden Bean award
More than 100 expert judges will make up the panel, including leading chocolatiers and some of the UK’s most prominent food writers and bloggers. Judging sessions take place at Westminster Kingsway College in London and winners will be announced at the Awards Ceremony in July, including the famous Golden Bean award, which recognises the achievement of a producer controlling the entire process from roasting the bean to the finished bar.
Sara Jayne Stanes, chairman, Academy of Chocolate, said: “We are delighted to launch our 12th awards this year. In 2005, I could barely dream that the artisan chocolate world would have flourished and identified so many talented chocolatiers and chocolate makers from across the world.
“In addition, the close relationships of the chocolate makers and the cocoa growers have helped both to understand each other’s needs and challenges – resulting in ongoing experimentation and products with complexity and character not previously tasted. What will the next 15 years bring?”