In the past few years, International Chocolate Awards (ICA) World Final awards ceremony was always held at the Chocolate Show in London in mid-October. By the time we attended the ceremony, we were always so tired that we couldn’t properly enjoy the event (all we wanted was to go home and sleep), and didn’t appreciate that this was equivalent to the Oscars in the chocolate world, when many top chocolatiers and chocolate-makers from all around the world all gather in one place every year.
This year, on Saturday 17 November, the ceremony for the 7th edition of ICA World Final moved to Florence in Italy, with a gala dinner. Alas, it clashed with the Shrewsbury Chocolate Festival and we promised Julia the organiser that we would exhibit at this festival. Albert got the short straw and ended up working at the Shrewsbury show while I could attend this year’s ICA World Final ceremony.
I got to Florence the day before the ceremony – after all, I couldn’t risk the chance of any travel delay and miss the event. It gave me a chance to meet up with a few other chocolate friends the evening before the ceremony – a delicious meal at Coquinarius with friends from the USA, Canada, Taiwan and Japan.
On the Saturday, I took George Gensler (one of the founders of Manhattan Chocolate Society in New York, and an ICA grand jury judge) and Meybol Vadillo Moran (owner of Meybol Cacao) to Gelateria La Sorbettiera – We met up with Antonio, the owner of this brilliant ice-cream place. I had to give Antonio a jar of our soy caramel sauce since we forgot to bring him one earlier in the year when we met him, and of course we had to try some of his delicious gelato.
We also walked around the city and enjoyed the obligatory coffee stops along the way. Then it was time to get ready for the ceremony.
The ceremony was held at Palazzo Ximenes-Panciatichi – a beautiful venue. I brought along 2 of our winning chocolates in the British competition for sampling before dinner, and then I walked around with a glass of wine in hand, and tried a lot of samples that other regional winners have brought along and mingled with many of them.
As soon as I entered the dining room, Maricel Prescilla (one of the ICA Grand Jury judges in America) invited me to join the Americas table, and made me an “honorary American” for the evening! Now, an American with a Yorkshire accent – that’s confusing!
The gala dinner was a 4-course meal, designed by Corrado Assenza, a famous chef from Sicily:“Sensibility” – Cream of mustard, cauliflower flakes, sheep ricotta cheese, with a cocoa nibs light sauce
“Fantasy” – Risotto with almond from Noto, crunchy courgette, black cabbage and beetroot
“Harmony” – Lamb roast with its cocoa and Dibaldo vermouth gravy, chickpea cream, carrot and hazelnut from Nebrodi mounts
“Simplicity” – Orange flavoured milk double cream, pear, apple, sauce of almond from Noto, lemon biscuit, saffron drops from L’Aquila
During dinner, the three brains behind ICA (i.e. Martin, Maricel and Monica) started announcing the results. While this is the 4th year we have participated in this competition, it doesn’t feel any easier – if anything, the competition felt tougher and tougher each year, and I didn’t really have any expectations coming to Florence.
The first category that we were up for an award was the dark chocolate enrobed caramels category. Our name wasn’t called out for bronze, and then another company’s name called out for the first silver. Then Maricel said “then we have another silver for a confection with something from the Arctic, and it’s a thyme caramel” – oh that’s got to be our “Akureyri” (Arctic Thyme Caramel) surely?! But I couldn’t be absolutely sure until I heard “Fifth Dimension” being called out. I went on stage, and disaster!!! They couldn’t find any certificates for that category as they were all misplaced, so there’s no picture with the certificate. Still, I was over the moon with this silver award, as it’s our fifth caramel to have entered the World Final and all 5 caramels have won in this world competition.
After another string of awards in the next 20 minutes, it’s the turn of the “Nut based pralines with dark chocolate” category. This category has traditionally been dominated by the Italians and a few friends thought that we were mad to enter this category when the chance of winning was so slim. While our “Turin” (Hazelnut) won a British Gold in September (which was a pleasant surprise in itself), we didn’t place any hope on it in the World Final, especially we’ve gone back to basics with this chocolate and did not pair it with another flavour to create an unusual combination. All we did was to use the best quality hazelnut paste and dark chocolate we could get, and make a classic gianduja-style bonbon. So imagine how shocked I was when “Fifth Dimension” was called out for a bronze award. It really made my day to be standing next to the top chocolatier Guido Castagna who always wins the top prizes in this category.
While I was tugging into the dinner, the winners for the “White chocolate ganache” category was announced. This was another category that we have never entered before, and our “Siem Reap” (Cambodian Curry) is one of our newest and most innovative flavours in our collection. Some people who have tried it thought that it was exactly like eating a Southeast Asian curry and then it turned into a chocolate in the mouth – they thought we were messing with their minds, just like what Heston Blumenthal would do to food. I was so happy to collect another silver award for the night.
The evening then continued with more awards announcements, including the flavoured bars and also plain/origin bars. A special mention to our friends from FuWan Chocolate winning Gold in the dark chocolate flavoured bars category with their Tie Guan Yin Tea 62% cacao chocolate and also Soma Chocolatemaker winning overall best in competition for their dark chocolate bar Guasare.
Then it’s the big group photo time on stage.
And it’s still not finished yet – there’s gelato from La Sorbettiera after the ceremony, and as soon as I saw Antonio with his delicious gelato, I just had to make a dash to his little van! There were a few flavours made with chocolates from several award-winning chocolate-makers – the most memorable one was one by Friis-Holm. A delicious way to finish the evening.
By the time we left the beautiful venue, it was already past 1 o’clock on Sunday morning! Tired, but such a great evening with lots of chocolate friends, old and new! Thank you to International Chocolate Awards for the event and getting so many people from around the world together, and of course thanks for the awards we have received.