Confession: I used to be an event planner. It happened so slowly. As an undergraduate, I planned our departmental career fair, prompting my then-supervisor to comment, “You know, if this chemistry thing doesn’t work out, you’d make a great wedding planner.” I took it, and I believe that he meant it, not so much a vote of confidence for my event planning skills but as a snide jab at my lame-ass lab skills. My lab skills got significantly better in grad school, and while I’m convinced I probably would have graduated sooner had I spent less time planning pub crawls, I would have had substantially less fun.
My first professional gig in event management was the 2007 Feast of Fields in Ottawa. For the uninitiated, this is a food festival that pairs local farms with restaurants, highlights wineries, and often has dessert. The event sold out, with 800 people eating, drinking and lounging over the course of the day. Had I known what I was getting myself into, I probably would have turned from the job interview and ran the opposite direction.
In many ways, I wish I had. But since then I’ve managed teams of volunteers and organized government conferences. And every time I finish an event, I say to whomever I happen to be living with (previously, a roommate and these days, my husband): Remind me never to do this again.
Well, famous last words. I’ve signed on as the Canadian event partner for the International Chocolate Awards, which means wrangling chocolatiers, judges, media and sponsors. It means corralling multiple parties, spread across the globe (me in Vancouver, the majority of the team in London, and one international judge somewhere in Italy) and organizing a competition to judge Canada’s finest chocolate.
As with other competitions, judging happens in three stages. During the selection round, the grand jury (a selection of grand poobahs of chocolate and tasting) does a first pass through all the entries. The entries that make it through will go to the main round of judging, which includes 20 to 30 judges and takes place over two days. Finally, the grand jury reconvenes to go over the finalists and confirm the findings.
All the judging is done blind. I said blind, not blindfolded. That is, entries are submitted with a short description (“dark chocolate ganache with passionfruit”) and that’s all the judges are given. No information about who made it, where it came from or how much it costs. We’re looking for flavour and texture, and to some degree, presentation.
Well, you say, that’s awesome. But what’s the point? The point is that nearly every other industry has some gold standard: coffee, wine, and even the beer industry have developed a certification and tasting program to help the average consumer navigate an increasingly cluttered and complicated marketplace. But in chocolate, it seems like anyone can slap a sticker on their package, and consumers are none the wiser as to (a) what that sticker really means (if anything), and (b) whether that chocolate is any good. The International Chocolate Awards aim to change that, and to develop standards in consultation with the industry.
Enough soapboxing. Suffice to say that I’m up to my ears in event planning, and that this time next week we will be preparing for main round judging. And hey, if I’m going to dust off my event planning skills, I might as well get chocolate out of it.
P.S. Here’s a shameful plug for our sponsors, without whom the Awards would not be possible. Many thanks to Vancouver Community College–Pastry & Baking Arts for hosting us, to Xoxolat for receiving the entries and so much more, and to Perseus Winery for keeping us from thirst.