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Join the Chocolate Adventure

It's time again for Chocolate Adventure! I'm
delighted to share a bit of back stage scoop about the Second Annual Chocolate Adventure contest with you!

Tuttifoodie, in partnership with Scharffen Berger is hosting this exciting culinary contest again for 2008. This year, the categories are separated out into 3 categories: drinks, savory and dessert. It's a definite improvement from last year- where grapefruit madeleines drizzled with chocolate ended up competing against savory meat dishes, drinks and a host of desserts.

I talked with Lisa Schiffman (LS), founder of Tuttifoodie and the Chocolate Adventure Contest to learn more about how it all started. My questions to her in blue below:

Where did the idea for a contest about chocolate come from?
LS: I was sharing a hot tub with a fellow Tuttifoodist. It was purely platonic. :)

Why did you decide to pitch the idea to Scharffen Berger versus some of the other chocolate makers here in the Bay Area?
LS: It seemed like Scharffen Berger was the chocolate equivalent to classical music. A lot of other local chocolatiers were the equivalent of jazz in the sense that they were already improvising with ingredients. We at Tuttifoodie saw it as a chance to chance to explore fusing exotic ingredients with chocolate from the artisan chocolate movement leader.

Is it my imagination or does the adventure ingredients list for this year's contest come largely from the southern hemisphere and Asia-Pacific Rim area?
It's not your imagination. The adventure ingredients list this year is a reflection of who we are. Tuttifoodie's executive chef Marja comes from a Dutch and Indonesian background. The author of the blog Life is Masarap is Phillipino, and Claudia Ramirez at Scharffen Berger is from El Salvador--the plantain and chili pepper had particular resonance with her.

I was fascinated with your choice of wattleseed as an adventure ingredient. I thought to myself, "are they trying to drive me into every ethnic ingredient store I can find until I learn what a wattleseed is?"
LS: I probably spent 3 hours crawling around the lower shelves at Berkeley Bowl- literally. Especially in the Japanese food products aisle--there is a wealth of interesting ingredients to be found if you actually get down on your knees to access the lower shelves.

What's the motivation for choosing these ingredients?
LS: We want people to get excited about new and different ingredients and give them an excuse to play and experiment. Keeping the new ideas for ingredients alive is what I do for our Tuttifoodie readers. We hope to give people a reason to use food to cross cultural and geographic boundaries and explore new tastes.

If I were someone who lived outside of the Bay Area, I might consider the adventure ingredients daunting- where would I look for them, how would I find them?
LS: Almost every single ingredient can be bought online- see the contest site for links to where you can find any of the adventure ingredients. Also, the Tuttifoodie archive of past issues can help, we've done features about many of these ingredients.

Given that chocolate gets stereotyped as a dessert or sweet element, do you have any hopes for what will happen with the savory category this year?
LS: We look forward to being surprised and delighted! We didn't focus on this last year, but still got a small percentage of savory recipes that involved chocolate. Also new this year is that the contest is now open to both professionals AND amateurs. Last year, someone like a short order cook might not have been able to participate even though those skills might put him or her at the same level of an amateur. The playing field is now more equitable across the board.

Why do you think that?
LS: Because many professionals over complicate recipes and the ease of preparation is a very important criteria in this contest.

What's your hope for the contest?
LS: We want it to be the leading artisan chocolate contest. It i is the first national contest to require use of non-processed ingredients that's about turning consumers away from factory-made stuff. At TuttiFoodie, we also have 3 other artisan contests in the planning stages--two that are coming in 2009. One involves fruit and exotic ingredients, the other will require a hammer and recycled wood. We are seeking sponsors. If you're an interested sponsor, email me at the address you find when you click "Rachel" under the listed Creatrixi in the lower right of this blog. I'll pass you on to Lisa.

Can you share a little bit about your judging process?
LS: Chocolate Adventure is one of the only contests in US where 5 judges personally review every recipe that comes in. We use an automated scoring software system that was built for this contest to evaluate recipes based on: ease of preparation, perceived taste, and the spirit of adventure (incorporating the adventure ingredients).

We narrow all the entries down to 15 actual recipes to test. There is a lot of discussion and debate and we all have very different palettes and skill levels among the judges. It takes weeks of constant talking, arguing, and convincing. Then we have one single, crazy and wonderful testing day. We rent a professional kitchen and hire recipe testers to come in.

How do concerns of sustainability and local factor in to the vision?
LS: I get concerned that sometimes the local emphasis can blanket the desire to enjoy foods of other cultures. I personally love exotic flavors and because of my background in social anthropology, I want to cross the boundaries. I spent 2 years living in Asia and I speak Mandarin.

Do people who know and cook with the adventure ingredients every day have an advantage?
LS: I don't think they do. For example, in Indonesia and China you don’t have people who know chocolate, though they may know Tapioca pearls and what to do with them--the Taiwanese originally created bubble tea, for example.


1) Test your recipe, don’t be lazy. Sometimes you think you can eye a recipe and know how it will turn out, but there are lots of things that can happen.

2) Read the rules- many people don’t and it shows in their entries.

3) Don’t think complicated= sure win. Simplicity is key.

4) Have fun, get into your kitchen and have a good time- learn and experience something new with taste, scent and texture. A lot of the adventurous recipes fell apart in the test kitchen. The winners last year were the most delicious, surprising and delightful.

To learn more about the contest, the rules and the prizes, visit the Chocolate Adventure Contest Web site. Entries are due by January 4, 2009. Good luck!

Image: With permission of

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