We are a group of chocolate aficionados that came together and have the passion to make this a premier festival! The Prior events have paved the way for us to take the event to the next level and make it a destination event. The Inaugural Big Island Chocolate Festival took all the best elements of the other chocolate festivals i.e. the chef competition for savory and sweet and People’s Choice, the chocolate symposiums and farm tours, and the live entertainment, and changed the aspects of the event that did not work so well. We limited the number of attendees to only 500 vs. 800+, which will allow the participating chefs to control food costs and create a quality tasting experience for each guest. We want to ensure attendees feel they received a good value for the cost of the ticket. The second annual Big Island Chocolate Festival is being held indoors at the Fairmont Orchid to create an atmosphere of elegance with plenty of breathing room and no chance of rain! By purchasing a ticket for the gala you will taste 20-25 different samples of savory and sweet chocolate delicacies and you can also enjoy wine, Kona Brewery beer or Island Cuvee sparkling wine.
The KCA President is Farsheed Bonakdar, owner of Cocoa Outlet. Farsheed is also known in Hawaii as “the Chocolate Guy” for his life size chocolate fountain which graces special events around the island. Farsheed, who has been a professional chocolatier since 1999, has been instrumental in connecting chefs, chocolatiers and cacao growers with the Big Island Chocolate Festival.
Julie Ziemelis, Ziemelis Communications, is the Vice President of KCA. As a parent volunteer with Kona Pacific Waldorf School and Kona Pacific Public Charter School since 2005, she has been involved with many of the past Kona Chocolate Festivals. As co-Festival Director this year, she is working to bring the best elements of all previous Chocolate Festivals together to promote the cacao industry in Hawaii and provide the public with an amazing culinary event.
Laurie Mattos, owner of Hawaii Coffee Connection, is the Treasurer of KCA. Laurie is a parent volunteer and Local School Board member of Kona Pacific Public Charter School. Born and raised in Kona, HI, Laurie is excited to be a part of this inaugural event and to promote the cacao industry in Hawaii while supporting her children’s school and Kona’s future UH Palamanui campus.
Delania Branham, is the Secretary of KCA. Delania is a Realtor at Island Home Realty, Inc. and a parent at Kona Pacific Public Charter School since 2009. An especially active volunteer, she is interested in supporting local farmers and encouraging the unique process of local cacao production.
Usha Kotner was a founder of and is currently the Director at Kona Pacific Public Charter School. She believes the agricultural program at Kona Pacific is a crucial component of the school’s offerings. The school offers a curriculum in the life-sustaining practices of farming and gardening and embraces community sustainability through care and respect for the people, land and sea of Hawai‘i. Usha also lives on a farm in South Kona that produces cacao and is committed to supporting community agricultural endeavors.
Danielle Hadjes is a board member of the KCA and the Co-Director of the festival. She is also the fundraising chair at Kona Pacific Public Charter School. She has a passion for event/party planning & photography. Danielle & her family have lived on the Big Island for over 4 years.
Fern Gavelek, Fern Gavelek Communications, is a board member. Fern serves as a publicist for various Hawaii agriculture/culinary trade associations and does publicity for 10 local ag/culinary events. A veteran journalist in Hawaii since 1988, she is a regular contributor to the Farm Bureau’s Agriculture Hawaii magazine and has written about the hard-working agricultural community for other publications, statewide.