And the 2019 Festival Winners Are…

A sold-out crowd of 700 guests nibbled, munched, and sipped their way through dozens of food and beverage booths at the eighth annual Big Island Chocolate Festival gala at The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort. This splashy fundraiser not only benefited seven Hawaiian non-profits, but also named professional and amateur chef winners for a range of delicious and unique.

Creations by chefs, chocolatiers and culinary students were critiqued on taste, texture, appearance and creativity by a team of celebrity judges at competitions during the annual two-day festival.

Heading the list of culinary winners were event newcomers Mike Winder of Kailua-Kona’s Loko Wraps for Best Savory, who offered a vegan dish; and Anna Hohenberger of Puna Chocolate Company for Best Plated Dessert. Pastry Chef Kalani Garcia of Four Seasons Resort Hualalai took Best Bonbon while Michelle Yamaguchi of Oahu’s Waialua Estate Chocolate won Best Bean-to-Bar Chocolate.

Those who best dazzled the crowd with their creations earned the People’s Choice Awards: Chef Dayne Tanabe of Hilton Waikoloa Village for Best Savory and Pastry Chef Daniel Sampson of the Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii for Best Sweet.

In the cacao bean divisions, Ken Melrose of Primavera Farm bested 13 other entries for the Best Cacao Bean while Kealia Ranch earned Best Criollo Bean.

“It’s great the field of competition is growing in the bean division, which basically critiques the quality of beans after fermentation and drying,” noted Farsheed Bonakdar, president of the Kona Cacao Association, the organization that produces the festival. “Proper fermentation optimizes the flavor profile of chocolate.”

In addition, four Hawaii Island high school culinary teams vied for People’s Choice Awards Saturday night. For the second year in a row Kealakehe High culinarians took top honors for both savory and sweet offerings.

The event theme, “Black and White,” was depicted at culinary stations and Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory of Kona was tapped Best Decorated Booth.

For Friday’s college competition, seven, two-person teams from Kona’s UH-Palamanui and UH-Maui College vied in a timed dessert competition that incorporated chocolate. Winners included Team 5 Marion Sidon and Daniele Sulliban of Maui, Team 6 Bristol Anae and Tiffany Figeroa of Maui and Team 1 Thomas Elarco and Lily Frazier of Palamanui.

Judges for the various competitions hailed from throughout the state and Mainland: Chef Alicia Boada CEPC, CCA, CCE, ACE of Cacao Barry; Chef Stephane Treand MOF of The Pastry School; Chef David Brown of Kapiolani Community College, Dr. Nat Bletter of Madre Chocolate, Chef Connor Butler of Kona Butcher Shop; Neal Campbell of Healani Orchards; Chef Ricky DeBoer of Fairmont, Kea Lani; Chef Muzzy Fernandez of Hokulia, Chef Yoshikazu Kizu of The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua; Chef Daniel Sampson of Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii; Chefs Teresa (Cheech) Shurilla and Hannah Stanchfield of UH-Maui College; Maddy Smith of Barefoot Chocolatini and Weston Yap.

The real winners of the annual festival are the seven 2019 beneficiaries: the culinary programs at Hawaii Community College Palamanui, Kealakehe High School, Hawai‘i Island High Schools and Maui Community College, plus Hawaii Institute of Pacific Agriculture, Waimea Country School and Kona Dance & Performing Arts.

In addition to last night’s gala, the festival offered a full lineup of chocolate decadence from planting to plating: a Kona cacao farm tour, cacao growing and processing seminars, how-to culinary demonstrations by chocolate industry experts and a unique chocolate and tequila pairing.  

Bookmark this website and return in the fall for details on the 2020 event. Aloha!