One of the undoubted highlights of the chocolate calendar in the UK last year was the Academy of Chocolate’s Conference, held in November 2012 in the stately surroundings of the RAC Club in London. The day-long event saw, to coin a phrase, ‘the ganache de la ganache’ of the chocolate world gather together to discuss a wide-ranging set of issues from child labour in the cocoa industry and cocoa genetics to the challenges facing small start-up chocolate companies. An impressive range of speakers including Santiago Peralta of Pacari in Ecuador, Craig Sams, founder of Green & Black, Mott Green of Grenada Chocolate Company and chocolate consultant Chloe Doutre-Roussel talked with conviction and passion about their experiences working with chocolate.
This imparting of knowledge about chocolate is at the heart of what the Academy of Chocolate is for. Founded in 2005 by a group of five like-minded chocolate professionals, the Academy’s purpose, explains co-founder and Director of the Academy of Chocolate, Sara Jayne Stanes, “is to try and inform and educate people about the difference between real chocolate as opposed to chocolate confectionary. Really as simple as that.” To this end the Academy works with educational establishments, offering talks and tastings, and also holds two major bi-annual events – the Conference – and the Awards.
For Sara Jayne Stanes, the Conference worked on a number of levels. “It was an amazing coming together of people from outside this country. Not only were people better informed afterwards, but it was a fantastic networking event and I think networking is absolutely vital. People talking to each other, rather than working away in isolation, exchanging news and views about what’s bad or what’s good, putting a face to a name. This is what I do it for.”
This year, 2013, sees the Academy of Chocolate’s highly respected Awards take place, with chocolatiers from around the world entering their products. “We set up the Awards to acknowledge people who were producing fine chocolate, and so promote fine chocolate, quality and the result has been a massive understanding and recognition of a number of very fine chocolate makers all over the world, some of whom have been working for a very long time, some of whom are new,” explains Sara Jayne Stanes. She knows how much winning one of the Academy’s awards can mean to a chocolatier. “This is what I remind our judges all the time – you have people’s careers in your hands. You have to take it very seriously and mark it seriously – work out the quality of the product you’re tasting. I hope for the people who win that they are recognised for their fine chocolate and that it helps them sell more chocolate.”
In 2011 Duffy Sheardown of Red Star Chocolate won the Dark Bean to Bar Golden Bean Award while still very much a newcomer to the world of chocolate. “It was fantastic winning,” he says, “amazing to be voted for by the judges and it came so early in my chocolate-making career that it was a massive boost. Winning an award like that marks you down as a serious chocolate maker.”
Following his success at the 2011 Academy of Chocolate Awards, having worked for 29 years in the world of motor racing, Duffy has recently given up motor racing to focus on his chocolate making. “I’ve turned down a job on the thousand mile an hour land speed record car, “ he tells me, “I need to do this.” Duffy works on a small scale, importing beans direct from cocoa farmers. “The beans that won the Award, the first year I got 50 kg. Last year I got 25kg – for most people that’s a micro-batch, they couldn’t even do a sample. I’ll be entering the Awards again this year. I’m just waiting for beans to come in, then I’ll mould the bars I’m going to enter.”
The closing date for entry forms for this year’s Academy of Chocolate Awards is 8th February 2013. For further details see www.academyofchocolate.org.uk