Big Island Chocolate Festival draws aspiring entrepreneurs, chefs

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SOUTH KOHALA COAST — From bean to bar, chocolate was on everyone’s mind Friday for the Big Island Chocolate Festival at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.

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SOUTH KOHALA COAST — From bean to bar, chocolate was on everyone’s mind Friday for the Big Island Chocolate Festival at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.

And while farmers and entrepreneurs gathered to talk practices and learn about the growing industry in the state, three teams from culinary programs in West Hawaii and Maui whipped, mixed and baked their way through the afternoon in a bid to impress some of the country’s top pastry chefs.

The festival, in addition to featuring seminars and culinary demonstrations, will also host a gala this evening at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel starting at 5 p.m.

Many of those at the festival aren’t just chocolate consumers, but are also making their way into the state’s growing cacao industry.

“Because I love chocolate and so does everybody else,” said Mike Pollard of the rationale behind his new venture.

Pollard, owner of Kahi Ola Mau Farm in Honokaa, said he comes from a farming family but is new to growing cacao. This year, he said, his farm just finished planting 300 trees.

He said the craft chocolate industry is bringing fame to the local industry here and his 5-acre farm has its eyes on being a “bean-to-bar” operation, growing both cacao and sugarcane.

Pollard said he came out to the festival to learn some things he could apply to his own farm.

“So we’re hoping to get as much information as we can to be successful,” he said.

Meanwhile, teams from University of Hawaii Maui College and Hawaii Community College – Palamanui were whipping up their desserts for the festival’s culinary student competition.

The contest, said Teresa Shurilla, culinary arts program coordinator at Maui College, gives students a chance to put their best work in front of the country’s top pastry chefs.

“They look at skill level; they look at how the students (are) technique-wise, what procedure they’re using,” she said of the competition judges. “If they’ve done something along the way that is incorrect, the judges will make a comment and be able to tell them. For us, this is a huge learning lesson for the students.”

The students are challenged to create a plated dessert pastry which, of course, has to feature chocolate in some way.

In the last couple decades, Shurilla said there’s been a shift in the plating of food toward creating something that looks organic.

“Everything has to tie into each other,” she said. “You never just put a mint leaf on something because that’s a non-functional garnish. You have to have a reason for everything to be on the plate.”

Palamanui pastry instructor Fernand Guiot also noted the importance of presentation, saying a dish needs to be appealing to the eyes when diners look at the plate.

“That’s the first thing customers do,” he said. “It’s got to look good first.”

And each year, Shurilla said, students know what’s previously won over judges, raising the bar for each successive contest.

Bruce Trouyet, executive pastry chef at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea and a judge for the competition, said he was looking for something simple yet excellent at the contest.

“They have to do what they know,” he said. “They have to do some simple thing but really good and something they are sure to do successfully.”

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He also advised that they use classic ingredients rather than “go too crazy with special ingredients.”

“I’m sure they will do great,” he said.