KOHALA COAST — Scores of chocolate lovers descended upon the Hapuna Beach Resort on Saturday to get their fill of sweet and savory creations.
Now in its seventh year, the Big Island Chocolate Festival gala featured an array of culinary stations centered around the event’s theme, “Chocolate From Around the World,” with area chefs, chocolatiers, confectioners and beverage purveyors vying for awards in a variety of categories.
There was also a tasty mole and salad bar, chocolate body painting and specialty cocktails to enjoy while listening to live music in the posh ballroom.
Among the stations were offerings created by Kealakehe High School culinary arts students led by Karen Sheff. Eight students — including six freshmen — selected from her classes got the opportunity to create a sweet chocolate dish and “Blue Zones”-themed savory dish not featuring chocolate for at least 500 gala goers.
Those dishes were the Hawaii 5-0, a savory “Blue Zones” inspired dish featuring Hawaiian canoe plants like ulu (breadfruit), sweet potato and green banana, joined by edamame and split peas, and luxurious Choco-Berry Shots featuring chocolate, strawberries and coconut.
“It’s pretty outrageous and it’s pretty amazing,” Sheff said.
“This is a great experience for people looking to go into hospitality,” said Kealakehe High School culinary student Celia Goddard. “It has been a real team building experience. I would love to come back next year.
“I wish I started the culinary program when I was younger. I really feel passionate about it. This is a cool experience,” Konawaena High School senior Kaliko Pajimola added.
Though attendees only saw the final product, bringing it to fruition started three to four months ago in the classroom, said Sheff.
That’s because Sheff used the gala as a way to teach her 120 career technical education students via performance-based learning and assessment — each had to write a technical paper and complete other tasks to demonstrate the skills and knowledge they‘ve acquired.
The eight students featured Saturday night were selected because of their motivation and inclination toward culinary careers. They also got to work closely with Hapuna Beach Resort’s chef Mike Quanan, who visited the class twice, mentoring the students for two to three hours each time.
“The kids get so much exposure by having people from outside of our school,” said Sheff. “That’s the important part the public should know — really, the true success for these kids is when they have exposure and connection with the outside, with real-life learning and that will only come through good partnerships with community and industry leaders.”
In all, 20 Hawaii Island students from Keaau, Kealakehe and Konawaena high schools took part in the event.
Presented by the Kona Cacao Association, festival proceeds benefit the Hawaii Institute of Pacific Agriculture, University of Hawaii Maui College’s Culinary Arts Program, Waimea Country School, and founding event organizations Kona Pacific Public Charter School and Kona Dance and Performing Arts.
Last year’s festival awarded $17,500 to four beneficiaries.