800 Finalists meet in London in October 2017

800 Finalists meet in London in October 2017

No matter what your chosen path in life, there are always ways to measure your progression in your craft -- to see how you fare with others pursuing the same passion around the country and around the world.  

Chocolate is no different. Every year, chocolatiers have an opportunity to enter their creations into the International Chocolate Awards.  The competition has two stages -- the first is a match in your home country with chocolatiers from coast to coast. If you're lucky to be recognized at the national level, the award-winning chocolates are invited to be judged in the World Final.  

The World Final takes place during Chocolate Week in London, England in October.  This year, more than 800 products were judged by a panel of experts, food journalists, sommeliers, pastry chefs and members of the international Grand Jury, who travel from around the world to London to savour and assess the entries.

It's a nerve-wracking experience, particularly for Canadian chocolatiers because the finalists in our country are announced just days before submissions are due in the World Final.  It doesn't leave much time to prepare between competitions.

There are several categories in which chocolate makers can enter.  For us, we focus our efforts on the ganache or truffle category. This year we were delighted to win a total of 14 awards in both competitions.  

Pure Nacional (Gold Canada, Gold World Final)

The Orange Grove (Gold Canada, Gold World Final)

Almond Coconut Praline (Gold Canada, Silver World Final)

Lime (Silver Canada, Bronze World Final)

Teaism (Gold Canada)

Herbsaint (Silver Canada)

Raspberry Noir (Silver Canada)

Passionfruit and St. Germaine Caramel (Silver Canada)

Matcha Green Tea (Silver Canada)

Salted Butter Caramel (Silver Canada)

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Japanese documentary about an Olympic giant

Japanese documentary about an Olympic giant

We were excited last month to pick up the phone for a truly out-there request by a Japanese film crew interested in visiting and filming in our shop.  Oh and by the way, would we have time to be interviewed and hang with Karoi Icho? They explained that they were producing a documentary about 32-year-old Japanese Olympic medalist, Kaori Icho and they wanted us to be a part of it.  

If you're not familiar with Kaori, she's a Japanese freestyle wrestler who has never lost a bout at the Olympics -- can you believe that!  She won her first gold medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004. She went on to repeat that win at Beijing in 2008, London in 2012 and most recently at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Those impressive accomplishments make Kaori the first female Olympian to win four consecutive titles in the same discipline. It's made her a legend at home in Japan, in her sport and now here in Edmonton too.

Now you're probably asking, what does Kaori's impressive international accomplishments have to do with chocolate and Edmonton? Well it turns out, she trained here leading up to the Rio Olympics and frequented our shop for her favourite after-workout treat -- our chocolate bonbons.

In recognition of her impressive achievements, Ichō received the People’s Honour Award from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo in September, 2016.  As you can imagine, she's a rock star at home.  We're excited to watch the documentary about her life and her rise to Olympic history when it's released. It's exciting to think our chocolates played a very small role in Icho's journey.

We had the chance to talk to our own local Olympic reporting legend, CBC's Edmonton AM host Mark Connolly about it this week.

Listen to our interview with CBC's Mark Connolly

 

 

What's behind the name?

What's behind the name?

We often get asked about our name, Sweet Lollapalooza.  Where did it come from? Why did you settle on that name for your shop? Well, as it turns out, it was a name that found us really.

If you're a fan of late, great jazz vocalist and pianist Blossom Dearie, you might be familiar with a tune she sang, Thou Swell. In the song, she sings about a sweetheart and among the lyrics, these always stood out for us, “…Both thine eyes are cute too, what they do to me. Hear me holler, I choose a sweet lollapalooza in thee…”  

When we thought about opening up our chocolate business in 2003, those lyrics surfaced again and made it difficult for us to think of any other possibilities. So, we did a little digging on the meaning of the term lollapalooza.  Turns out, it’s a word with Gaelic roots that the Merriam Webster dictionary defines as, “one that is extraordinarily impressive; also: an outstanding example.” While our chocolatier, Brett is Australian, he has both Scottish and Irish heritage, so it seemed fitting that the song that wouldn’t elude us with a Gaelic word in the lyrics was lingering for a reason. After all, we strive to create chocolate that is outstanding and extraordinarily impressive. With a name like that to live up to, we’ve been inspired every day to work hard and improve and enhance every morsel we create. 

You can listen to the song that inspired us here.  Thank you to the Blossom Dearie family for allowing us to share this song with you.  If you’d like to learn more about Blossom, you can explore her music and history here: https://www.blossomdearie.com/.

Inspired by Japanese artisans

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Inspired by Japanese artisans

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Japan to learn from master craftsmen in Tokyo and Kyoto. I was inspired by their passion and dedication to honing their craft day in and day out, honouring long-established traditions and embracing new traditions as well.

I spent some time at the Valrhona school in Tokyo learning about Japanese ingredients and how to incorporate them into traditional French pastries which gave me a new look at refining what I do back at the chocolate lab.

One of the incredible craftspeople I met was Chikara Mizukami, the owner and master wagashi (Japanese confections) craftsman of the famed Ikkoan in Tokyo Japan.  I spent an afternoon in his workshop learning about his philosophy and approach to creating memorable wagashi confections. While Western confectionary is itself the star in a dessert, wagashi on the other hand, plays a supporting role to Japanese tea. In other words, wagashi's sole purpose is to enhance the taste and enjoyment of Japanese tea. Born into a wagashi-making family, artisan Chikara Mizukami created Ikkoan in 1977, his famed Tokyo shop.  I couldn’t help but be struck by the humble nature of this wagashi artisan and be inspired by his lifelong dedication to continually enhancing his craft.  He challenges himself to translate the seasons (and there are more than 70 in Japan) and the holidays of Japan by drawing inspiration from poetry, art and architecture. What a treat!

Because the ingredients themselves are so important, I also had a chance to travel to the outskirts of Kyoto to meet the artisans behind the famed Japanese matcha and sesame products.

Kiyoharu Tomita, President of the Nanzan-En Tea Corporation, a private matcha/tea manufacturer welcomed us to his plantation and explained the process from growing, picking, drying and grinding the tea leaves.  The employees expressed how proud they were to welcome us and show us how they produced this exceptional tea.  The president himself presided over the traditional tea ceremony and served everyone personally.  What an honour.

The last stop on this incredible journey was a visit with Koichi Yamada, the President of the Yamada Sesame Oil Company, who stubbornly, and thankfully, maintains the traditional way of producing sesame products, which in Japan is called the henko way. He told me he was born into a family who owned the sesame oil business and started helping out with the business when he was in high school.  He has perfected his technique and timing to toast sesame so there is no bitterness. 

Looking back on everything I learned, I’m excited to put this new knowledge into practice with some of our existing products and to create a few new ones as well. 

You can see a few of the highlights by clicking on the photo below. 

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The Earth-friendly story of our chocolate

Yesterday was Earth Day, a time to connect with nature and think about what we can do to sustain and nurture nature.

While we all have a responsibility to be good stewards of this planet, it seems increasingly difficult to feel like we're making a real difference or having a significant impact.  The changing weather patterns at home and abroad all seem to be part of a larger narrative that there is much more to be done.

While I think we can all agree that there is a lot of work ahead, I don't want to forget to celebrate the successes and the models that are having an impact, not just on the environment, but on the economic conditions of people in regions around the world that will help sustain and promote positive behavioural change long term.

One of the producers we purchase chocolate from in Peru to make our award-winning Pure Nacional chocolates grows the rarest cocoa beans on earth. It's a special place high up in the mountains of Peru where the small team is working hard to establish beneficial direct trade partnerships with farmers and invest in protecting the environment in their region. They also create opportunities for the men, women and families in the community. They're making long-term decisions that will benefit the community, protect the environment and produce a superior product.

‘Chocolamentary’ is a documentary released last week by a company in the U.K. about these rare beans, the farmers who grow them and how Marañón cacao provides a sustainable future for this remote community. It's not a long video and it's time well spent. It will make you feel good about the chocolate choices you're making, especially this week as the attention of the world turns to our planet.

Watch the video here.

 Chocolamentary video takes you into the Maranon valley in Peru to meet the producers behind our Pure Nacional chocolate.

 Chocolamentary video takes you into the Maranon valley in Peru to meet the producers behind our Pure Nacional chocolate.

The inspiration behind our egg art

Oriol Balaguer is an award-winning Spanish pastry artist and chocolatier whom I had the great honour of working with in New York a little while back to learn about his passion for chocolate and his techniques for making showpiece eggs. This Easter season, you’ll see Oriol’s influences in my own work on display in our shop, or here online

 

I learned that Oriol got interested in the sweet arts at an early age when he watched his father at work in his own bakery while he played alongside him.  After studying and working in some of the best patisseries in Spain and Belgium, Oriol worked for seven years in Ferran Adrià's team at the famed elBulli restaurant in Spain. Adrià has been considered one of the best chefs in the world and defined Oriol as "one of the most all-round professionals in gastronomy". At just 21 years of age (1993) Oriol won the award as Best Artisan Pastry Chef in Spain and many more awards since then.

 

I’ve taken some of his techniques and others I’ve learned along the way to develop interesting egg showpieces that capture the light in interesting ways, hold interesting textures, show off luminous colours and incorporate the very best tasting chocolate from around the world.

Helping Peruvians recently hit by severe floods

We recently received urgent appeals for help from our cocoa producers in Peru. Several of our chocolates come from the region, including the single origin Illanka from the rare Gran Blanco cacao and our Pure Nacional chocolate from the Maranon region.

 

Over the past several weeks, torrential rains have battered northern Peru and thousands of families have been affected by severe flooding, losing their homes and crops. Many areas have also been cut off by landslides. 

 

Help has mobilized to get supplies to as many families in need as possible. 

We have provided some support and we’re proud to work with companies like Valrhona who have provided $10,000 to help the families affected and the people at Maranon Chocolate who are on the ground helping with harvest and have raised more than $14,000 to help local farmers.

 

Our thoughts are with everyone and we thank you for your support of the local community by buying products from that region like those we use to produce our chocolates.

Key roadways have been completely washed away and will take many months to repair.

Key roadways have been completely washed away and will take many months to repair.

Ever wonder about our chocolate Valentine traditions?

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays with murky origins.  I did a little Internet sleuthing on a few credible sites, like the Smithsonian and History and learned that it wasn’t until the 1800s that both the technology required to produce really good chocolates and the broad appeal of acknowledging your sweetheart with symbols of your affection, that chocolate become intricately linked to the international day of sweethearts. Because when you think about it, chocolate was and still is today, a sought-after treat made with rare ingredients.  There’s no better way to express a rare affection for that someone special. Back then, cupids, lace and anything heart-shaped won the day as a sign of affection. 

Today, while cupid still makes an appearance on cards and in ads, a study last year by MasterCard in the United States indicates that Americans consider food the most important aspect of a successful Valentine’s Day celebration.

And in Japan, while food is important to the celebration too, there is a strong tradition of women giving chocolates to men on Valentines Day.  

I think it was Charles M. Schulz who once famously said, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.” I have to agree.  Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone celebrating love with their soul mate, their family or their besties. And don’t forget to indulge in a little fine chocolate too.

 

  

Valentine chocolate box picture