by : Karina Calayag

Photography by : JD Estella, Goldwave Imaging and Karina Calayag




Taste buds aroused from the decadence of flavors - some of subtle hints, others bold and bursting – with textures of cream and silk…  All too impossible to resist.  Here are this year’s chocolate watch-list (and perhaps, wish-list) for all you chocolate lovers:

THE Top 10 Best Chocolatiers 

at Chocolate Salon’s 7th Annual International Chocolate Festival held March 24, 2013 at Fort Mason, SF.


Elyce Zahn, Owner/Founder/Chocolatier Cocotutti at Chocolate Salon's International  Chocolate Festival SF



- located in South San Francisco, it was founded in April 2010 by Grand Master Chocolatier, Elyce Zahn.  Cocotutti’s visually artistic caramels, bonbons and truffles are handmade and meticulously produced using only  chocolate from free trade groups (certified by the Rainforest Alliance).  Their organic jams and marmalades are made from hand-picked organic fruits from the local market.


The delicacies are created in small batches: drizzling and airbrushing, tempering the chocolate to make the shell, filling the shells with originally developed ganaches, etc. – some chocolates take five days to make.  The result — a slight crunch to the bite from the charming glossy thin shell, then a burst of flavor that “pops” in your mouth — leaving a subtle yet remarkable and lingering fragrant finish. Distinctive and incredibly memorable.


Elyce served her five latest products at the Chocolate Salon:

Blood Orange – Housemade orange marmalade, Guittard and Valrhona chocolates with Cointreau.
Strawberry – Housemade strawberry jam and strawberry liqueur, Guittard and Valrhona chocolates.
Tea Infusion in three flavors – Ganache of 50% infused milk with either Rooibos, Yunna and Assam and Guittard, Valrhona and Callebaut chocolates




NEO Cocoa International_Chocolate_Festival_San_Francisco 


- The “heart” of a chocolate truffle is a term coined by Neo Cocoa founder, owner and pastry chef Christine Doerr.  It is how she describes the uniqueness of her truffles which she makes out of a commercial kitchen in Bemont (in the SF Bay Area).


Neo Cocoa is inspired by traditional French or European-style “shell-less” truffles that is much more delicate than its hard-shelled American-style counterpart.  Christine pointed out that her ganache chocolate melts in body temperature and because of this it is very creamy to the palate.


NEO Cocoa’s incredibly decadent flavors sampled were:  Zested Lime, Smoked Chili, Warm Ginger Root, Crushed Cacao Nib, and Salted Caramel.





- Founder, owner, chocolatier Charles “Chuck” Siegel has been in the chocolate industry since he was twenty five years old.  Originally from San Francisco, Charles Chocolates moved to Emeryville for a bigger facility and is now happily back in San Francisco where Charles Chocolates began.  Recipient of many awards Charles Chocolates are made using only the finest chocolates and ingredients; organic herbs, fruits and nuts, organic cream and butter.


Guaranteed to put a closed-eye-smile on your face, some of Charles (delightful) Chocolates are: Honey Bunny, Fleur de Sel Caramel and Salty-Sweet Chocolate Bars with either Pecan, Hazelnut or Cashew.



Amano Chocolates Chocolate_Salon_International_Chocolate_Festival



- Art Pollard, owner, founder and “Head Chocolate Maker” of Amano Chocolates came from the world of physics, machines and software development prior to becoming a chocolatier.  An accidental chocolatier (with no prior experience making chocolates), his world changed serendipitously while on honeymoon in Hawaii.  With a simple taste of a truffle, he got “sold” to buy the chocolate factory that made the truffle which perchance was up for sale.


A big part of Art’s enjoyment in his work is in his traveling adventures. He sources his cacao beans and meets plantation owners-families from around the world. His chocolates are aptly named after these very remote locations.  Although located in Orem, Utah, the Amano Chocolate is essentially a “world-wide” chocolate.


“Each one of our bars is made just with selected beans from a single plantation. The flavors you will taste are not added to the chocolate but arise naturally from the beans we select. Tasting fine single origin chocolate is akin to tasting fine wine from different vineyards,” says Art.


The genuine and authentic cacao flavors is what sets Amano Chocolates apart, clearly showing Art’s devotion into his craft and giving credence to its name —  ”Amano” means “by hand” and “they love” in Italian.


Madagascar – Dark, 70% cacao from the Sambirano valley in Madagascar.

Guayas – Dark 70% cacao from from the Guayas River flood-plain in Ecuador.

Dos Rios – Dark 70% cacao from the Dominican Republic.

Montanya – Dark 70% cacao from Montanya mountains in Venezuela. Limited Edition because of the rarity of the beans which are accessible only by hiking or horseback. 

Each bar is $6.95 except for the limited edition Montanya, $8.95. 




Amella Chocolate_Salon_International_Chocolate_Festival



- Started in 2003 by Emir and Elena Kiamilev, Amella Cocoa Butter Caramels products are made in a chocolate factory in El Segundo, CA.  Aside from using raw blue agave nectar (a healthier alternative to corn syrup), another “secret” ingredient to their award-winning Agave Caramel is pure cocoa butter which helps create a unique consistency, like a caramel and truffle hybrid.


For a mouth-watering finishing touch, the confections are sprinkled with Sel Gris, a high mineral content salt hand harvested off the coast of Brittany, France.


Emir said they started in the tea business back in Russia before embarking on their confection-making journey that is seeing profits doubling every year.

Roasted Almond Caramel Bar (3 oz.) $5.00

<Gray Sea Salt Caramels (6 pcs),  

Agave Caramels in Roasted Almonds (6 pcs).

*A pair of either 6 pc-boxes $20.00 

Agave Caramel Collection in Dark Chocolate (18 pcs) $25.00  



William Dean Chocolates Chocolate_Salon_International_Chocolate_Festival_San_Francisco



- Founded in 2007 by William Dean Brown, WIlliam Dean Chocolates follows the artisan tradition of creating everything by hand, in small batches and without preservatives.  Their shop is in Belleair Bluffs, Florida.


Prior to being a chocolatier, William Dean was an accomplished entrepreneur as an owner of a software company.  When the dot com bubble burst, however, he reinvented himself and joined the management of a large corporation.


From watching a cooking show on tv one day, he was inspired to make truffles and shared them at work.  William Dean’s new “chocolate-making hobby” became rewarding with the positive feedback he received, in turn inspiring him to make it even better and more fun by learning how to airbrush chocolate.


The artist in his childhood days revived and his experience as an entrepreneur, William Dean ventured into William Dean Chocolates and has since become a world-renowned leader in the artisan chocolate industry.  So popular, it has made it to the movie hit “The Hunger Games” on a cameo role (unbeknownst to William Dean until after) and has been said to return to its sequel “Catching Fire.”


The William Dean Chocolates excite the eye and intrigue the palate, looking like jewels, gems and art pieces.




They are so beautifully made that there is a moment of a visual-adoring-pause before biting into their chocolates.  It is a struggle between the feasting eyes unyielding to the want of the impatient mouth.  - Karina Calayag



These are some of the mouth-watering flavors of WDC’s assortment of chocolates:

Mandarin Balsamic – Soft caramel made with mandarin and balsamic reduction in a dark chocolate shell. 

Mexican Mango - Award winning bon bon of milk chocolate ganache infused with fresh lime juice and a layer of mango pate de fruit with a green chile infused sea salt.

Port with Fig and Plum - Fig and Plum milk chocolate ganache with port wine, brown sugar, honey and cinnamon in a dark chocolate shell. 

William Dean Chocolate bars (Pop Rocks- yes, Pop Rocks in dark chocolate!, Wasabi and Pear among other unique flavors) are $6.50.

The jewel-like assortments in their signature blue-box are:  5 pcs – $12.00; 10 pcs – $22.00, 20 pcs- $42.00; $30 pcs – $60.00 and $36 pcs – $72.00






- San Francisco born and raised, owner/chocolatier of Jade Chocolates, Mindy Fong, is half Filipino-half Chinese.  Mindy was an architectural designer prior to becoming a chocolatier. “A great flow between spaces means that you have a well thought out floor plan.  And a great recipe for chocolate means that there is an ease of flow between flavors,”"Mindy says.   There is also a big visual component in being an architectural designer and that certainly translates in her chocolates as well.


Her heritage comes into play as far as taste is concerned.  Mindy’s innovation of blending teas and spices inspired by her Filipino, Asian, Pacific Islander background creates a sophisticated and luxurious tasting experience — and the reason for its many award-winning recognitions.


Jade Chocolate bars are $6.25 and these are some of their exciting extra-ordinary exotic flavors:

KRAKATOA BAR - 63% bittersweet chocolate, cracked black pepper, lemongrass.

MAHAL BAR – which means “love”, is 72% bittersweet chocolate, ylang ylang (a fragrant flower native to the Philippines), Indonesian cinnamon,  toasted coconut.

GREEN MANGO TILES – bittersweet chocolate, green mangoes, chile-lime.

*TERRACOTTA BAR - 41% milk chocolate, tamari almonds, pink sea salt.

*Jade Chocolates is a proud sponsor of the ongoing Terracotta Warriors Exhibit at The Asian Art Museum and are available at the museum store.






- SpringLoaf Catering is owned and operated by husband and wife team, Chef Darius and Caroline Somary. Chef Darius grew up in Switzerland amidst a multitude of cultures and cuisines with strong European, Mediterranean, Indian and Southeast Asian influences.  He studied at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco from where he graduated with honors in Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts. Springloaf is a full-fledged Catering and Event Planning company located in Emeryville, CA.


The two chocolates they presented at the show were phenomenal. Visually appealing and delicate to the taste:

Orange Mascarpone Mousse in Swiss Chocolate Cup,

Three-Chocolate Brownie (Bittersweet, Semi-sweet and Unsweetened).






- To say the leaast, FGR Chocolates was a standout at the Chocolate Salon. Owned by Fabrizio Galla and Gary Rulli, both decades-long master pastry chefs, their prominent chocolate sculptures were show-stoppers at the event.  Atop a display table welcoming the guests was a chocolate replica of a portion of the Golden Gate Bridge and at their tasting table was an arresting 3-4 foot Easter Egg in 100% chocolate; both masterfully and meticulously crafted.


Galla and Rulli first crossed paths at the annual AMPI (Accademia Maestri Pasticceri Italiani) pastry symposium in 2009 and then again at the World Pastry Championship in Arizona in 2010 when their team, Team Italy, took the Silver.   They create their one-of-a-kind line of handcrafted confections in Marin county, the age-old Italian way.


If the visual is the hook of FGR Chocolates, the line and the sinker are the taste and (mouth)-feel of FGR Chocolates.


Azteca Bar - 65% Dark chocolate bar made with crisp baked polenta, crushed Peruvian corn and FGR’s signature 5-spice blend. $11.95

Bronte Bar – FGR White Chocolate bar made with pistachio bronte paste di Sicilia. $11.95

Oliva Bar - FGR 65% dark chocolate bar with McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil. $9.95



The Bread Project Chocolate_Salon_International_Chocolate_Festival



- One of the best because The Bread Project’s main ingredient is like none other – compassion- it is a bakery with not only “passion” in it but a whole lot of heart for the “com”munity it serves.


A social enterprise, The Bread Project’s mission is to empower individuals with limited resources on their path to self-sufficiency through skills instruction, on-the-job training and assistance with establishing a career in the food industry.  Real bakery production is taught providing the crucial hands on experience helping them become stronger individuals who in turn will positively contribute to a better community.


All products are made by their trainees and all proceeds are invested back into the job training programs of The Bread Project.  Order here so you too can support The Bread Project’s social mission— so you too can “treat” others as you “treat” yourself.  I did (as many others that day), and it was a sweet treat, indeed!







Published:  April 17, 2013

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