When you think of Hawaii, images of clear blue water and flowing palm trees float in your mind. Well, move over blue Pacific and stunning white sand beaches, and be prepared to be impressed and immersed in agricultural gastronomy that will likely give the beaches pause, at least for two or three days.
It’s the 2018 Big Island Chocolate Festival, April 27 & 28, and it is enormous and it is tasty. Really tasty. Set on the magical Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, this is two-plus days of education, cooking demonstrations, community building, and oh yes, massive amounts of tasting.
I will confess that I like all the food festivals in Hawaii. However, this one is definitely the most organized and has the most to offer if you attend. From education to agriculture to tasting, it is all in this one festival. You can choose how many components to go to, and then take a beach break here and there. Be warned, the program and treats are so enticing, you should save your beach time for after the festival. The only thing that is missing is Willie Wonka.
“Chocolate is produced worldwide, and each country is proud of the heritage it has brought to the industry,” says Kona Cacao Association President Farsheed Bonakdar. This year’s “Around the World” theme adds to the tastes and perspectives at the festival. Farsheed has added more flavors and emphasis from around the world to give the attendees the global chocolate experience.
Hawaii is just on the edge of the climate zone to grow cacao, the bean that becomes chocolate. It’s only natural that the Big Island, with the proclivity to coffee and agriculture, would sprout up with cacao. And, given the unique nature of the volcanic soil, the resultant chocolate has a unique taste. A primary focus of the first day is visiting the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory to get a hands-on view of the process from bean to bar.
The second day contains culinary classes and demonstrations where you can actually get up close and personal with world-renown chocolatiers. The festival presents a chance for local chefs, both professional and those burgeoning from the high school ranks to create unique dishes with chocolate.
In this case, many of the recipes are appetizers or main dishes, not just deserts. And the high school chefs sometimes outduel the pros! These plates are presented at the BICF Gala, which benefits the local culinary programs on the Big Island.
And the locale is spiffalicious – the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort (formerly the Hapuna Prince), right on one of the best beaches in Hawaii. Many people make this a weeklong trip and include time front & back for water activities, golf, and general recharging. Staying at the HBR, which is undergoing a massive renovation and will emerge this Spring as The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, allows you to walk to all the events except the cacao farm and plantation tours, so convenience rules.
Unlike most of the other festivals, there are hotel and BICF event packages that let you dial up or down how you would like to see and attend. One doesn’t miss the Gala, big fun and some fantastic chocolate inspired dishes with funds going right back into local culinary programs. Best of all you get to taste all the creations.
If you needed just one more reason to get to the Big Island in 2018, the Big Island Chocolate Festival is the tastiest reason.