Sunday, 21 November 2010

Do you have the palate to be the new Chocolate Taster for Green & Blacks? The 15:15 Challenge

As a small child, my dream job was to dress up in sparkly silver high heels all day and work in a milk bar (that's the corner sweets store, if you didn't grow up in Australia). It was a tight, well considered toss up between that and becoming a school crossing lady - but still with the silver heels. One aspiration indulged my penchant for gluttony and Bubble O Bills, the other for directing people about, preferably while holding a big orange sign signalling my own officialdom and importance.

But this was before anyone let me in on the world's best kept secret. Some people are paid - in actual money - to be chocolate tasters. That's right. Paid. To taste chocolate. The jig is up. This has to be the dream job to end all dreams of other dream jobs. This is a job you could do while wearing silver sparkly heels and bossing people about to fetch you another chunk. And I bet you even get some kind of important, official badge to wear while you're hard at it "working" (ie. tasting chocolate in exchange for financial compensation). Heaven.

Green & Blacks, makers of such delights as the salted caramel chocolate peanut bar*, is currently on the hunt to recruit a chocolate taster - an assistant to their Head of Taste, Micah Carr-Hill. To come to grips with some of the tests the successful applicant would undergo (and with more than a subtle hope that my obvious perfectness for the role would shine through and that I'd be leaving with a signed contract and some kind of medal), I attended an event hosted by Green & Blacks at the kitchen porn studios that are the Miele showrooms.

Jen from Chocolate Ecstasy Tours

After an introduction by Micah regarding the tasting role, and a good sniff of the high and low notes of various flavourings from Matthew Stokes of Frutarom, I was well and truly limbered up to strutt my stuff in the 2 palate tests.

The Cocktail Test

The first involved the tasting of 2 chocolate ganaches - one dark, one white - to detect the subtle flavourings. The second was a cocktail test, swilling the exotic creations of Johan Svensson of Drinks Fusion. I found that the more I applied myself to the second test, the greater became my aptitude for the first.

I was, apparently, the only person that detected the coriander in the dark ganache. It came to me like a slap in the face only after downing several of the aforementioned exotic cocktails. Unfortunately, before cocktail no. 5, I also detected orange and such a vast range of other exotic spices that my cunning plan to unveil my refined palate to the world came gloriously unstuck. I went down in flames. Mimi, the winner, picked the white tea, lime and vanilla in the second ganache - and walked away with my once dreamt of glory and a stack of beautiful cookbooks. Note to self: she has no contract in hand, the tasting job is still up for grabs.

The cocktail test (and a lovely set of Riedel wine glasses) was won by Jen from Chocolate Ecstasy Tours who came closest to identifying the flavours in the Orange & Ginger Alexander (cognac, chocolate, cream, ginger, orange and a dust of dark chocolate) and a creamy Moth Flower (Black Moth Truffle Vodka, creme de mure, Noilly Prat dry vermouth, lavender eaux de vie, lemon, sugar, violet foam). And I thought my standard Aperol and soda was complex.

Luiz from The London Foodie

But the main event was the 15:15 Challenge - to cook a meal exhibiting well balanced flavours to be judged by Head of Taste, Micah. No more than £15 could be spent on the ingredients, and the entire thing had to be cooked up in 15 minutes. The winner takes all - including a spanking new, bright red KitchenAid mixer.

I was there purely for the cocktails and the heckling. But with Iron Chef-like speed, in pressure cooker conditions, the contestants battled it out to produce such marvels as quail with rose petals and bitter chocolate (by Iron Chef Luiz) and a lime and Oreo cheesecake (by Iron Chef Sarah).

Luiz's quail with rose petals & bitter chocolate

Micah's poker face gave nothing away as he prodded, tasted and munched his way around the table - then dived for safety as the vultures (ie. me) descended on the leftovers. Once again, Mimi rose to KitchenAid glory with her clever wafu pasta dish which impressively balanced all 5 of the tastes - sweet (brown beech mushrooms and mirin), sour (shiso leaves, spring onion), salty (salmon roe), bitter (shiso leaves) and umami (or savoury - dashi and soy).

Micah's poker face

Mimi's wafu pasta

Much joy, tears and congratulations ensued. Me, I had another cocktail and contemplated what could have been...

Mimi takes 15:15 glory

But it's not too late for you. If you think you have the palate which could lead you to a life of chocolate tasting glory, you can apply to be the new Green & Black's Taste Assistant here. Shine in the interviews, tasting and cooking challenges, and a career of tasting chocolate and developing new chocolately products could await you.

If you see a serious looking woman at the interviews, stretching her hammies in sweat bands and sparkly silver shoes, give me a wave.

* Green & Blacks, I hope this further hint to please bring the salted caramel chocolate peanut bar to the UK did not go unnoticed.


  1. We know, the tests were somewhat fiendish... but still very glad you came along to give them a try!

  2. Lovely post, we had such a great time! Thank you for the mention and pictures.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  3. Gail - Such a well organised/interesting event. It was a pleasure.

    The London Foodie - Yes, lots of fun. Well done on your delicious dish.


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