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.