Chocolates Galore and More

On Friday night, I traveled to Loudoun County, about an hour outside of Washington, DC in beautiful rural Virginia for an event to help raise money for children’s programs, by way of food. In it’s Silver Anniversary, the Chocolate’s Galore and More event brought over 800 people to the National Conference Center in Lansdowne to sample the sweet and savory foods of over 20 local restaurants, caters and bakers.  The money raised benefits the YMCA “Send a Kid to Camp” program, allowing children to experience overnight camp, gets children outside and connects them with nature.

My role in the event was to sample 16 delectable treats from the “sweets” category.  Not a bad gig, right? There were three judges for the sweets: Stephanie Holguin of, Sue Ann Gleason of Chocolate for Breakfast and myself.  We were tasked with selecting one winner for best taste and another for best presentation.


The desserts ranged from Aztec heat truffle to Fresh Raspberry Chocolate truffles to macarons to bread pudding, each with its own flavor, texture and presentation.  Early on, I was generous with my bites, enjoying the entire sample that we were given to taste.  Towards the end, one bite was enough, because as we walked out of the event space and back into the deliberation room, there was at least one judge shaking from excess sugar consumption and all three were requesting savory food to balance out the sugar we had ingested over the last hour.

We selected the sour cream chocolate cupcake with a salted caramel buttercream from Lansdowne Resort as the Critics winner.  The baker shared with me her process and how she created the salted caramel, saying she couldn’t find one {recipe} she liked, so after 45 batches in one week, she created the one we were sampling.  She created the buttercream by taking the sugar to a softball stage before tempering it into the eggs.  Ayrshire Farms had a creative take on a childhood favorite by creating a Concord grape macaron – the shell was flavored with Concord grape juice (which the baker freezes when it’s in season, so she has fresh batches of juice throughout the year) and had a smear of creamy peanut butter as the center filling.  It was as delicious as it was creative.  Another creatively delicious treat came from Sweetz Bakery, by way of their whipped cream cupcake with white chocolate goat cheese mousse, topped with a drop of raspberry coulis; creamy, tangy and delicious.

Just as there were sweet judges, three critics were savory judges as well: Mary Beth Albright, a Food Network Star Season 7 finalist, Steve Mannino, executive chef at Rustico Restaurant and Leigh MacDonald of  They were tasked with finding the best tasting dish and presentation for the savory dishes.  Lansdowne Resort won the taste, with their shrimp and grits, with Ayrshire Farms veal pancakes with pickled vegetables winning presentation.  (These were delicious and socially conscious, as all of their meats are locally produced and humanly raised).

All in all, a fun night for attendees filled with dancing and delicious dishes and one that I look forward to attending next year. Most surprising? I woke up the next morning hungry!

{Click here to find the write-up in the Loudoun County Times}