The night was anxiously awaited by the folks of Reno. The Reno Gazette-Journal puts on an extravagant, black tie costumed wine tasting and chocolate sampling event called Fantasies in Chocolate, located in the Grand Sierra Casino and Resort. It is THE annual event to attend. The evening was filled with magic, flowing champagne, endless confections, and samplings from the region’s most creative chefs providing uniquely crafted samples of their best work.
This year, I was asked by Reno’s top food and wine extraordinaire, Johnathan L. Wright, to be a part of his judging team at this extravagant event. Johnathan L. Wright is the Food and Drink editor for the Reno Gazette-Journal, and you can find his creative writing at http://www.rgj.com or follow him at @rgjtaste on Instagram or Twitter. Feelings of excitement were an understatement. I was required to sample one of everything at the gala. I kept telling myself only to take a few nibbles from each booth, but that in itself is more challenging than tightrope walking because everything was so incredibly scrumptious.
The judging team consisted of Wright, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve, Reno’s sweetheart and table linen designer Kate Patay, local celebrity Chef Clint Jolly and myself. It was an incredible mix of judgment with the highest qualifications.
The ballroom was designed with the most extravagant and delicate décor. All the tables were beautifully designed by Creative Coverings, aka, Kate Patay’s classy touch and the Grand Sierra’s fine banquet staff. I felt like Cinderella walking into a palace. For a minute, you forgot you were even in Reno, NV. The theme was Bohemian Circus this year. A long and beautiful red carpet was awaiting the guests amongst the entrance with two ginormous gold elephants.
There were contortionist’s beautifully sculpting their bodies with every twist and turn imaginable. I do believe I threw my back out just watching her in amazement. There were ringmasters on stilts, and every guest was genuinely beautifully dressed. It was truly magical.
Judging started at The Jungle Coffee booth. Please keep in mind that all opinions are those of my own, and may or may not reflect the other judge’s opinions.
The Jungle – The Jungle served us a smooth and sweet chocolate martini made with local Tahoe Blue Vodka and locally roasted Magpie coffee. The martini wasn’t harsh, it didn’t cut through you, it was smooth and a little touch of liquid heaven on your palette. The Tahoe Blue Vodka most definitely contributed to that velvety blend. The Jungle provided the best libation at the event, in my opinion. (I may or may not have had 6!)
Rounds Bakery – The booth was filled with a circus candy theme and the gentlemen running the booth were dressed to the max with their fine costumes pairing well. They offered the judges a Cotton Candy French macaron, which was extremely creative and out of the box. After speaking to them more about why they chose cotton candy over chocolate, they explained the theme was Bohemian Circus, and we all know you can find big soft spools of cotton candy at the circus. The French macarons were so fluffy and soft, your teeth sunk right into them with a soft crunch. They also had a salted popcorn stuffed macaron that was also an excellent switch. The booth was colorful and fun; it definitely took you into a circus atmosphere.
Delicious Designs – Delicious Designs won Best Sweet Dish for a large booth. They brought a fireball cupcake that was definitely on fire! The cupcake was moist and not overly sweet. It was truly eye candy. Although that won for the category, they had a HIDDEN SECRET GEM tucked over in the corner that I discovered. It pays to be a nosey little piglet. They had, get ready for it; Buffalo Bleu Cheese Cake dusted popcorn. AHHH!!!! I’m sure the folks of China just heard my scream! I grabbed a bag quickly and shared it with my fellow judges at the judges table. We are relished in the popcorn and even did selfies with it on twitter. Want to see how ridiculously excited we were? Check out the @renotastebuds Twitter account or hashtag #fic2015. It’s epically funny.
Cherry Bomb Catering – We awarded Cherry Bomb Catering Co. with the Best Savory Dish for small booths. Again, jumping on the popcorn train, the Cherry Bomb ladies entered a white chocolate popcorn with subtle hints of lavender and lemon zest. You could taste every component in each crunchy bite. The flavors popped, literally in your mouth. Bravo ladies!
Whole Foods– As the judging continued, it was so exciting to experience the uniqueness of the local chefs. Whole Foods brought their “A” game with a Mole toast point slathered with cream cheese, daikon radish micro greens and topped with a dehydrated Mole chip. The judges all agreed that the flavor profiles meshed well together enough to give them the award for the Best Savory Dish for Large Booths. That sample was definitely unforgettable in my book.
Winey Munkies– Getting back on the chocolate train, Winey Munkies gave the judges a generous portion of chocolate merlot ice cream. It was a sweet treat for my taste buds as I love both ice cream and merlot. The ice cream was creamy, and the merlot gave it a delicate punch. The ice cream left you feeling refreshed and ready for the next sampling. Winey Munkies won for Best Sweet Dish, small booths.
Best decorated small booth this year went to Reno Provisions! They carefully crafted every detail of the Lion Cage and spent their time and energy on providing what we thought was, in fact, an exciting booth that made the guests want to see what they were all about. I also spent the night telling everyone, including the Mayor, Hillary Schieve, how incredible their chocolate chip cookies are. I would put them up against anyone in this entire country and bet money they would make a clean sweep! They are a MUST for their cookies and pastries.
Last but certainly far from least, the Grand Sierra Resort took our breaths away with their magical and show-stopping display. We presented the Best Decorated Large Booth to the GSR because they had thousands of tiny delicate confections and cake pops filled with rich chocolate ganache to offer amongst a faux contortionist dangling from above their table in beautiful jewels.
By now, you can tell the evening was a total success. There was dancing, music, incredibly tasty food, flowing libations and of course, an outstanding community that made this event the talk of the town.
Thank you again to Johnathan L. Wright for having me as his guest and judge and thank you to all the new friends I made for making your acquaintance. Fantasies in Chocolate was a night always to remember, and I look forward to what next year’s theme and event will bring.