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June 1, 2010 > Fremont resident a winner of Chocolate Adventure Contest

Fremont resident a winner of Chocolate Adventure Contest

By Fina Mora

Fremont resident Melissa Lavrinc Smith was just announced as the 2nd place winner of the 2009 Chocolate Adventure Contest for her recipe Trio of Layered Panna Cotta.

The Chocolate Adventure Contest is sponsored by Scharffen Berger Chocolate Market, and requires original recipe entries to include Scharffen Berger Chocolate, along with at least one of 16 pre-determined "adventure ingredients". Melissa's adventure ingredient was the pandan leaf, an egg-less, thickened custard with gelatin. The 2009 contest had both a sweet and savory category to enter. Having always had a "sweet tooth," it is no surprise that Melissa's recipe was a second place winner in the sweet category.

Melissa has always been interested in the culinary industry, having worked at a bagel shop during high school. She received her education from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), one of the top schools setting the standard in professional culinary education. From there she has spent fifteen years in the restaurant industry, working at various restaurants including French Laundry, rated as one of the top fifty restaurants in the world.

In 2007, she became a certified sommelier-a trained wine professional. Melissa has her own podcast, sfwinechef, and has developed an iphone application called "Enotria" for wine pronunciation. Currently, Melissa is the director of WineChef Consulting, author of "Inked Rogue Chefs," and the host of the SF WineChef podcast, which focuses on the Bay Area's food and wine scene.

The Chocolate Adventure Contest "is all about being adventurous and exploring flavor combinations that might not always occur to people in an everyday setting," said Top Chef Masters, Iron Chef America participant and award-winning chef Elizabeth Falkner, who served as a judge for the contest. Joining her to taste the finalist recipes were other epicurean experts, including Scharffen Berger co-founder John Scharffenberger; chocolate pastry chef and award-winning author Alice Medrich; award-winning food blogger, photographer, and art director Matt Armendariz of; and TuttiFoodie founder Lisa Schiffman.

"Scharffen Berger was founded on the principle of sourcing the world's best cacao to create a unique blend of chocolate that offers a different taste and experience with each bite," said John Scharffenberger. "This contest encourages food enthusiasts to explore endless flavor possibilities by combining chocolate with exotic ingredients. This year, the 'adventure ingredients' were largely from the regions where Scharffen Berger's cacao is sourced."

In addition to the $10,000 grand prize for each category and a custom selection of Scharffen Berger chocolate, the winner's recipe is featured online at,, and Second place winners receive signed copies of "The Essence of Chocolate," the 2007 James Beard award-winning cookbook by co-founders John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg, Elizabeth Falkner's "Demolition Desserts," and "Bittersweet" by Alice Medrich along with their recipe featured online.

The Chocolate Adventure Contest is held every year and entries for 2010 can be sent in starting in autumn. Back in 2008, Melissa said she "had everything ready to turn in a recipe, but [she] missed the deadline" and could not apply until the following year in 2009. Melissa plans to apply again in 2010 because "after coming in second, I want to do it again." Hopefully for Melissa, third time's the charm.

Trio of Layered Panna Cotta
Author: Melissa Smith/CA
Category: Sweet
Servings: 32
Adventure Ingredients: Pandan leaf

Chocolate Panna Cotta:
* 1 cup whole milk
* 2 teaspoons powdered unflavored gelatin
* 2 cups heavy cream
* 1/4 cup sugar
* 3/4 lb. Scharffen Berger 62% chocolate, cut into small pieces
* 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped (reserve pod for another use)

Coconut Panna Cotta:
* 2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder
* 3 tablespoons water
* 1cup coconut milk
* 1/2 cup heavy cream
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1 pinch kosher salt

Pandan Panna Cotta:
* 1 cup whole milk
* 2 cups heavy cream
* 3 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder
* 6 tablespoons sugar
* 2 teaspoons pandan paste (Koepoe-Koepoe brand)

Chocolate Panna Cotta:
1. Arrange 12 tall, 6-ounce glasses on counter. Alternatively use deep ramekins.
2. Sprinkle gelatin over milk and let soften for 5 minutes.
3. Place chocolate in a medium sized bowl. Combine cream, vanilla seeds, and sugar in a medium saucepan set over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add milk mixture, and whisk until thoroughly incorporated. Strain through a fine mesh sieve over the bowl of chocolate. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Pour into a measuring glass.
4. Fill each glass or ramekin one third full with the chocolate base. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours.

Coconut Panna Cotta:
1. Sprinkle gelatin over water and let sit for 5 minutes.
2. Combine coconut milk, cream, sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar is fully dissolved. Stir in gelatin mixture until fully incorporated.
3. Strain into glass measuring cup and cool until barely warm.
4. Pour 2 - 3 tablespoons over chocolate panna cotta layer. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours.

Pandan Panna Cotta:
1. Sprinkle gelatin over milk and let soften for 5 minutes.
2. Combine cream, pandan paste, and sugar in a small saucepan set over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add milk mixture, and whisk until thoroughly incorporated. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a glass measuring cup. Let cool until barely warm.
3. Divide pandan panna cotta evenly as the topmost layer in the glasses or ramekins. Chill for 4 or more hours in the refrigerator.

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