Who's to judge?

Press reporter tries his hand at assessing sweet treats in competition

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Hannah Paulsen, 10, accepts a piece of handmade chocolate at the Blackwell Gallery after being offered by Melissa Barnett, owner of Pixie Dust Chocolates, far left, as the young girl's parents Leanne and Clint Paulsen ask questions during the 2013 Chocolate Affair in downtown Coeur d'Alene.

COEUR d'ALENE - For the third annual Chocolate Affair hosted by the Downtown Association Friday, Gay Glasson, event coordinator, dug to the bottom of her contact list to find one of her five judges.

Confession, I don't like chocolate.

But I didn't think that would be a problem when she invited me. Detached, my judgment would be cold, calculated, impartial reason unable to sway on emotion.

Gay agreed, mostly.

"That's actually good," she said when I confided in her.

Besides, she said, the annual chocolate contest where professionals and non professionals pull out all the stops to bake their tastiest treats doesn't rely on just judges like me. They have a People's Choice award as voted by all the ticket purchasers, more than 300 on Friday night.

And they have a secret judge. An unassuming individual whom Gay wouldn't describe who, unbeknownst to the chefs, keeps them honest.

So my judge's badge was more of a decoy in that way.

But you hear lots of jokes when you wear a chocolate judge's badge, and I wrote them in the margins of my scorecard.

"You guys have a tough job," Melissa Barnett, of the professional Pixie Dust company, said. She provided a rich, chocolate star as her sample. Her table had shoes made of chocolate, as well as a corsage that looked every bit the prom attire but made for devouring, not pinning.

"How'd you get so lucky," another woman said.

"Score," said another.

The other judges, Paula Austin, Lori Kaye Gaboury, Paula Richardson and Juli Barton, were more experienced. That's to say, they knew what they were getting into. Juli and I were partners judging the non-professional division, and Juli had been to the growing event in years past, and knew what contestants had entered before this year's crop.

"It is a little bit" strange, Juli said when I told her my indifference to sweets.

"No!" said a woman who overheard us inside Tiffany Blue Store on Sherman Avenue. "He shouldn't be a judge!"

But I tried - and liked - a hazelnut cheesecake sample inside that store and said, why, yes, that was to die for.

"And he doesn't like chocolate," the woman said to Juli. "What's wrong with him?"

Confession part 2, I'm writing this quite full. Loosen the belt full. And that after only seven samples. The event had more than 20 vendors who put out their displays across downtown stores. It was fun, and funny, eating pudding between racks of T-shirts and belts with throngs of other people doing the same. More than 300 people attended, walking and eating from 5 to 8 p.m.

And the non-professional division was right up my non-professional alley. For the chocolate cinnamon cookies at the Louie Permelia store in The Resort Plaza Shops, I wrote "just like at grandma's" in my notes. For a description of a chocolate dunked pretzel, I wrote "it's a pretzel." And the almond roca recipe earned "Childhood - Christmas time with my folks" in my scorecard.

It was later I realized that scores should have been on a 1 to 5 system. But I adjusted accordingly.

Confession part 3, I had a lot of fun. Only a few times were the entries so out of my league I had to pass and let the more skilled judges do the lifting. When it came to chocolate wine, I locked eyes with a guy wearing a Gonzaga sweatshirt and we both quietly wondered the Bulldogs' chances of securing a No. 1 seed come tournament time.

But I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Next year, with my palate more refined, I'd have a foundation with which to work. In the meantime, it's time to lose this restricting belt and find some sweat pants.

2013 Chocolate Affair winners

- Non-Professional Division: Marie's Boutique

- Professional Division: Julia Myracle of Chocolate Myracles, in host store All Things Irish

- People's Choice: Stacie's Cakes, in host store CdA Homes Thrift Store

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