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For judges, taste buds tell all

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 7, 2003

The judges

Tracey Culley, 28, American Heart Association volunteer. She organizes participation in the American Heart Walk for her employer, Kisinger Campos & Associates. Michael Fattah, 32, pastry chef for Bern's Steak House and SideBern's. He's a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in California, Europe and Hawaii. Bonnie Saks, 52, a sex therapist with a practice on Kennedy Boulevard who teaches a human sexuality class to medical students at the University of South Florida. Jean Yadley, 82, a travel agent and founder of Florida's West Coast chapter of Chaine des Rotisseurs, a gourmet food and wine club that tries out area restaurants.
No one declared it better than sex.

A few described it divinely inspired.

A panel of sweet tooths sat down with City Times this week to sample South Tampa's chocolate stock. They tasted a dozen types during a calorie-filled hour -- proclaiming bliss or blah with every bite.

The entrants wore no labels. Anonymity reigned.

And, in the end, Godiva took the cocoa crown.

Jean Yadley, a food and wine aficionado, set the mood with this morsel: King Louis XIV linked his ability to have sex twice a day to eating chocolate.

Melts in your heart
No one doubted.

The panel featured four chocolate lovers: Yadley, who started Florida's West Coast chapter of the Chaine des Rotisseurs gourmet food club; Tracey Culley, a volunteer with the American Heart Association; Michael Fattah, the pastry chef at Bern's and SideBern's; and Bonnie Saks, a sex therapist.

Armed with an appetite and keen taste buds, judges ranked each piece on a scale of 1-5, with one meaning "Okay if you're stranded on a deserted island" and five meaning "Better than sex."

They sampled five brands of milk chocolate, five kinds of dark, fudge from Sally's Heavenly Fudge on Dale Mabry Highway and truffles from Harry and David at International Plaza. They had to wait until the end to learn the brands.

Godiva's dark chocolate earned the highest score, living up to its motto as a "little piece of heaven." All four judges appreciated the richness and faint, orange flavor. "Very inspiring," Culley said.

Even Fattah, who pooh-poohs anything but France's Valrhona chocolate, noted the effort. "It hit my palate, then faded away. But the orange/dark chocolate are a good combo."

Neuhaus candy placed first among the milk chocolates and second among the darks.

"I could eat a whole bar of it," said Yadley after a bite of the light.

Views varied when it came to the Neuhaus dark.

Culley dinged it as "too strong" and "not very sweet."

Although the judges applauded the milk chocolates for arousing the senses, they agreed the darks mustered more emotion.

The sweeter types are "kind of frivolous to women most of the time," Saks said. To satisfy a craving they want something richer, more sensual and more substantial.

Regular ole Hershey's -- the cheapest of the bunch -- hovered near the bottom of the charts. Judges claimed it would content a chocoholic watching Joe Millionaire on a mundane Monday, but do little beyond that.

They'd definitely skip it as a Valentine's Day gift for a spouse or wannabe mate.

[Times photos: Sterfanie Boyar]
Our distinguished panel featured chocolate lovers, from left: Michael Fattah, pastry chef at Bern's and SideBern's; Jean Yadley of Florida's West Coast chapter of the Chaine des Rotisseurs gourmet food club; Tracey Culley, a volunteer with the American Heart Association; and Bonnie Saks, a sex therapist.
Saks gave the dark Hershey's the only high mark, later linking her "very sensual" comments to familiarity. As with sex, the therapist said, people like what they know.

A connoisseur of all things sweet, Fattah wasn't fooled by efforts to mask the brand names. You can scratch off the logo and cut identical pieces, but the taste gives it away.

"I know the brand. That's why I don't eat American chocolate," he said after a nibble of dark Hershey's.

Chocolate from Schakolad and Rocky Mountain fell somewhere in the middle, between "satisfies a chocolate craving" and "worth an extra trip to the gym."

Rocky Mountain's milk chocolate came at the end of the pack. (Maybe it's a Colorado thing.) Yadley said it lacked flavor, and he wouldn't buy it.

Judges topped it off with the fudge and truffles, then headed home to dinners -- perhaps of rice cakes and celery sticks.

"I think I just hit my sweet overload," Culley said.

But was it better than sex as chocolatemakers attest?

Panelists agreed some things can't be imitated.

-- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or .

Champion chocolates

We fed chocolates from South Tampa candy counters to a team of four judges -- a pastry chef, a sex therapist, a food and wine aficionado, and a volunteer from the American Heart Association. The demanding crew rated the treats on a scale of 1 to 5. Here are the average scores:

Milk chocolate
Neuhaus 3
Godiva 2.75
Schakolad 2.5
Hershey's 1.75
Rocky Mountain 1.5

Dark chocolate
Godiva 3.5
Neuhaus 3
Rocky Mountain 2.5
Schakolad 2.5
Hershey's 1.75

Sally's Heavenly Fudge 2.5
Harry and David truffles 2.5

Guide to ranking

1 -- Okay if you're on a deserted island

2 -- Satisfies the chocolate craving

3 -- Worth an extra trip to the gym

4 -- Divinely inspired

5 -- Better than sex

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