The Cocoa Nib Caramel from Zak's Chocolate in Scottsdale took center stage recently, winning the 2017 Good Food Award.
Zak's is the first Arizona winner to take the award in the "Confections" category and only the second winner from Arizona, after AZ Queen Bee Honey took home the 2015 Good Food Award in the "Honey" category.
In its seventh year, Good Food Awards — which is headed by a nonprofit called the Good Food Foundation in San Francisco — gave awards to companies nationwide for their superior products in 14 categories. Good Food Awards focuses on social responsibility and delicious food, and chooses winners who "push their industries toward craftsmanship and sustainability while enhancing our agricultural landscape and building strong communities."
Each entry goes through an extensive process in order to make it as a finalist, including verifying that all ingredients are sustainable and ethically sourced.
But social and environmental responsibility and good-tasting food are what Jim and Maureen Elitzak are all about.
Zak's started as a hobby when Maureen noticed how rare it was to find single-origin organic chocolate; what she did find didn’t impress her.
“What was available wasn’t great,” says Maureen, a certified chocolatier. “That’s when we discovered that there are organic beans and the more we looked into that, that’s when we discovered the different flavors.”
It was the different flavors that made them cuckoo for cocoa beans.
“They have flavor profiles that can run from red-fruity to earthy to cinnamon-spicy to coffee-like to nutty,” Jim says.
As a result, the Elitzaks started making their own small-batch handcrafted chocolate and bars, purchasing ethically sourced fine-flavor cocoa beans, pressing them to make cocoa butter and powder, and using 100 percent of their own chocolate in every final product.
“We combined the craft of making the chocolate with the art of chocolatier,” Jim says.
Jim oversees the chocolate-making and Maureen painstakingly creates and designs each piece of candy. The process takes about a month from the time they begin to make a batch of chocolate to the finished product.
“Cocoa beans are, some people say, more complex than wine in terms of the flavors they have," Jim says.
Four confections from Zak's Chocolate, including the award-winning Cocoa Nib Caramel (front left).
“Our style is about feeling and tasting the chocolate and the flavors inside,” Jim says.“We want you to know what it is. To say it’s in your face is a little extreme, but we think it’s up front.”
You can try Zak's Chocolate by ordering online at zakschocolate.com/Home.aspx or stopping by the store at 6990 East Shea Boulevard, #116.