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Friday, March 13, 2015

This Weekend: SF International Chocolate Salon

Posted By on Fri, Mar 13, 2015 at 9:26 PM

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Hollywood's awards season may be over, but in the world of chocolatiers and confectioners, the show is about to begin. This Sunday, over 60 premier confectioners will gather at Fort Mason for the ninth annual SF International Chocolate Salon. Guests can mingle and sample 55,000 square feet of goodies in the Festival Pavilion, while judges will give out the coveted Best Chocolatiers & Confectioners in America Awards. 

For Joel Sakakihara of R&J Toffees, the confections he’ll be presenting on Sunday carry both professional and personal value. His San Jose-based enterprise is the result of three generations of hard work and experimentation in his family. “It’s my grandparents’ recipe,” he says. “I learned how to make toffee from my grandfather, who was a chef as well as a soldier in World War II.”

This year will be R&J's first appearance at San Francisco's Chocolate Salon, and their accolade-studded past bodes well for their awards chances. Sakakihara's only current product, his original almond toffee, garnered first place at the Top Artisan Toffee Awards in 2014. It was no easy task. Sakakihara and his brother spent three years refining the recipe and surveyed hundreds of people before they started selling the toffee, which he still makes by hand. 

Although Sakakihara's recipe represents a family legacy, it is anything but static. That's where this weekend's Salon comes in. Sakakihara is excited to "get feedback from events like this, which helps [the toffee] evolve." Plus, the gathering is kind of like an all-star game for confectioners. "To be with up there with some of the most renowned companies is really validating," he says. "It proves that what we're doing is working." 

Sakakihara’s grandparents never sold their toffees – they made them socially and for church fundraisers – and Sakakihara sustains this ethos by giving back as much as he can. Though he’s had to grow his business first, he hopes that the success of his toffees will one day enable him to expand his philanthropy.

Cancer research is high on his list of causes — and for good reason. His kitchen is covered with pictures of his grandfather, who died of cancer before he could witness the boom of his grandson's business. "He had no idea how successful we would be," says Sakakihara. "I think if he could see us now, he would be very proud."
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Sarah Stodder


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