Head Judge, Elle Coco

Internationally experienced chocolate judge Elle Coco will lead the panel of independent food experts assessing the chocolate.

Elle Coco is a judge at the British Academy of Chocolate and the International Chocolate Awards. She recently moved to Wellington from London taking the long route, starting in Mexico, before covering off all of Central America and the western countries of South America, to visit cacao plantations, meeting growers and tasting chocolate along the way.

In London, Elle ran chocolate making workshops and classes for British chocolatiers, department stores and global companies, including William Curley Patissier, Harrods and PWC. In addition to running workshops, Elle has worked with new and established chocolate makers, including Damson Chocolate (UK), Tri Island Chocolate (Grenada, Caribbean) and Stamba Chocolatier (Georgia, Caucasus). Elle has hosted education and tasting sessions at London’s ‘The Chocolate Show’ and ‘The Grenada Chocolate Festival’ in the Caribbean.

Elle was Head Judge in 2018 and we’re delighted to have her return for 2020.

Luke Owen Smith

Luke is the owner of The Chocolate Bar in Wellington, a bean-to-bar and craft chocolate retailer and subscription service. His knowledge of the New Zealand chocolate industry is unrivalled and he’s an experienced chocolate judge. Luke is passionate about the top quality of New Zealand artisan chocolate producers and he’s spent the past five years promoting the bean-to-bar movement.

Luke has written about craft chocolate for Cuisine and Dish magazine and other media titles.

Arno Sturny

Arno, is originally from Switzerland where he trained as baker and pastry chef. Over the years, he has worked in hotels and pâtisseries in countries such as Sweden, Belgium, China and New Zealand. Arno is currently a senior lecturer at AUT’s School of Hospitality & Tourism teaching on the diploma in pâtisserie. He has judged culinary competitions overseas and in New Zealand, is part of the New Zealand Pastry Team, and has just completed a Master of Gastronomy specialising in the history of New Zealand chocolate.

Juan Balsani

Born in Buenos Aires Juan’s passion for food lad to his study of Culinary Arts under the supervision of the l’Ecole Lenôtre. These days he’s Head Chef at Auckland’s Baduzzi, winner of 2 Hats in the Cuisine Good Food Awards 2019.

Over the last 20 years Juan has worked in restaurants, hotels and catering roles in USA, Spain, France, Sri Lanka, Argentina and New Zealand. He’s an experienced pastry chef which makes him an ideal judge for the NZ Chocolate Awards. Juan has worked in many of this country’s leading restaurants including Kermadec, The Grove and at Botswana Butchery, Queenstown. 

Ganesh Khedekar

Ganesh has worked in USA and New Zealand as a pastry chef and is currently working tutor at NZMA. He is a member of New Zealand Chefs High Performance Squad. He has won numerous awards at culinary competitions locally and internationally.

Jasbir Kaur

Jasbir (or Jaz, as she prefers,) has caused ripples around the world with her unique approach to cooking, encompassing every nationality.

Jaz has worked in top hotels and restaurants in five countries. From her roots as an event planner at the Renaissance Marriott Hotel Mumbai, Jaz also worked in Wales, (UK), Colorado, (USA) as a sous chef and South Carolina, (USA) as corporate travelling chef, Miami, (USA), Executive Chef .

She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Hospitality Management, a Diploma in Gastronomy, Diploma in Adult Education, Diploma in Psychology in Nutrition and recently completed a Diploma in Spanish Gastronomy at one of the top restaurants in the world.

An accompanied judge, Jaz has judged the San Francisco Culinary Expo and has been judging in New Zealand’s Regional and National culinary salon competitions for more than 10 years. She is currently Auckland regional president of Chefs NZ and General Manager of Ignite Colleges. 

Tamara Rubanowski

Tamara was born in Europe and moved to New Zealand 30 years ago. She is a passionate Foodie, has a Science degree from Auckland University, and is a member of Foodwriters NZ. She is Head of Content at FMCG Business and experienced industry awards judge, assessing everything from chocolate, to cheese and sausages.

Helen Jackson

Auckland based food writer Helen Jacksoin is a self-confessed chocolate lover. When not tasting and judging chocolate, Helen’s work includes curating her well known website www.foodlovers.co.nz, working as a food editor, cookbook author, radio co-host and cook.

Helen working life is immersed in food. Aside from her passion for food, Helen loves travel often spending her time away from home hosting food trips experiencing new cultures and cuisines. And in case you didn’t get it – Helen is a self-confessed chocoholic.

Fiona Smith

Fiona’s food career has taken her everywhere from authoring six cookbooks, working for the BBC’s Good Food magazine in London to managing a private chalet in the Swiss Alps.

Fiona returned to NZ in 2000 as a much sought after Food Stylist, styling for advertising, packaging and editorial along with food writing gigs including Senior food writer for Cuisine magazine.

She is an experienced food judge and was Head Judge of the Cuisine Artisan Awards for ten years. She has also been a regular judge in the Cuisine Good Food  Awards and the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards.

Ginny Grant

Ginny is freelance food stylist, recipe developer and a senior food writer for Cuisine magazine and contributes regularly to Stone Soup magazine.

She is a member of Food Writers NZ and has won culinary quills for both her recipe writing and food styling.

While her days of working in restaurant kitchens are well and truly over, she has worked at a number of high profile restaurants and cafes including London’s River Cafe, Wellington’s much loved Nikau cafe and Boulcott St Bistro.

 She is regular judge at a number of New Zealand’s food awards including Cuisine’s Good Food Guide, Silver Fern Farms Restaurant Awards, Devro NZ Sausage Competition, Beef + Lamb NZ’s Steak of Origin as well the NZ Chocolate Awards.

Patrice Lucas

Patrice has been following his passion for pâtisserie and chocolate since 1988; he started his apprenticeship in a local pâtisserie shop in the coastal city of Douarnenez in Brittany, France. For several years Patrice devoted himself to explore and improve his pâtisserie and chocolate skills. His career took him to work from a Caribbean cruise company to luxurious hotels around the world. Following a period in Melbourne, he moved back to New Zealand where he has been teaching for several years. He is a qualified World Culinary Judge and has several years’ experience judging and as a competitor. Patrice has achieved the Master of Patisserie and Chocolate certification( Brevet de Maitrise) from France.