Madison Chocolate Co. wins over a culinary legend
Alice Waters find her passion — in MCC’s Passion Fruit Caramel
Madison Chocolate Co. proprietor Megan Hile and her colleague, Bridgette Dodge, had already collected their 2020 Good Food Award in a ceremony the evening of Jan. 17 at the historic Herbst Theater in San Francisco.
They’d heard the celebrated food author Michael Pollan give a stirring keynote speech, and got to shake his hand.
Could anything top it?
The morning of Sunday, Jan. 19, the award winners — 207 in all, from 37 states, chosen from more than 2,000 entries — had an opportunity to sell their award-winning food at a public marketplace, located at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.
Hile and Dodge were at their booth, exhibiting the Passion Fruit Caramel confections that won them the 2020 Good Food Award, as well as their Ghost Pepper Caramel that won in 2019.
Suddenly a familiar face loomed in front of them: Alice Waters, chef, author and northern California culinary legend and an honorary host of the Good Food Awards.
It may have dawned on Hile and Dodge that they were a long way from Glenway Street, the Madison Chocolate Co.’s location, just off Monroe Street, since its May 2017 opening.
Waters paused, took a piece of Passion Fruit Caramel, and began to chew.
“When someone eats chocolate,” Hile said, recalling the moment last week, “sometimes they are a little mellow about it.”
This was not one of those times.
“She really enjoyed it,” Hile said, grinning. “I’m not kidding! Her reaction was awesome!”
Hile was still smiling when I caught up with her last week at the Glenway Street shop. She summoned Dodge from the back and we sat at a table near the counter. The two have been working together since 2014, when Dodge began interning for what was then Hile’s subscription-based, CSA-model chocolate business.
Hile is originally from Racine and came to Madison to study Spanish at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She has taught in the Madison and Verona schools and served in an administrative capacity as an interpreter.
Hile had an extended hospital stay in 2010, during which friends brought food and stayed to eat and visit with her. “It was healing,” Hile said, and got her thinking. She started a food blog that garnered some sponsorships. She’s always liked chocolate and enrolled in the Ecole Chocolat’s professional chocolatier program, which included a seven-week graduate internship in Ecuador.
With encouragement from RP’s Pasta founder Peter Robertson, Hile began making her own confections and immersing herself in the local chocolate community. By 2015, she had a business plan for a physical shop, but didn’t sign the Glenway Street lease until January 2017, opening four months later.
The Good Food Awards, presented by the Good Food Foundation, began a decade ago with a goal of honoring food that’s delicious, authentic and responsible. The ethical component is large.
“We really look at our ingredients,” Hile said. “If we find something that is better for the environment, we make a change.”
Hile was invited to judge the Good Food Awards a few years ago — bars, not confections — and again this year. The blind tasting for the 2020 awards was last September. Hile flew to California and spent a day sampling dozens of chocolate bars with the other judges in the category, cleansing her palate with rice crackers, looking for the right textures and flavors.
Hile found out in December that her entry in the 2020 confections category — the Passion Fruit Caramel — had won. Four other Madison businesses also won Good Food Awards on Jan. 17: JBC Coffee Roasters, The Quince and Apple Co., The Modern Candy Co. and Underground Meats.
I asked Hile and Dodge what makes the Passion Fruit Caramel so good.
“The flavor,” Dodge said. “It’s tangy and sweet at the same time.”
“And the chocolate it’s paired with is very good,” Hile added.
Naturally, I had to try a piece. I ate it walking up Glenway Street.
Alice Waters wasn’t wrong.
Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.
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