Many of you are aware — or should be — of Candy Industry’s annual Kettle Awards held each May during the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago. It’s what we call the ”Oscars of the confectionery industry,” an event hereby we honor individuals for their successes as well as contributions to this industry we all love so much. A select committee of confectionery industry suppliers selects the nominees, who then are featured in the magazine. Our readers vote for thier candidates and then the committee, upon review of the ballots and nominee credentials, selects a recipient. All is revealed at a gala reception held at the swanky Union League Club the first or second night of the show. 

Bernie Pacyniak

The magazine has been doing this for 68 years and the list of recipients and nominees reflects the U.S. confectionery industry’s creme de la creme.

What some readers may not know is that there’s a European equivalent. Dubbed the European Candy Kettle Club (ECKC) the organization also consists of suppliers to the industry as well as members of the media. Our own Dee Wakefield, Candy Industry’s European marketing manager, is vice-president of the group and the force behind organizing the annual event.

But unlike our event, which is wonderful evening bash, the ECKC does its over a period of three days, which includes a meet’n greet dinner, a plant tour, a mega reception, and a final farewell tour of the city and sights. In addition, the venue changes each year — depending upon where the recipient is based. Consequently, one year it could be in Istanbul, the next in Berlin, the following in Zagreb.

As you can imagine, organizing this kind of a event is no small feat, but each year, Wakefield manages to do an extraordinary job, regardless of the language, culture or personalities involved.

This year, Majlen Fazer, director of the chocolate division of Helsinki-based Fazer company was chosen as the ECKC’s recipient. And, this year, I also had my right knee replaced, in an operation taking place Aug. 2, just over a month before the event. Those of you who have seen me hobbling knew it was long overdue.

The timing, of course, could have been better, since I wasn’t sure whether I could physically travel less than six weeks after the procedure to Helsinki. Luckily, my surgen, physical therapist and, now, out-patient therapy have been great. 

Not wanting to miss this opportunity — I’ve been to every ECKC event since I joined Candy Industry — I made the decision about three weeks ago to attend the event despite the fact that I was still recovering.

Well, I’m happy to say I made it to Helsinki. For openers, this was the first time I have flown since getting titanium pieces placed into my body. Having never given a thought about what happens when those metal detectors find some of your body parts explosive, I now can offer some advice: Find the security line with the full body scanner. Otherwise, you get a full pat-down — and I mean ”full”.

You know it’s personal when the TSA officer has to explain what he’s going to do to you before he does it. The fellow was almost apologetic about it, explaining that I don’t have to through this process ever again if I just choose the full body scanner next  time. Lesson learned. 

European Candy Kettle Club
Dee Wakefield, Candy Industry's European Marketing manager, at least year's ECKC event. 

Luckily, on the flight, I had an empty seat next to me, which allowed for some additional stretching. Those of you who fly overseas — and I’m referring to those who are in economy —know the value of a little extra elbow room.

There is one smart thing I did do on this flight, I asked for wheelchair assistance upon landing in Stockholm, and then continuing on to Helsinki. Anyone landing in Stockholm who is flying in from Chicago has one heck of a walk to get to the main terminal area.

Thanks to a wonderful young woman who seemed to be on skates, or perhaps even skis, she slalomed us through crowds in no time to get me to the SAS lounge for a two-hour layover before continuing onto to Helsinki. And while Helsinki is a much smaller airport, I still appreciated the opportunity to rest my knees before picking up my luggage.

 So yea,  I made it to Helsinki on my wounded knee and all. I look forward to chatting with Majlen Fazer and revisiting the facilities, which I toured in late 2007. And I’ll be sure to report any additional ”kneedy” adventures as well.  

► Related: European Kettle 2012: Birol's Big Bash on the Bosphorous