Just a glance at Bella Sophia Chocolates Instagram page is enough to give a sense of what an amazing artist Steph Shafer is! Steph manages to offer great flavor, visual appeal and creativity to all her creations and embodies the qualities of an empowered woman as well! (Read on to find out Steph’s definition of an empowered woman).
Bella Sophia Chocolates was founded by both Steph and JD Shafer and was named after their daughter Bella Sophia. From making their own vanilla extract to using cacao from small family farms from the Dominican Republic, Peru and Ecuador when available, Bella Sophia focuses on quality ingredients to create their small-batch award winning luxury chocolates.
Steph Shafer of Bella Sophia Chocolates
Victoria Cooksey: How did you get started making chocolates/bonbons?
Steph Shafer: Making chocolates actually was by accident, it was not planned. I’m an artist and one evening I wanted to paint, however, my large canvas was too heavy for me to carry into the house, I had a piece of chocolate on the counter, so I decided to paint it for fun. I took a picture of the painted chocolate and posted it on Instagram and the next morning I had several people asking me where they could buy that chocolate. It was from there that I learned all about chocolate, where it comes from and how it’s made. I have always been in love with fine chocolate! I love everything about it, the texture, the taste, the smell, I love how it melts in your mouth, it’s so smooth and luxurious. I wanted this type of chocolate for my business, so I researched and created what I think is the best chocolate.
VC: What inspires your flavor combinations?
SS: As a self-taught chocolatier, my flavor development process is simple, I’m constantly thinking of different flavors that would go with chocolate, and then I just start to play with different recipes and see what works. These flavors are influenced by my many travels throughout the world borrowing flavors from different regions of the world and combining them with other regions to create a unique flavor or finding an old-world flavor that has been lost. I love to try new flavors and sometimes what I think would taste good in a dark chocolate actually taste good in a milk.
Bella Sophia Chocolates
VC: What is the most pleasurable thing about tempering chocolate? What is the most difficult?
SS: I love that smooth, shiny, silky movement of the chocolate on the marble table and of course the smell. Tempering is like a dance keeping the chocolate moving, manipulating the temperature of melted chocolate to make the cocoa butter crystals return to its former state. The hardest thing was learning the correct heating, cooling and stirring process, of course, this is so important as tempering determines the final look, gloss and hardness of your chocolate.
Steph Shafer with daughter Bella Sophia
VC: In some of your IG stories it looks like you have martial arts experience. How has experience from that crossed over to help you with running a business and making chocolate?
SS: Yes, I’ve spent the last 48 years in martial arts, it taught me my confidence, my loyalty, and my worth, courtesy, respect, integrity, perseverance and self-control. I’ve run a successful sports therapy business for 38 years so going into chocolate I have already had the foundation to draw upon and use all those traits to be able to operate a successful chocolate company.
Steph with husband JD Shafer
VC: Any tips on getting along well in regards of being a family run business and seeing each other at work?
SS: We have been married for 29 years, we are best friends, we do everything together, each of us has a different strength that we bring to the business. I believe the key to getting along well in any relationship whether it be personal or in business is to communicate well, respect one another and most of all laugh, laugh at everything!
VC: What has been the most challenging ingredient to work with and why? What ingredient is on your wish list to use?
SS: The most challenging ingredient to work with so far is the hazelnut for my gianduja. I hand roast, caramelize and hand grind. The challenging part is the hand grinding, I do this without a machine it takes a lot of elbow grease to get the nut into the perfect texture for the gianduja.
Ingredients that are on my wish list tend to come from items that are not available. One such ingredient was the Tonka Bean used in Europe and illegal here in the United States. I had a friend in Europe that was coming for a visit bring me some. I created several chocolates with the Tonka Bean which has a unique flavor that we are not used to here. I’m always on the lookout for something new or interesting to try, I’m always trying different flavors and ingredients to see what will work in my chocolate.
VC: You’ve posted a picture on Instagram of the word “Rise” being on the back of your chefs jacket. Be it a chocolate creation, or another aspect of your life, what inspires you to “Rise” above something not working out? What keeps you going?
SS: It reminds me to laugh at everything, to keep smiling, to keep hustling. I Rise no matter what, I Rise because I can, but most importantly, I Rise so my daughter can. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with CML Leukemia, of course, that was news that would set anyone back, but when you have responsibilities, to keep a roof over your head, a family to care for, you do what needs to be done, you get up and you Rise. I’m trying to set an example for my daughter that strong women get things done.
VC: What makes an empowered woman?
SS: Our voice and our actions. The confidence learned from Tae Kwan Do gives me the strength to do what I want to do without fear of failure. an empowered woman is one who thinks and speaks for herself, is independent, does things her own way, understands its ok to let go of anyone or anything that holds her back, not intimidated by men or other women, competition does not discourage her, the only competition she is in is with herself, she never stops learning and is always striving to grow as a human – she is a student of life, and most important, she would empower other women. She would not envy other women, she would, on the other hand, support them and enjoy their successes.
Bella Sophia Chocolates
VC: When you send your creations out into the world what do you hope for?
SS: I hope that our customers experience pure bliss when they taste my creations. I hope that our creations take the person back to an experience they had while traveling and tasted chocolate. I want them to remember that bite of chocolate for a long time.
VC: Any new upcoming projects you’d like to mention?
SS: One project we have been working on is a monthly chocolate of the month club. We hope to launch the monthly club in the next few weeks.
A couple of my projects this coming year are to visit the farmers from where we purchase our cacao, we want to get to know the producers, families, and the location where we source the cacao. I have been invited by my supplier of Matcha to visit Kyoto, Japan in May for the harvest of the Matcha fields, they were very excited that their Matcha paired with my chocolate won Gold and Bronze at the International Chocolate Salon. This will be such a great experience to see how Matcha is grown and harvested.
Steph and JD Shafer
Thank you so much for this interview Steph Shafer (especially at this extra busy time of the year)!
Bella Sophia Chocolates: