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.
Hans Westerink is a craft chocolate maker located in South Bend, Indiana. I have been lucky enough to have been able purchase his bean-to-bar chocolate in November at the NW Chocolate Festival in Seattle, WA. In my opinion, Violet Sky Chocolate features one of the loveliest chocolate bar packaging which is so colorful and often shiny which really makes it stand out, and Hans often uses unique inclusions in his bars as well. Read on to find out more about Hans!
What does rap, chocolate tours, dancing, running a business, teaching chocolate classes, and the Portland Chocoholics Meetup all have in common? Kara Hayes founder of Chocolate Pursuit, which offers craft chocolate tastings in tours in and around Portland. Grab some craft chocolate, put your feet up and read on to, as Kara would say, “melt into the experience”.
Luke Owen Smith of The Chocolate Bar in New Zealand puts together amazing bean-to-bar chocolate bars from all over the world for a monthly chocolate subscription box as well as leads chocolate tastings. As if that wasn’t enough, want to know what else makes Luke pretty special? Sometime ago he found out that I never had the chance to try Marou’s no longer available Treasure Island bar so he sent me a piece from the last bar he had in his personal chocolate stash! When I was trying to locate Chocolate Naive’s one-off bar made with sea buckthorn, The Chocolate Bar was the only place I could find it listed any longer and Luke added an extra one to his site just so I could order it. In fact, my full order arrived quickly and in great condition from New Zealand all the way to where I live in Port Townsend, WA USA.
Luke recently sent me his newest creation, a monthly Chocolate Tasting Course. The course includes 4 bite-sized pieces from 4 different tasty craft chocolates by makers from around the world. The first 6 months of the course feature a different lesson card each of those months, such as How to Taste Chocolate and the very first box includes a chocolate tasting notebook.
Read on for my mini-interview with Luke followed by pictures of his new Chocolate Tasting Course and my video on the course too.
The once London-based bean-to-bar chocolate maker, Beau Cacao, has recently made a big move! Known for using cacao from Malaysia, having super shiny chocolate bars, gorgeous packaging and the “Chocolate is Changing” motto, where and why did they move and how does this effect their chocolate making? What does “Chocolate is Changing” mean? Thanks to Bo San Cheung and Thomas Delcour of Beau Cacao you will find out all this and more below!
Most likely, if you have spent time in the craft/specialty chocolate world you have heard of, or often times had assistance, knowledge and overall mentoring from the one-and-only John Nanci of Chocolate Alchemy. John’s very first blog post on the Chocolate Alchemy website was posted on October 1, 2003. Now that’s a lot of chocolate making, experimenting and experience! Back when it was thought that there was no way chocolate could be made at home John Nanci thankfully didn’t listen and instead paved the way for people to make both chocolate at home as well as start up their own craft/specialty chocolate business. John continues to share his knowledge through his Ask The Alchemist posts. It just so happens that John is also a FCIA 2017 Lifetime Achievement award winner.
Chocolate Naive is a specialty bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Vilnius, Lithuania. Chocolate Naive has won several awards and Domantas was recently named 2017’s Chocolate Maker of the Year by Chocolate Uplift. After being a fan of Chocolate Naive’s bars, and communicating through direct messaging, I was pleased to met Domantas Užpalis in person at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, WA. Domantas is great at giving complete, one- on-one, attention which is sometimes rare these days. Even more recently I had the chance to interview him.
Domantas Užpalis of Chocolate Naive with Victoria Cooksey at the Northwest Chocolate Festival November 2017
Victoria Cooksey: How has your work with craft chocolate changed you? What changes have you seen in the craft chocolate industry since you started Chocolate Naive?
Domantas Užpalis:My former background is with IT and urban city development – nothing to do with food. So jumping into chocolate was quite a change and it did change everything. I have no official culinary education although I was always interested in what we consume and where our food comes from. I was and still am a proponent of the slow food movement and this is where it all started. My first encounter with slow food concept was through the making and selling of fresh farm-made dairy products and then I slowly shifted towards more sophisticated produce – chocolate. It has been almost 8 years since I became fully engaged with this multilayered product. Continue reading “Interview with Domantas Užpalis of Chocolate Naive with Victoria Cooksey”
If you are visiting Seattle, WA and want to know the best spots for chocolate and desserts then check out Jessica Tupper, the Seattle Dessert Geek. Between Jessica’s website, YouTube channel and Instagram account you will find a ton of useful information and dessert recommendations.
And now for the interview:
Jessica Tupper, the Seattle Dessert Geek
Victoria Cooksey: What inspired you to focus on desserts?
Jessica Tupper: Allergies! Well, kind of.
I started blogging way back in 2011, and back then I was covering more general stuff. (The first major food event I covered was Tales of the Cocktail). I took a break to graduate from grad school and when I got out I knew I wanted a niche. Thing was, when I was covering, all food my sensitivities had been making things tough. As in, I can’t eat raw tomatoes, cilantro, or be around any kind of cooked eggs. Makes it slightly hard to cover brunches out here. Continue reading “Interview with Jessica Tupper, the Seattle Dessert Geek with Victoria Cooksey”
Welcome to Part 2 of my interview with Shawn Askinosie of Askinosie Chocolate. This time we find out Shawn’s thoughts on how chocolate flavors change over time, Chocolate University, what chocolate means to him and more!
Victoria Cooksey: How does pressing your own cocoa butter from the same beans used to make your chocolate affect the flavor versus buying/using other cocoa butter?
Shawn Askinosie: The way this works in FDA packaging land, labeling land, is that, let’s say we have a 70% chocolate. Well, it’s 70% cocoa mass, and in our case it’s 30% sugar. The FDA doesn’t require the separation of the numbers between cocoa butter, or they don’t require a statement of the percent of cocoa butter as it relates to cocoa mass, they just say if there’s cocoa butter, then to list that in the ingredients; and so we often don’t know how much cocoa butter is in addition. Now let’s say we have, not just my chocolate bar, but anybody’s; and if there is cocoa butter added then it will absolutely impact the flavor if you’ve got cocoa beans and sugar which is added to enhance the mouth-feel of the chocolate and give it a smoother profile. Well it would be like saying the salad dressing that I’m putting on my wonderful salad of fresh produce that I bought at the farmer’s market down the street wouldn’t impact the flavor of the salad; well of course it would. It’s an ingredient in the salad. I mean, think about it. If we’re taking liquor from those same beans we just roasted that we are going to make that same chocolate with, now we’re making cocoa butter with that liquor; it’s going to have flavor components of that crop of beans, so it can’t not impact the flavor, so it’s important to us. We’ve always done it. Continue reading “Interview with Shawn Askinosie of Askinosie Chocolate Part 2 with Victoria Cooksey”