A Local Chocolatier’s Script ….

January 31, 2012

Commonwealth Avenue resident Valerie Conyngham has an alter ego. It’s Vianne, the lead character and chocolatier from the movie, Chocolat. Valerie even named her company Vianne Chocolat in honor of that magical persona.

The Making of a Chocolatier

The script for Valerie’s own story opened as she graduated from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and moved on to a stint in the kitchen at Chez Henri where the pastry chef inducted her into the wonderful world of chocolate.

“I loved the process of it. When you’re by yourself doing it or just with one other person, it’s very meditative,” Valerie said. “I enjoy playing around with flavors.”

The next scene took place at a Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay event where she met another chef with a love of chocolate. “We decided to get together and do a chocolate jam session and it reignited my love of working with chocolate,” she said.

When her full-time job offered her a four-day work week, Vianne Chocolate was born with Valerie spending her Fridays at CropCircle Kitchen in Jamaica Plain creating and producing artisan chocolates.

Keeping it Local

Like Vianne in Chocolat, Valerie has been good for her community. She provides local shops like KitchenWares, Boston Olive Oil Company, and Beacon Hill Chocolate with a local choice for their customers.

One of her products, Pug Bars, raises money for the MSPCA. These are organic chocolate bars in the shape of six little pug dogs. It’s chocolate for people that helps pets. The owner of City Feed and Supply in Jamaica Plain told her these would be her best seller when he agreed to carry them. He was right!

Valerie shops locally for her ingredients, supporting other small businesses. The spices that add character to her filled chocolates are from Christine’s Spice Shop in Cambridge. Her cream comes from Shaw Farm in Dracut and the butter is Kate’s of Maine. She does casting calls at farmers’ markets for inspiring flavors. Go to www.viannechocolat.com for a list of her current creations.

Chocolate Workshops

Like many people with a passion for a subject, Valerie also teaches others about chocolate, holding workshops and parties to demonstrate the work of the chocolatier. Then, she turns the stage over to her students and directs them as they improvise their own box of chocolates to take home.

After a workshop at KitchenWare’s on Newbury Street, Back Bay resident, Liz McDonald said, “Valerie’s class offers the basics of chocolate making and she was more than happy to share her tips and sources… I gained great appreciation for the amount of work and artistry that fine chocolate making requires.”

Chocolate Tips

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Valerie offered guidance on buying and storing fine chocolate.

“The ingredient panel is your friend,” she said. “If you’re buying what’s being portrayed as a gourmet chocolate bar, it should only have cocoa butter in it.”  With that as the only fat, the rest of the list should be short.

“You want to store your chocolates at room temperature in a cool, dry place. Don’t put them in the refrigerator because chocolate soaks up other flavors. If you have a nice garlicky dish in your refrigerator, you’re going to get garlicky chocolate.”

A solid chocolate bar will keep for a year. Fine, filled chocolates like those from Vianne Chocolat, you’ll want to consume within four weeks. “I don’t use preservatives and I don’t use extra sugars to extend the shelf life.”

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