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Thursday, March 24,2011

Cocoa love

Owner of new locally focused chocolate shop spills the beans

By Jefferson Dodge

Sarah Amorese is all about chocolate.

If it has cocoa, she wants it in her new Pearl Street store.

The Longmont native opened Piece, Love and Chocolate on March 11 — not only to offer her own chocolate creations, but a variety of locally made cocoa-containing products, both edible and inedible. Even organic and gluten-free ones.

Amorese’s culinary roots can be traced back to the goods that she used to deliver in her youth from her father’s in-house bakery. After initially pursuing a career in graphic design, the notion of becoming a chocolatier began to tug at her.

She married a chocolate-loving man who wooed and courted her with the stuff.

While living in Amsterdam, she had a boss who had a penchant for Belgian bonbons.

She visited Zurich, where Sprüngli made a truffle du jour that was only good for five days because it was made with fresh, unpasteurized cream.

“They’re hard to describe,” Amorese recalls, a smile spreading across her face. “You crack them, and the ganache explodes in your mouth.”

After returning to Boulder from Europe, she and her then-fiancé had a hard time finding an amazing chocolate wedding cake, so she realized there was an unmet demand, and she started making cakes for friends.

Amorese took a tour guide job at Celestial Seasonings, but as her side baking business grew, she decided to attend culinary school at the Art Institute of Colorado. Amorese went on to take coursework at the French Pastry School in Chicago and the Notter School of Pastry Arts in Orlando, Fla.

Amorese’s local service in the industry includes positions at the St. Julien Hotel in Boulder and the late Grand Finale Patisserie in Louisville.

Now, a couple of friends — and former bosses — from those jobs are working for her at Piece, Love and Chocolate. Genny Fetherston, who was the manager of Grand Finale, is Amorese’s pastry chef. Her official title is “cocoa coordinator.” Heidi Lewis, who managed the Celestial Seasonings tea shop and went on to launch the Science Store at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, is now the “gift guru” at the new establishment at 805 Pearl.

The store itself is an ode to all things chocolate. An artificial cocoa tree stretches to the ceiling, its white pods seemingly ready to drop and spill their beans, a display intended to show how cocoa grows.

“Part of what we’re about is education,” Amorese says. “We grew up with Hershey and Nestle, but we don’t really know what chocolate is about or where it comes from.”

On a bath- and body-product display, Lewis has compiled an array of dessert- and chocolate-themed gifts, from cocoa-butter soap to cocoa massage oil to cupcake-shaped washcloths. There are sugar scrubs in which crushed cocoa beans are the exfolliant, even a chocolate-infused olive oil and chocolate fettucini.

Amorese, a member of the local Eccentric Artists group, also displays the work of local artists in one corner, as long as the pieces have a dessert, chocolate or love theme.

Much of the furniture and appliances are re-used, acquired from the ReSource Yard — even the exhaust hood in the kitchen.

“There isn’t anything new in here except some of the cabinetry,” she says proudly, adding that even the tables come from the now-defunct café in the Boulder Public Library.

Then there is the chocolate. Large, intricate brown roses emerge from a vase near the display kitchen, where customers can watch chefs work and can buy mixes and cookbooks for making their own creations at home.

In addition to her classic “Life by Chocolate” cakes, which can be made gluten-free, Amorese plans to offer creations like a croissant made with chocolate pastry and a champagne truffle made with cognac.
Other local providers that can be found at Amorese’s shop include Robin Chocolates, Desiderio Chocolates and Truffles in Paradise, all of which are based in Longmont; Concertos in Chocolate of Gunbarrel; and, of course, Boulder-based favorites Chocolove and Justin’s Nut Butter.

Amorese says she offers a limited selection of organic chocolate treats, explaining that the demand for organic cocoa beans still exceeds the supply, making such products a bit pricier.

She describes herself as a “melter,” not a true chocolate maker, like Steve DeVries of Denver, who is a “bean to bar” artisan who buys his beans directly from the plantation.

Chocolate has a subculture, Amorese explains. Cocoa beans from the same grower can have varying tastes; “single-origin” beans come from a specific part of the plantation.

“It’s like wine,” she says. “You may have a cocoa and say, ‘That’s really earthy.’”

For Amorese, the passion is clear.

“There’s something romantic and beautiful about chocolate that everybody loves,” she says. “It’s all about chocolate. But what we’re really selling is love. It’s like Valentine’s Day every day of the year.”
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