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Hand-Made, Mass Produced

Theo Chocolate walks a fine, sugary line

Fremont-based Theo Chocolate was founded on values of fair trade, organic ingredients and adventurous flavors. Their artisanal sweets feature ingredients like scotch, burnt sugar and Ceylon cinnamon. Their kitchen has collaborated with esteemed West Coast chefs to devise outlandish—and delicious—delicacies that incorporate basil, beet pâté and green peppercorns. Each of their products is hand wrapped or hand decorated.

Theo exists on a rarified plane, and yet its chocolate is available across the U.S., a shining example of idealism gone mainstream. Kitchen manager Joanna Lepore describes a luxury product that’s “mass produced but very technical.”

Via strong ties to Seattle’s creative community, Theo balances indie cred and national distribution, artistry and technique. Witness Lepore’s stage performance with prizewinning poet Karen Finneyfrock at last year’s City Arts Fest (“To hear the audience gasp as I was pouring the chocolate was an epic moment I didn’t anticipate,” Lepore says), plus Theo’s ongoing salon series with local food writers, begun in November with Amy Pennington (Urban Pantry) and continued in January with Maggie Savarino (The Seasonal Cocktail Companion).
“It’s important to make these forays into the Seattle food and art world, because you can buy our chocolate at Bartell,” Lepore says. “We have to bridge the gap.”

Stemming from her work with Finneyfrock, Lepore has set her sights on chocolate as an artistic medium—formed into votive candleholders with LED lights, for instance, or elaborate centerpieces. “Which isn’t a new thing; the techniques we’re developing here are rooted in traditional techniques,” Lepore says. “But for us it’s important that it’s still a whole food when we do it. We’re trying to keep integrity in it.”

Think Outside the Box: Give chocolate while avoiding cliché

Tips from Joanna Lepore

Slow down the eating experience. Buy a box of chocolates for someone but don’t tell them what’s inside. They have to taste each one and guess. Or pair a chocolate bar with a bottle of wine and talk about the pairing. Tasting the chocolate and spending time with it—and the person you’ve given it to—that’s way more compelling.

If you wanna be brave with chocolate, re-tempering it and making different shapes with it is a fun activity. Buy a mold and use it. Or melt down the chocolate and dip things in it. Or you could make a whole tabletop creation—be creative with the table arrangement. Break up the chocolate into pieces and have it be part of your design scheme. It’s beautiful to look at.

Photo by Nate Watters.

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