Breaking for a moment from regularly scheduled literary programming, here’s a short piece I wrote for the current issue of Hana Hou Magazine on a Volcano-based master chocolatier whose confections I can’t say enough good things about (also thanking the stars that she’s opening a store on O`ahu in the coming weeks). Take a peek:

Semiprecious Confections
By Christine Thomas
Hana Hou Magazine, Aug/Sept 2008

Deep in the Volcano rainforest, master chocolatier Melanie Boudar paints on an edible canvas. She pairs the finest Venezuelan, Belgian, French and Hawaiian cacao with unusual local ingredients including strawberry guava, starfruit—even Hawaiian chili pepper. Diverse as they are, each flavor is expressly selected to complement the other, so that crystallized ginger, for instance, never overwhelms the innate terroir notes of a particular chocolate. Boudar then hand-paints each truffle, transforming them into edible art you’d feel guilty demolishing if they weren’t so tasty. “I love the artistic expression in chocolate making,” says Boudar. “Hawai‘i’s abundance of exotic fruits, spices and herbs is a chef’s dream-come-true palette. Then, creating a signature look for each flavor becomes the artistic challenge.”

Boudar thrives on challenges. Her passion for chocolate was inspired by a major life change: Her thirty years as a traveling gemstone buyer and jewelry designer ended suddenly when her employer sold the business. Boudar seized the opportunity to pursue a new dream. She moved from O‘ahu to Volcano, where she designed and built At the Craters Edge, a luxury B&B near the park. Hoping to set her inn apart with fresh chocolates for guests, she trained at the New York Culinary Institute and apprenticed with an artisan chocolatier. Now she hunts down the finest chocolate and local ingredients for Sweet Paradise just as she once canvassed the globe for prized stones.

“The shift to chocolate was easy for me,” she explains. “It’s much like creating small jewels … only edible ones.” Among her most precious are Macadamia caramels drenched in Waialua chocolate then dusted with ‘alaea (red sea salt); the 2008 Kona Chocolate festival winner “Madame Pele,” a volcano-shaped confection textured to resemble pahoehoe (ropy lava) with a ‘lava’ center of 72% Valrhona Xocophili dark chocolate and chili pepper-singed raspberry puree; and an orchard of fruit truffles.

Boudar’s innovative creations, crafted from only top quality, all natural ingredients, are a rarity in the Islands, but as tempting as it is to devour them in one sitting, she gently reminds that “they are designed to be a luxury you appreciate.”

Sweet Paradise Chocolates