There is more to eating chocolate than just grabbing a Hershey bar at the checkout stand at the market. A lot more, like the fact that the cocoa industry is mired in slave labor issues and the quality of cheap chocolate is questionable because of corn syrups and chemical fillers. But satisfying your chocolate cravings is easy: just go to the new Sweet Paradise Chocolate shop in Wailea, where master chocolatier Melanie Boudar’s artful chocolate creations reside.
Inside the bright red walls, the shop is decked out with a full-size piano and red carpets. It’s hard to stand there and not to feel the romance of chocolate. In fact, I half-expected a winged cherub to fly down from the ceiling and pop a chocolate in my mouth.
When I walked in Boudar was decorating for Valentine’s Day by filling trays with red heart-shaped confections. The chocolate pieces are quite dry to the touch, they don’t melt instantly to your touch. Boudar said they’re room temperature stable and will last up to about three weeks in a cool place indoors–even in Lahaina!
When you bite into one, it’s the perfect chocolate moment. Seriously, there’s nothing like it. The harder exterior on the truffle gives way and the silky innards melt on your tongue. Then a tang of passion fruit, or a zing of chili, or a drop of citrus gently fills your mouth. Then another bite, and the exhilarating moment is over. You want more. You need more. Thankfully, Sweet Paradise is a melting pot of sweets: chocolate-covered mac nuts, body paints, bars and even gelato and sorbets.
Boudar’s affinity for chocolate has been lifelong, which is clear to see from the childhood image of her and her cousin eating frozen Milky Way bars that adorn the shop’s walls. But her ability to create some of the most decadent chocolates on the planet is more recent.
“I was in the jewelry business and I would travel to Belgium to buy diamonds where there is a chocolate shop on every corner,” Boudar said. “I got hooked.”
Soon, she was making chocolates for her bed and breakfast clients. Later, she sought formal training as a chocolatier. She also traveled to Belize and Venezuela to see the cacao farming process in action.
Cacao pods grow on the trees and must be harvested by hand. Then the pods are opened, revealing a white pulp with seeds on the inside. This is scraped out and fermented for a short time, and then the remaining brown beans are dried out to make raw cacao. Chocolate fans rarely see what the chocolate pod looks like, but Boudar has a larger-than-life photo mural on her wall so we can stay connected to this pleasure plant.
The influences of her jewelry background linger. Sweet Paradise confections and their packaging are as close to edible jewels as you can get. Intricate paintings, edible gold dust and precise, uniform shapes glint and bedazzle. Her Valentine Box is sheer bliss–Boudar says she crafted special flavors for the heart-adorned window box: red velvet, essence of rose, lavender honey, salt caramel, nipples of venus (champagne chocolate) and red heart passion fruit. In fact, Boudar can infuse passion fruit, pineapple, lavender, macadamia nuts and virtually any local island ingredients into her chocolate.
Boudar is as passionate about making her chocolates as she is about where she obtains the raw product. Which is good, because not all chocolatiers utilize fair trade chocolate: shortly before last Halloween, advocates called out Hershey for using slave labor cacao in their products.
“Chocolate is grown 20 degrees north or south of equator, and the largest producer of chocolate is Africa, but it is often not fair trade and may use child and slave labor,” Boudar said. “We source our raw products from Latin American countries that we know are producing fair trade beans.”
Sweet Paradise goes through about 150 pounds of chocolate a week. They can do chocolate fountains, events, and ship chocolate around the world. The shop also carries other local chocolate products like the Wailua Chocolate bar, which is made on Dole’s 18 acre cacao farm on Oahu.
“The flavor of Chocolate is affected by terroir,” Boudar said. “Cacao grown in Hawaii tends to have a fruity flavor. If you have tasted a smoky chocolate that is probably from Indonesia where they use smoke in the process.”
As for the price of chocolate, that relates to the health of the world’s cacao plants, which are very susceptible to disease. Boudar says there’s a current chocolate shortage, due to devastated crops and that have driven up prices. Most chocolate is grown in poor countries and they aren’t the quickest to respond to disease. It’s critical to save the different genetic varieties of cacao.
Sweet Paradise makes their chocolate at the Maui Tropical Plantation and plans to eventually grow cacao there. A Maui-grown chocolate is also in the works. But for now, you’ll have to get her chocolate in Wailea, where Boudar takes the sweet treats very seriously.
As I was walking out with a bag of chocolate booty, Boudar called out to me. “Don’t put it in the fridge,” she said. “I am an extremist. Some people eat them straight out of the fridge cold but I won’t do that.”
About Jen Russo
I write lifestyle and culinary columns for MauiTime. I love being a Maui girl and adore my big family. Dedicated food taster, blogger, internet fanatic, and Maui and Hawaii specialist.