It comes as no surprise that Maria Valente – owner of Chocolations, a chocolaterie in Mamaroneck – is a huge fan of the movie “Chocolat.”
“Oh, yes, yes, yes,” she said. “I watch it to inspire myself.”
And like Juliette Binoche’s sensuous Vianne Rocher, who seduces a rather prim French village with her delectable confections, Valente has a knack for correctly guessing which sinfully sweet, meltingly creamy bonbon is your favorite.
So amid the white, milk and dark chocolate bark she set out when WAG visited her shop for coffee recently, Valente offered up some of her special sweet potato truffles for us to try.
Heaven. Rapture. Ecstasy.
More important, though, Valente is like the movie’s heroine in that her chocolate shop is a place of community, one from which entrepreneurial women like herself can draw strength.
“My dream is to help other women get started,” she says, much like the lifeline and push she got from a $10,000 Eileen Fisher grant and a 15-week course at the Women’s Enterprise Development Center (WEDC) in White Plains. When Valente thanked Fisher at a luncheon the clothing designer gave for grant recipients at her Hudson River home, Valente told her that she was running on empty before securing the funds. And Fisher in turn recalled a time early in her career when she, too, faced a zero balance only to receive a check for $300 for work she had done some time before. Some things are signposts of what is meant to be.
Valente, who grew up in the Eastchester-Scarsdale area, seems to have been destined for chocolate.
“My mom was always a great baker,” she says. “I can remember we went to a bakery in the Bronx (one Easter), and they had these chocolates on display. And my mother bought each of her daughters one of the fine chocolates, each one a different animal shape.” (Valente got a hen.)
Soon Valente was buying chocolate and baking with it. One of her sisters began making chocolates for sale but ultimately moved on. With two small children, Valente made chocolates at home for sale while working other jobs and even attending law school. (“Hated it,” she says.)
Chocolate kept singing its siren song. So Valente studied at The French Culinary Institute, now The International Culinary Center, in SoHo as well as WEDC.
“Then finally I got the nerve with very little money – very little money” to open a shop on Mamaroneck Avenue in Mamaroneck. That was five years ago.
Three years later, the shop relocated to Boston Post Road. The place is a bright, comfortable affair – all chocolate and cream colors – with inviting armchairs and tables, specialty shelves and glass display counters revealing Valente’s versatility. While there is every kind of chocolate treat imaginable, made on the premises, Chocolations is known for its truffles.
At Chocolations, there are 40 varieties of truffles, with Valente rotating flavors in and out seasonally. (Hello, peppermint and gingerbread.) There’s even a beer-infused truffle sure to be a hit on game day.
Valente uses American chocolate – preferring its “brighter, fresher” taste to that of European chocolate – along with thousands of molds for unusual creations. She once made a chocolate mold of a man’s face and a 10-pound chocolate “sand castle” that cost more than $500.
And what of erotic chocolates?
“I’ve been asked, but I don’t make them,” Valente says. With young women working in the shop, the mother in her, she says, draws the line there.
Besides, there’s plenty to choose from at Chocolations, which is about so much more than chocolate. From noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Saturdays, there’s afternoon tea, a collaboration with Leslie Allick of the former Lola’s Tea House in Pelham. (Chocolation’s furnishings are from Lola’s.) In January, there will be biscotti as well, courtesy of Cathy Schauber.
It’s yet another example of women helping women, just like in “Chocolat.”
Now if only Johnny Depp would walk through the door.
For more, call (914) 777-3600 or visit chocolations.com