there is a chocolatier in this town...

There is a chocolatier in this town, and you really don’t want to miss her. A couple of months ago, I had the chance to visit CocoaBistro - Audrey Brown’s artisanal chocolate shop - and sample some of the goods.

Below are some of my impressions of this meeting, first published in a series of photo features on Facebook.

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In her past career, Audrey Brown was a speech pathologist. She helped stroke patients relearn to speak. One day Audrey was sitting down with such a patient when suddenly she felt a stabbing in her eyes. It came and went, and she thought little of it. At some point, the client was asking Audrey to call for help, and Audrey obliged, dragging her now-paralyzed leg to phone the doctors. She didn't realize, however, that she was calling about herself: she’d lost her insight. She'd had a stroke.

The risk factors weren't there, so she chalks it up to life stress. And thinks of it as a big ol' wake up call. Fast forward to today, and we've got a very great thing happening in this city: CocoaBistro.

Audrey greets me at her door with a big friendly smile. The moment I set foot in her chocolate kitchen, it smells of rich warm cocoa. There is a vat of molten chocolate spinning inside a tempering machine, and chocolate shavings everywhere. A pail of forlorn chocolate Easter bunnies sits in one corner – waiting to be re-melted. Nothing goes to waste here.

As one of only few artisanal chocolatiers in town (and to my mind, the best), Audrey's got orders coming in from every which way. She dreams of acquiring a certain Italian chocolate-making-machine the same way I dream of a Swiss superautomatic espresso machine: with a twinkle in the eye and a "one day, maybe" type of half-consolation. It would certainly simplify life, but for now, she settles for doing things the old fashioned way – elbow grease and love. Chocolate flies off the mould as she bangs it over the table to get the bubbles out. Her denim apron covers the CocoaBistro T-shirt, and an adorable “TaylorMade” black hat completes the look.

Audrey isn’t just a fantastic chocolatier. She’s a fantastic person. She’s warm and funny, and she makes enough animated gestures to make me feel right at home. She’s Lithuanian, she tells me, to justify the talking with the hands. Well, we Bulgarians talk with our hands, too, so I relate. We strategize about how she can use her ‘mental palace’ to remember where she’s put things: the stroke’s affected her short term memory, she says. Well, stroke or no, the number of chocolatey items Audrey has to juggle and remember is pretty astounding.

After watching her work her magic for a little while, I naturally assume Audrey was a chemistry whiz in school. This artisanal chocolate business is part art, part science. But no, she says. She didn’t take chemistry in school. Her counsellor told her that she’d be no good at science. He suggested she’d do something more suitable. Like being a typist.

Audrey does impeccable airbrushing work on some of her chocolates. It looks so good, people think they're marbles. She generously sends me home with a box of her assorted works of chocolate art, and I admit that I hesitate a long while before biting into them. My husband and I savour the flavours. They are the best chocolates he’s ever had, he reflects, while I’m busy nodding and devouring another one. We have to be mindful to leave some for the children...

Audrey’s art is ephemeral. It is meant to be created and then destroyed, though in the most pleasing way possible.

In addition to the box of CocoaBistro chocolates, Audrey send me home with a calendar of gorgeous moody floral paintings. The artist is Kristyna Baradinskas, Audrey’s sister. It seems art runs in the family.