Event - Valenza Chocolatier Launch Party

How I first heard of Valenza Chocolatier was through Facebook - I had spotted delectable pictures of Amy Jo (Valenza) Pedone's PB+C Easter eggs online with the note that they were available to be ordered for the holiday. Knowing that Duc has an obsession with peanut butter, I knew I had to get a hold of these beauties and meet with the new chocolatier on the block. What I didn't know was just how enthusiastic and passionate Amy Jo was and how mouthwatering her sweets were. When I first met her, I knew I'd be a fan; the invitation for the launch party received a quick "YES" from me. It was thrilling to see someone officially launch her own business. Congratulations to Amy Jo and thank you for inviting us to share your special day with you! Beware, dear readers: drool-worthy pictures below.


The launch party was held at The Hood Kitchen Space, an innovative space located in Costa Mesa that allows small businesses and cooks to rent kitchens hourly/daily. This allows the culinary creatives to successfully accomplish their one-off events/projects or even have a space to make food without needing a storefront. Valenza Chocolatier is in the latter category - without a brick-and-mortar space at the moment, Amy Jo's business will thrive from social media and online sales for now before eventually moving to wholesale and retail venues. We walked in through the front of The Hood (party in AJ's hood!) and paused to check out the unique, customizable packaging options on a table and grab our goody bag. You'll have to talk to her about your gift goods because those chocolates were so beautifully presented, the art was a gift in itself!


Tremendously spoiled, we walked into a small room that had nine different chocolate treats laid out on the counter (and plenty of water on a separate table for us to wash down the sweetness with!). Amy Jo must not have thought that the chocolates were tantalizing enough in themselves (but they were) because she also displayed the deconstructed candies with their signage as appropriate per type. I loved the set-up because not only could guests read what was encased in each piece of sweet goodness but they could see the raw ingredients that went into the morsels.

We started with the bonbons: Espresso, Limoncello, and Spumoni. Hands down, our favorite of these three was the Espresso for its rich espresso taste, dark but well-matched chocolate, gritty (in a good way) ground Illy Italian gourmet espresso, and overall silky ganache. The Limoncello teased at being zesty but combined with a white chocolate ganache infused with lemon peel and zest, it came away very smooth and hinting at the citrus liqueur. As for the Spumoni, how could you even think of putting such a jewel in your mouth with its brilliant, glimmering sheen? It looked more fit for decor than for gnashing its ganache between your teeth. Yet, skipping it would have been a shame as its dual layers paid true and apt tribute to the Italian dessert. Bronte Sicilian pistachios used in the white chocolate ganache layer sat beautifully incorporated atop the amaretto dark chocolate ganache at the bottom; both flavors danced a delicious duet in my mouth as they married each other in a creamy, culinary ceremony during consumption.


The bars came next: Bourbon, PB+C, and Sesamo. I had seen pictures of the bourbon one prior to the event but finally got a chance to take a bite. It was hard to pick a favorite amongst these three as they were all great in their own right; if I had to choose though, I'd opt for the Sesamo while Duc's was the PB+C. The Bourbon bar had been splashed with a sexy red, calling eaters to stay a little classy and perhaps accompany the chocolate with a neat glass of the spirit itself. A 61% Venezuelan dark chocolate shell gave way to Maker's Mark bourbon ganache, heavy enough in alcohol to leave us wanting to sit back in a leather armchair and talk economy. The PB+C so artfully splattered in white not only visually brought memories of childhood back (who else makes such a painting mess?) but also filled our mouths with the all-familiar creaminess of the dear treat of peanut butter. The kicker in this 100% organic peanut butter delight was the sprinkling of Sicilian sea salt that gave the PB a slight edge and fulfilled any salty craving. My favorite, the Sesamo, recalled another bit of childhood memory for me but from the Asian side of the spectrum because I have enjoyed treats heavy with sesame seeds. Roasted and dusted with Sicilian sea salt before being combined with chocolate, the sesame chocolate provided a rich and powerful taste and speckled texture. I loved the flavor flooding my nostrils and mouth as I let each bar piece melt on my tongue. Perfection in its own nostalgic way.


But alas, we were not done yet! We came upon the trio of confections next: the Fig, Turtle, and Caramello. The Fig was something Amy Jo had talked to me about before but which I didn't have the opportunity to try until the event; it had sounded heavenly because I adore figs ever so much. For these, Calimyrna figs were used - they were stuffed with roasted almonds and lemon peel, baked, and then encased in 61% dark chocolate. Sounds fantastic, right? The sweetness of the fig paired oh-so-well with the darkness of the chocolate shell. Add that to the baby crunches of fig seeds and nuttiness from the almond, and you have yourself a winner. While the other two were great in their own right, our favorite was the famous Turtle. It makes sense how this was the confection that got Amy Jo started in the business of making more chocolate treats and an award winner in the 2012 Orange County Fair Culinary Arts Confections category. The adorable turtle-looking creations were made of roasted pecan legs, smooth caramel, and 61% Venezuelan dark chocolate. With a toasty crunch from the pecans and a string of caramel dribbling out with each bite, it was practically perfect. The last (but not least) in the line-up was the Caramello, a simple and familiar chocolate but with the twist of being graced with Fleur de Sel sea salt on top. Unlike many commercial caramels, this one did not stick tackily to my teeth but gave just enough yield to remind me that it was caramel. It then melted away by the temperature inside my mouth, how a caramel should be.


Let's not forget the real reason for this post though - the launch! Wipe the drool off of your keyboard, and remember that you now have the fantastic opportunity to make your chocolate dreams come to life by ordering from Valenza. The chocolate gorging started after the elated Amy Jo completed the official ribbon cutting and received certificates from the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce for being a helpful addition to the community. I'll say! She's here to save our sweet tooth cravings. The Certified Chocolatier from the Ecole Chocolat Professional School of Chocolate Arts is an inspiration in her own right for following a passion. You may wonder what prompts such an accolade; well, my friends, this is Amy Jo's first venture into the foodie world professionally. She was previously a Commercial Real Estate lender for thirteen years and in no way connected to chocolate save for the occasion turtles she would make for friends and family. However, with a turn of life events and armed with a 40-year-old recipe for success (via the family's turtle recipe), Amy Jo has proven that with a little elbow grease, you can find and pursue what makes you happy. My congratulations again to Valenza Chocolatier for officially being "open" for business, and good luck in the coming years! I know I'll be a constant, familiar face to your chocolates.

Photography by Duc Duong. More photos are available on Facebook.