Leslie Berliant is one of those brave souls who did a 360 with her career and truly started making stuff with her hands after working with her head but her heart was always in the kitchen. I often hear busy executives fantasize about wanting to do something totally different from their corporate careers like opening a bakery, a food truck, raising goats or buying a little a bed and breakfast.... And many people do. When I met Leslie, we were high technology executives buzzing around Los Angeles at a fast pace riding the techonology boom. She was in recruitment and marketing raising a daughter. We did romp around Tuscany together and the South of France on foot with her six year old and she had a real flair for the French culture and felt right at home. Flash forward ten years later and we were both at the Sustainable Business Council Achievment Awards in Santa Monica during their sustainable food tasting before the awards. Leslie was presiding over a delectable batch of chocolate truffles offering diverse tastes from her line of Fair Trade chocolate truffles, Le Marais Chocolat. Here's her own personal story:
LESLIE BERLIANT: My Journey to Organic Fair Trade Truffles
I have been cooking, baking and candy making for as long as I can remember. From the time I started kindergarten, sometime around the middle of November, my mother would come in my room in the morning, feel my forehead, proclaim that I was too sick to go to school and for the next week I would stay home and help her cook and bake for Thanksgiving. In between batches of cornbread, brownies and my beloved bird’s nest cookies made with almond fondant, we would watch old black and white movies – preferably something with Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth or our favorite, Singin’ in the Rain. Like so many women, my relationship with my mother is complicated, but rolling out pie dough side by side or being allowed to check the fondant temperature with the glass thermometer for the first time make up some of my favorite memories of being together.
And in that process, I discovered that being in the kitchen was a wonderful outlet for me, from the jazz improv like creativity of cooking to the classical music precision of baking, it was a place of both science and art that suited my talents. I even had a vegetarian catering company at the tender age of 16 and more recently, spent a year cooking everything from scratch and blogging about it. And in the back of my mind was always a fantasy of becoming a chocolatier. There’s just something about chocolate truffles that combines the precision of formulation with the creativity of flavor combinations and speaks to those two sides of my brain.
Years ago, I began following a family tradition of making cookies and truffles at the holidays for my daughter’s teachers, our friends and family. As a single mom on a tight budget, it was something I could afford to do and people seemed to really appreciate it. In the process, I discovered that I had a knack for developing unique flavor combinations, like lavender rose, spiced almond and rosemary orange. I began reading all I could about chocolate. And when writing an article about cocoa cultivation and the environment, I was shocked to learn about the rampant use of child slave labor. It turned me into a devoted buyer - some would say proselytizer - of Fair Trade chocolate. An expensive, but very gratifying habit!
Then two years ago, my personal passions for Fair Trade chocolate, truffle making, and a desire to help after the earthquake in Haiti all came together. Among other fundraising efforts for the foundation program I co-founded to help in the aftermath of the Haiti Earthquake in 2010 - BLU MOON Foundation’s Haiti Orphanage Adoption Program (HOAP) - I began selling truffles to friends and family at the holidays as a way to raise funds. Those truffle sales, contributed to clean water installations, critical food and supplies, school uniforms for 50 kids and an orphanage renovation.
This last holiday season, friends, and friends of friends, started buying truffles in larger numbers - 60 here, 100 there, an order for 15 dozen to be shipped overnight to Texas - and repeatedly, people who didn’t need to be nice about it told me ‘these are better than (fill in a favorite high-end chocolate here). You should really do this as a business’. So I listened to them, spoke to my business partner in my marketing communications firm to make sure I had her blessing, and took the leap! I chose the name, Le Marais Chocolat, because the truffles are hand-crafted and made in small batches, so each one is unique and rustic, but also high end and delicious, kind of like my beloved Le Marais neighborhood in Paris - it’s artsy and funky with aristocratic roots. And so are some of our flavors like Black Walnut made with caramelized honey, Blood Orange, and our signature Le Petit Prince truffle made with the fruit of the baobab tree and rose petals.
Since starting the company in January of this year, I’ve had amazing support from friends and local retailers! Le Marais Chocolat has already had repeat online retail orders, is being carried at the Wine House and will be available at Vincente Foods starting March 23rd.
Now I’m hoping to get some support raising funds on Kickstarter for Le Marais Chocolat’s Fair Trade Certification. We already use all Fair Trade Certified organic chocolate and many other Fair Trade and organic ingredients, but I feel it’s important that we show our commitment by becoming a Fair Trade member and using the Fair Trade logo on our packaging. I have found that Kickstarter is a great way to involve people in a community around a common mission. In this case, that mission is to share the love of chocolate with the people that cultivate it, the communities where it’s grown and the people that savor it. It’s also to raise money for micro-organizations that don’t have access to big donors but are making a difference in people’s lives, so 20% of our retail sales will go to small charities.
Le Marais Chocolat is the culmination of a long standing dream and a lifetime of finding my bliss in the kitchen. Le Marais Chocolat is for chocolate connoisseurs like me that care about incredible taste, organic ingredients, fair trade practices, the environment and giving back--all in one little truffle!
A portion of every sale goes to the BLU MOON Foundation Haiti Orphanage Adoption Program (HOAP). Our truffles have helped put in water filtration systems, pay for an orphanage renovation, and cover the costs of food, supplies and school uniforms for orphaned and abandoned children in Haiti.
To learn more about chlidren, chocolate and slavery please see this clip to the powerful documentary shining a spotlight on child labor abuse in the commercial chocolate industry: