January 2019 Featured Chef(s): Bella Sophia Chocolates

December 31, 2018 8 min read

Clement Design® is known around the globe in the chef industry. We not only take pride in providing premium quality chef jackets, but also in the chefs who wear our amazing brand. From outfitting executive & pastry chefs to high-end restaurants, resorts & clubs nationwide, we love to see success stories from our Clement Design USA chefs and businesses.

Bella Sophia Chocolates are self-taught, award-winning chocolatiers who share a passion for art and fine chocolate. Bella Sophia Chocolates was co-founded and is run by Chef Steph Shafer and her husband Chef J.D.

The two love the fact that they can create edible artwork on their chocolates. Creating delicious chocolates that not only delight the eye, but also the palate. Chef J.D. and Steph create their own small-batch chocolates and fill them with custom recipes.

J.D. started out as a chef in a seafood restaurant before leaving to pursue a career in finance, Steph has been a sports massage therapist for 38 years and an abstract artist for 25. After pursuing other passions the two returned to their first love, creating something that brings people together: Chocolate Art! Bella Sophia Chocolates was created and named after the two's daughter in December 2016.

We are so excited to feature these two to start of January 2019, not only have we had some amazing interactions with chef Steph and J.D. but we've also had a chance to try their delicious creations. They recently took gold in the TasteTV awards in multiple categories such as "Top Spicy Chocolate, Top Chocolate Bar, & Top Caramel".

You know a bit about them and their success now lets jump in and get to know Chef's Steph and J.D. a bit more. Get a peek at what it takes to be successful in the chocolate industry, and learn about why Bella Sophia Chocolates choose to wear Clement Design! 

Q1: How were you introduced to chocolate and what is your personal favorite as far as flavor combinations go?

A: I was lucky to have parents who loved chocolate, but not the normal chocolate you find in the states. My parents always had real cacao for cooking, or drinking; it was all I had. Bittersweet chocolate; I loved it and grew a palate that appreciated it's texture and flavor.

When we had the chance to travel, one of the first places I had to stop by was the chocolate shops in Europe.

There is simply nothing better but to peer through the window of a European shop filled with shiny wrapped pieces of chocolate. The assortments of the different chocolates was absolute heaven.

In these places you'd find that chocolate actually tastes like chocolate, when you bite into a piece of white chocolate you actually taste the fresh créme. When you can smell the richness of the real cacao filling the shop's air, you know it's going to be pure heaven.

I have several favorites as far as flavor combinations go but my (Steph) personal favorite is simple dark chocolate infused with orange zest.

Q2: We have had the pleasure of receiving some of your chocolates here at our office in Saint Louis, Missouri. We got to try your bonbons as well as an amazing ghost pepper infused chocolate. What inspires the flavors you use when creating something new?

A: As a self-taught chocolatier, my development process is simple, I'm constantly thinking of different flavors that would go well with chocolate, and then I start to play with different recipes to see what works.

This is all trial and error, something that I think may go with dark actually turns out to be better in milk chocolate. I like to create outside-of-the-box flavors, so it's important that I share samples and get feedback from our friends and customers. 

I have a sweet tooth, so I believe everything goes with chocolate and this year I've been sampling with add-ins like Japanese spices, chipotle, sea salts, and matcha tea.

Q3: Are you a full-time chocolatier, what does your average day look like?

A: Two years ago, when we first embarked on this chocolate journey, we were both also working at our separate jobs.

After working around 14 hours a day, we would get home and start our second shift making chocolate. This was our stress reliever and we happily created different textures, flavors, and abstract art.

We would stay in the kitchen until we finished, which was around 2 a.m.

Today, we start our day in the kitchen around 6 a.m. painting molds. We like to introduce crazy designs, you just can't go wrong with abstract! I can seriously paint all day long, and some days I spend about 18 hours creating whatever comes to mind. 

I don't tend to overthink anything, I just paint and hope for that fabulous shine you get when you temper your cocoa, butter, and chocolate perfectly; it's like a fine-tuned engine. 

Now for chef J.D., while I'm playing with colors, he's focused on tempering the chocolate, by hand, it's such an art form. Watching that smooth velvety liquid chocolate gets turned over and over, it looks like a silk scarf flowing in the wind.

Once this process is done, we both take the helm, it's really a two-person job. We harmoniously fill the cavities with chocolate, tap out the bubbles, and let it set. We then add filling, cap, and continue for about 18 hours before packaging and wrapping boxes. For some it might sound crazy, but for us, we get to spend all these hours together creating, laughing, dancing, yes dancing (our kitchen is blaring music all the time). Be prepared to break out in a quick dance with us when you stop by our kitchen because it's chocolate, it's fabulous, and life doesn't get much better than that. 

We have been married for 29 years and working together is like a marriage. You work off each other's strengths, and when you're able to find the same passion for something, it makes life that much sweeter. 

Q4: Your chocolates, and packaging are so beautiful and unique. How do you achieve all of the wonderful colors on your chocolates and the amazing packaging they come in? Tell us more about your truffles as well! 

A: I have always loved painting, especially abstract art, there are no rules for it, endless boundaries of colors that lay down where they want. I paint to music always, I feel that the music helps guide my brush, it's not really me, but the rhythm of the song I hear. 

The brush strokes just happen, and with abstract, they just lie where they want. I don't ever fight the paint brush, I don't question it, and I tend not to over-think it, I just let it happen.

My inspiration for my packaging came from a trip to Japan, they wrap everything for you, and it's really exciting to get back to your room and unwrap it.

We use many layers of hand-painted Washi (a Japanese paper) processed by hand using local fibers, made the traditional way, some are hand painted like our bonbons. The packaging is a craft on its own, so we decided to learn the art of Japanese pleating, which is chef J.D.'s part.

He is simply amazing at it, I've (Steph) tried, but his patience is much longer than mine. Every detail from the tied bows to the crystals and the origami 5 pleats are all his. We like to support local artisans, so we've found a local paper artist to create our amazing Washi papers.

As far as our truffles go, we think they are amazing, and we are so happy that everyone loves them. We created them using traditional technique at first, with créme and butter, which we still love. However, we felt like that washed out rich cacao flavor from our chocolate. 

As a result, we sought out a different way of creating our truffles, so we wouldn't lose that dark chocolate flavor and texture. We cam across recipes made using water, and from what we knew water and chocolate do not go together. It's death to chocolate, be we are all about breaking rules and defying the odds.

We came across Chef Paul A. Young, who is a chocolate master. Chef Young was making water ganache, and I didn't question it, I just tried it.

Through this discovery and some trial and error, our award-winning truffles were born. They are simply amazing, and we make them using only two ingredients, water and cacao. It's a bit of a variation of Chef Young's original recipe, mainly because i couldn't find the muscovado sugar, so impatiently, I just made them without it, and love them.

Q5: What led you to wearing Clement Design chef jackets? Do you have any stories about how our jackets have helped you in the kitchen?

A: When I first started making chocolate, I burnt my arm roasting and realized why chef's wear jackets, to protect themselves from the elements.

For me, hot boiling ingredients like oils and hot molten caramel. I only wanted the best chef jackets I could find. I did want to look good, don't get me wrong, but mainly to protect my skin.

I had been following chef Kriss Harvey, who I'm a big fan of, and he was talking about his very own Clement Design chef jackets. So without question, both J.D. and I ordered our first jackets, two years ago.

Many bonbons later, this jacket holds up better than a 57 Chevy. Not only does it look fabulous on, but it has to stop molten caramel from singing my skin. The way the fibers are sewn, it doesn't allow liquids or fire to actually penetrate fast like other jackets. It gives you time to get it off before the burn happens.

I know this because I had to test it out recently when a hot bubble of sugar splashed out of the pan onto my arm, I didn't feel it. I simple peeled the cooled sugar off and kept working. 

In our kitchen, we will always wear Clement Design Chef Jackets & Shoes. There's certainly something to say about high-quality. The staff at Clement Design are super helpful and super friendly, and for that we will be loyal customers for life. 

As Bella Sophia Chocolates end their second year on Christmas Eve, they are very excited for 2019. The two will be introducing their new "Chocolate of the Month" subscription and a new quarterly blog called "Eat Dessert First". 

If anything, the success story from these two shows how hard work can pay off. Steph's love of chocolate and art pairs so well together with J.D.'s technical skill and passion for creating edible masterpieces. It just goes to show you how much hard work and passion plays into your success.

We are so grateful to have amazing customers like everyone reading this, as well as Steph and J.D. of Bella Sophia Chocolates.

With us being a small company of 4 here in the office, the types of wonderful interaction we have with delightful and professional Chef's like Steph and J.D. make providing the best chef wear in America worth every second. 

We truly hope everyone has a wonderful start to their New Year in 2019 and we hope you all stay tuned for the many wonderful things we have planned here at Clement Design going forth. We wanted to extend a "Thank You" to both Steph and J.D. for taking the time to answer our questions. If you'd like to know more about the two, and get your hands on some of their amazing creations, check them out! 

We'd love to read some comments! Let us know what you think about our monthly "Featured Chef Series" and leave a comment if you're interested in being featured next month! We are always looking to share your wonderful stories! Want to stay up to date with our blog posts and special offers and promotions? Sign up for our newsletter below. check out last month's featured chef Sylvain Marrari and be sure to follow our Featured Chef on Instagram for an exclusive 10% off discount you can only get directly through them! 

Once again, Happy New Year to all, thanks so much for joining us in 2018, we look forward to bigger and better things in 2019! 


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