story by Christine Thomas
photo by Dana Edmunds
Deep in the Volcano rainforest, Melanie Boudar paints on an edible canvas. The master chocolatier pairs Venezuelan, Belgian, French and Hawaiian cacao with local ingredients like strawberry guava, starfruit—even Hawaiian chili pepper. Each flavor complements the other so that the spicy burn of crystallized ginger, for instance, never overwhelms the chocolate’s earthy notes. Boudar then hand-paints each truffle, transforming it into edible art you’d feel guilty demolishing if it weren’t so tasty. “I love the artistic expression in chocolate making,” she says. “Hawai‘i’s abundance of exotic fruits, spices and herbs is a chef’s dream-come-true palette.”
Boudar’s passion for chocolate was inspired by a major life change: Her thirty years as a traveling gemstone buyer and jewelry designer ended suddenly when her employer sold the business. Moving from O‘ahu to Volcano, she designed and built At the Crater’s Edge, a luxury B&B near the park. Hoping to set her inn apart with fresh chocolates for guests, she trained at the New York Culinary Institute and apprenticed with an artisan chocolatier. Now she hunts down rare ingredients for her chocolates just as she once canvassed the globe for prized stones.
“The shift to chocolate was easy for me,” she explains. “It’s much like creating small jewels … only edible ones.” Among her most precious are macadamia caramels drenched in Waialua chocolate and then dusted with ‘alaea (red sea salt); the 2008 Kona Chocolate Festival winner, “Madame Pele,” a volcano-shaped confection textured to resemble pahoehoe (ropy lava) with a “lava” center of 72 percent Valrhona Xocopili dark chocolate and chili pepper-singed raspberry purée; and an orchard of fruit truffles. Tempting as it might be to devour several in one sitting, she gently reminds that “they are designed to be a luxury you appreciate.”
Sweet Paradise Chocolatier