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Araya Artisan Chocolate

Handcrafted Houston chocolates made with single-origin and master blends from Venezuela

DSC 8082Smiles always mattered for Giusseida Sicoli, the dentist turned owner of
Houston’s Araya Artisan Chocolates. She’s just created them in wildly varied
ways.

It’s so
different from a patient showing up in pain or not liking something. Everyone
is happy when they walk in now, and they leave happier. It’s very gratifying.
Even I am made happier,” she said.

Venezuelan-born, the confectioner keeps high-quality,
premium-grade Venezuelan chocolate at the heart of her candy studio, but that
improbable fate developed slowly.

As a girl,
Giusseida was unmoved by chocolate treats and often left hers untouched.
Today she adores them. At Araya Artisan Chocolate, she serves Houston (and
the globe, by mail) chocolate bars, beautifully crafted chocolate gift boxes,
truffles, and slices of fruit bathed in a silky coat of delicious brown
delight. 

“I always
tell customers that maybe when my kids are older I’ll open a dentistry office
and give them 20% off,” she joked.

If they held
her to it, she’d have quite a waiting list. Araya Artisan Chocolates are not
just popular with the community. They’re in demand with corporate clients
nationwide who prefer customized work. Banks, law firms, insurance companies,
Fortune 500 companies, and even professional sport teams and leagues have
patronized the chocolatier. And while serving gifts for teams, employees, and
vendors keeps the shop busy, local customers are deeply treasured.

DSC 7951Birth of a Chocolatier

In
Venezuela, a young Giusseida was often found at her father’s bakery, chatting
and enjoying the customers. The communal feeling was mutual, but if guests
brought her chocolates as small gifts, they missed the mark. Giusseida had no
taste for them. “I would try to resell them,” she told us, laughing.

Years later,
she learned to appreciate the fruits of her country’s farms from half a world
away. She became enamored with the delicacy while living in Switzerland. As
she visited beautiful Swiss chocolate shops, she noticed how the most prized
chocolate came from her home country. Every shop had a little Venezuelan flag
to let visitors know where they sourced. Chocolates from elsewhere were often
mixed with Venezuelan stuff to impart an extra special touch. As she
explored, Giusseida found that Venezuela was a symbol of purity and
high-quality cacao. Chocolate became her future.

Now settled
with her husband and three children in Houston, she’s spent three years at
the helm of Araya Artisan Chocolates, having purchased it from previous
owners. With recipes expertly crafted by lauded chocolate master Maria
Fernanda Di Giacobbe, Giusseida faithfully maintains them. Customers thank
her by returning. One client picks up 20 champagne truffles every two weeks,
flying them privately to her ranch in West Texas, said Giusseida.

Heat and
Habanero

Regular
Araya guests drew Giusseida in. They gave her advice on which sweets to try,
each a 
favorite for a different customer. They also guided her as the
new owner, when she turned down opportunities to save money on recipe tweaks
– featuring a different bourbon for that chocolate truffle, for instance –
based on feedback from those long-standing patrons. For all the right
reasons, the recipes created by the Basque Culinary World Prize winner Di
Giacobbe stayed the same. With one exception.

“When I
arrived, the Mango Habanero chocolate was not spicy”, she said. Having grown
up in Venezuela and also lived in Mexico while studying advanced
orthodontics, Giusseida found this puzzling. Anything that says habanero
should have some spice, she thought. Only three of the spicy peppers were
going into the recipe for that particular bonbon, she found. After some
experimentation, she dialed it way up. The batches now receive ten habaneros,
with quite a lot more kick as a result.

“It’s a
little flavor bomb,” said Giusseida. You taste the salt first, then the
sweetness of the mango and cream, and finally, the kick of
spice.

That
exception became the owner’s favorite flavor out of many adventurous pieces
of chocolate made by her shop. They include a best-selling White Chocolate
Passion Fruit, Chipotle, and a Hazelnut Praline bonbon. Vegan flavors like
dark chocolate Strawberry Balsamic and Bourbon and Cherry persuade any food
lover, and slices of pear, orangettes, ginger, and mango enrobed in a sleek
coat of chocolate coax the tired palate back to life.

Bonbons,
Best Sellers, and Babies

Only honey
and agave will do. Giusseida emphasizes the choice not to add sugar to the
chocolate she molds into precious and artistic bites, bars, or anything else.
Only the Salted Caramel pieces, she said, use added sugar because they have
to, for the caramel to form. Further, no additives or preservatives are found
in Araya Artisan Chocolate. The product and the quality of the ingredients
speaks for themselves.

Not too
sweet or too bitter, the best bite of chocolate leaves the palate feeling
clean, explained the Venezolana. The mouthfeel can be found in seasonal
flavors like Guava, Pina Colada, and Mojito during summers. It holds for
holiday flavors of Eggnog, Peppermint, and Gingerbread & Pecans. For
Valentine’s Day, look for Strawberry Champagne and

Cherry Cognac.

“We’re
macerating them now in December,” she told us when we spoke. Mother’s Day
treats include Rosewater and Bluegrass Tea, with other herbal flavors like
Earl Gray, Chai Spice, and Moroccan Tea expanding the offerings.

Araya ships,
too. Nationwide and international orders arrive from as far away as
Australia. For those who are local, Giusseida offers a word of advice.

“I always
say, ‘Treat chocolate like a baby. You have to take it out of the car. You
don’t leave your baby in the car and you don’t leave your chocolate in the
car.’” Temperature control is key. Call it an insider chocolate-lovers tip
from a woman who learned that the small luxury was an experience she could
build a life around.

1141 Uptown
Park Boulevard, Suite 00

Houston, Texas 77056

(713) 960-0850

1575 W Grand
Parkway, Suite 1000

Katy, Texas 77494

(281) 395-1050

Arayachocolate.com


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