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Sheila Kearns shares handmade decadent chocolate with the public out of her new downtown SLO shop 

Sheila Kearns floats out of the kitchen of her chic and sleek Parisian chocolate boutique wearing a classic white coat and gloves, holding a gold tray of bonbons de chocolat: vibrant lavender cones, distinctive square caramels topped in one corner with dark sparkles, sought-after chocolate-covered cherries, and diminutive heart-shaped chocolates dusted with gold.

click to enlarge RUNS IN THE FAMILLE  Sheila grew up making chocolate. She learned the art of chocolaterie from two Parisian aunts: a chocolatier and a pastry chef. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF KELLEY WILLIAMS PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Photos Courtesy Of Kelley Williams Photography
  • RUNS IN THE FAMILLE Sheila grew up making chocolate. She learned the art of chocolaterie from two Parisian aunts: a chocolatier and a pastry chef.

Her blue eyes and long lashes are sparkling. She is the Good Witch from Oz, and I'm enchanted.

I was already smitten with Kearns' great taste: the brick walls with arched windows and doors, the European-style blue outdoor awning. White shelves of chocolate gifts. Fresh flowers and soft French music. The chocolate salon felt like Paris, but Kearns and her staff welcomed me so warmly and generously, this could only be home in SLO. Many of her customers are regulars and locals—the word is already out that visiting Kearns' place is a luxurious experience to be shared.

Kearns wanted me and a visiting couple to try something special she'd just made and had only a few left—a PB&J bonbon filled with local, organic reduced olallieberries and sweet peanut butter filling. Kearns said they may rename it to fit their luxury chocolaterie a bit better.

"How are you on spice?" Kearns asked a few minutes later, before I took a bite of chocolate shaped like hot lips, the "Jalolallieberry"—a cross between jalapeño and olallieberry, soon to be trademarked by Kearns. With more nuance than a glass of pinot and enough layers to seduce the palate of any fine chef, this chocolate took me on a journey to and from each element: from basil to balsamic and straight on to jalapeño.

click to enlarge LIVING IT UP Locals Andrea and Randy Chavez decide to stop by Sheila Kearns Chocolate & Confections after a downtown matinee, on their way to the bookstore. Andrea is a big fan of Sheila's Cabernet Sea Salt Caramels, and Randy likes to try all the gluten-free bites. - PHOTO BY BETH GIUFFRE
  • Photo By Beth Giuffre
  • LIVING IT UP Locals Andrea and Randy Chavez decide to stop by Sheila Kearns Chocolate & Confections after a downtown matinee, on their way to the bookstore. Andrea is a big fan of Sheila's Cabernet Sea Salt Caramels, and Randy likes to try all the gluten-free bites.

Kearns was chatting with the other couple but kept an eye on me to share in my joyful reaction. "Isn't that good!?" Kearns said, laughing. "Like the kick after?"

I indulged in curating my own box, choosing the Cabernet Sea Salt Caramel for myself and the Tequila Coffee Truffle for my hubby.

"You must try the Milk Chocolate Liquid Apricot Heart," Kearns insisted, adding it to the box, letting me know milk chocolate is back.

Sheila Kearns Chocolate & Confections held a soft opening in late March, with the idea of starting slow and small—not because Kearns is shy of success but to keep things at a manageable pace. Being the sole holder of recipes, she needs time to focus on craft for now. She spends sometimes 12 hours a day making the intensely flavorful chocolates customers see labeled with little gold-framed signs in the glass case.

Kearns does not cut corners in any way. She prefers to use organic, family-owned Agostoni Chocolate from Italy, a brand of excellence for professional chocolatiers. It's free of soy lecithin, a cheap emulsifier Kearns will have nothing to do with. Plus, her chocolates are made from only a handful of organic and pure ingredients with no artificial colors, fillers, or additives

click to enlarge DIY LUXURY From Tequila Coffee Truffles to Cabernet Sea Salt Caramels, Sheila Kearns' innovative, luxury chocolates make chocolate tasting an extraordinary experience, especially when you design your own box. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF KELLEY WILLIAMS PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Photos Courtesy Of Kelley Williams Photography
  • DIY LUXURY From Tequila Coffee Truffles to Cabernet Sea Salt Caramels, Sheila Kearns' innovative, luxury chocolates make chocolate tasting an extraordinary experience, especially when you design your own box.

"I don't use any of those in my cooking at home, so I wouldn't give it to somebody else," she said.

Her chocolates are colored and decorated naturally, which is hard to find nowadays.

"I would say, 'Lead, don't follow,'" said Kearns, who was the winner of this year's Afternoon of Epicurean Delights "Best Confectioner" award.

Plus, the pretty gold and blue boxes and plastic bags she uses to wrap her chocolates are compostable.

Her chocolate collection and flavor profile change with available ingredients. She makes trades with local farms and sources locally for many ingredients. The names of her chocolates and bonbons tell their own story: Strawberry Shortcake, Strawberry Basil Balsamic, and Limoncello made from Amalfi Coast lemons.

Each high-quality delectable goes for about $2.50 to $3, and the best way to choose a box is to go for an assortment and select your favorite indulgences. On the white shelves are baskets of other chocolate-centric goodies, including pistachio and cabernet tablettes de chocolat (chocolate bars) and the ever-so-rich Augustoni chocolate biscuit, which was described as a brownie that married a chocolate bar (and then made world peace).

The day of my visit, Kearns poured us two glasses of Tobin James sparkling wine in wide vintage glasses, and I bit into a chocolate bonbon filled with lemon meringue pie, trying to figure out how she fit all the flavors of that pie and actual meringue into a chocolate dot the size of a strawberry.

Thanks to what she learned from her two Parisian aunts—one a pastry chef and the other a chocolatier—Kearns has been creating decadent chocolates for friends and family ever since she was a little girl growing up in San Diego.

click to enlarge THE REAL DEAL Visiting Sheila Kearns Chocolate & Confections is an event as cultural as visiting an art gallery and an opportunity to sample the work of possibly the most innovative chocolatier this side of Paris. - PHOTO BY BETH GIUFFRE
  • Photo By Beth Giuffre
  • THE REAL DEAL Visiting Sheila Kearns Chocolate & Confections is an event as cultural as visiting an art gallery and an opportunity to sample the work of possibly the most innovative chocolatier this side of Paris.

"I had always given people gifts on holidays and taught others how to do it," she said, but at the time, she was more interested in business. So she used her business degree from SDSU in various ventures over the years—from owning a handbag line to being involved in the Central Coast Boys and Girls Club—but this is Kearns' first storefront.

Kearns opened her brick-and mortar-shop in downtown SLO in late March after her friends begged her to further share her talents after successfully selling her chocolates out of her home solely by word-of-mouth.

In the fall, she plans to travel to Paris to visit family and for a master chocolatier class at Le Cordon Bleu, and she'll return in April for another master chocolatier class.

In the meantime, Kearns and her helpful staff (including her daughter Nichole) are happy to make recommendations. A word to the wise: Kearns said her chocolates contain no preservatives whatsoever, so they should be consumed in a week. This is no problem in my house! Δ

New Times contributor Beth Giuffre wishes life was like a box of these chocolates. Send your bonbons and truffles to bgiuffre@newtimesslo.com.

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