By Harley Nefe
At all types of gatherings – whether it be for holidays, celebratory events, or regular get-togethers – a delicious treat can usually be found that is sure to put a smile on everyone’s face: chocolate.
A local High Country resident is spreading cheer one piece at a time with her midlife transformation that has resulted in a new business venture – Boone Chocolat.
Suzanne Clouzeau is the owner of Boone Chocolat, a small independent business that delivers a high quality product to satisfy the sweet tooth of the local and tourism community.
Boone Chocolat is a pop-up shop, and Clouzeau can often be found with her mobile retail cart at Grandfather Mountain Vineyards, Linville Falls Winery, and other locations across the area.
Clouzeau’s intense love of chocolate comes from her time spent living in Paris, France for several years, where she indulged in the very best French and Belgian chocolates.
“I remember thinking about how much I loved the chocolates,” Clouzeau described. “You can’t go 200 yards without stumbling into a beautiful, wonderful chocolate shop. That was my inspiration.”
Clouzeau has been making chocolates for a long time – over 10 years. However, before this sweet adventure, she used to work in the commercial film industry.
“I got to my mid-forties, and I was like, ‘I want to make a change,’” Clouzeau shared. “I didn’t want to dread going to work. I wanted to be challenged and have fun. If you’re enjoying what you’re doing, then you are blessed.”
At the age of 47, Clouzeau went back to school, taking many business and chocolate courses.
“I trained and practiced and made lots of mistakes,” Clouzeau said. “Then, when I felt like I could make a decent bonbon, I went back to France and got my professional chocolatier training.”
After more than eight years of education, Clouzeau graduated with honors from Ecole Chocolat in Vancouver, and she earned her Master Chocolatier designation from Ecole Du Grand Chocolat Valrhona in Tain-l’Hermitage, France.
While learning from French professors, Clouzeau trained alongside 13 other students from all over the world, including Russia, Hong Kong, Canada, Belgium, and Germany.
“Here in the States, we are so lucky that you can start over, and you don’t have all that pressure,” Clouzeau described. “In France, if you want to be a chocolatier, you have to decide at the age of 12. You spend 25 years being trained before you get into restaurants. We’re fortunate in that respect. You don’t have to be 12 and decide that that’s what you want to do, and then you are literally stuck doing something for the rest of your life. And it’s mostly guys who do it. It was unbelievable how skilled they were. I was so nervous because they were so phenomenal, but I learned so much. They are artists. That’s what I’m aspiring to be – as artistic as they are.”
Clouzeau further reflected that her previous venture, commercial film, also required a lot of creativity. Because these videos were shot on actual film, much of the work, made easy by digital editing technology, had to be done by hand. Her current interest in chocolate clearly stems from her artistic spirit.
“There’s always new recipes; there’s always new decorations,” Clouzeau explained. “You’re not always making the same.”
Clouzeau’s goal is for customers to love her bonbons as much as she loves creating them for others.
One of Clouzeau’s close friends and neighbors, Freddie Georgia, said, “As a chocolate snob who has tasted some of the finest artisan chocolates in the USA, I have to say Suzanne is making an awesome product – I don’t use that word frivolously. Her chocolates are divine!”
Georgia has known Clouzeau for 15 years, and she shared that Clouzeau’s passion and enthusiasm are the most important ingredients in her craft.
“I’m loving it, and I’m having the best time of my life,” Clouzeau responded.
“At first, I didn’t realize … I knew in Paris how big of a deal chocolates were, and in Europe. If you’re invited to someone’s house for a meal, you bring either flowers, chocolate, or wine – those are the three most popular,” Clouzeau continued. “So, I knew chocolate was really big in France, but I was like, ‘I’m just going to roll the dice, and hopefully, if I make a really good product, I can get popularity growing in the States. I just rolled the dice and went for it because it just hit me that this is what I want to do. This is the passion in my heart.”
Clouzeau originally intended to open a store for her products; however, as she took business courses and prepared her business model and plans, she discovered being a pop-up was the right path for her.
“I realized the shop would not be a good move,” Clouzeau explained. “It would have been tough, and I want to have fun. I don’t want to wake up at 3 a.m. and be like, ‘I have to make so many chocolates to break even.’ I want to enjoy this, and I do.”
Clouzeau has been selling her chocolates professionally since 2017, and the logo for her business was designed by an App State student.
“I paid her, and she used it for her senior project,” Clouzeau said. “I like to take a little credit, but right now, she’s in San Francisco just killing it!”
Throughout her journey, Clouzeau has received help from many different individuals, including students who are looking for experience.
After deciding on being a pop-up business, Clouzeau reached out to Grandfather Vineyard & Winery and Linville Falls Winery for partnership opportunities.
“They were like, ‘Oh, my God. Yes, come!’” Clouzeau recounted. “They have been so wonderful. They are like, ‘Suzanne, you are welcome any time. If you want to come every day …’ They have been so awesome. The problem is I need to make the chocolates. My challenge is time – making all of the chocolates and selling them.”
Clouzeau makes all of her chocolates by hand and currently has 27 different recipes that she uses.
“Something will pop into my head, and I’ll play with it,” Clouzeau shared. “I made a banana caramel, and that didn’t work too well. I have to keep playing with it, but you get inspiration, you come into the kitchen, and you play.”
“Being French trained, there are recipes I was taught, but I always tweak them a little bit,” Clouzeau continued. “I was thinking one day, ‘I love strawberries. What can I do with strawberries?’ And it hit me – strawberry and lavender. So, I made a dark chocolate ganache with strawberry purée infused with organic lavender blossom and vodka, and it’s molded in white chocolate. I love making this chocolate because the whole kitchen smells like strawberry lavender.”
Clouzeau has a newly built kitchen located on the back of her property.
“That’s what’s great,“ Clouzeau described. “I can put my music on and don’t have to worry; I used to have to worry. I used to rent a commercial kitchen – there’s a great one in West Jefferson – but you just can’t control who will be in there. I would go in, and someone would be baking bread, so it would be too warm, and the humidity wouldn’t be right. This kitchen is mine, and I have total control.”
In her kitchen, Clouzeau has everything she needs to create her craft – a freezer, a refrigerator, a sink, and a cooling room set at 17 degrees celsius with 50% humidity.
“The first thing about making chocolate is knowing that chocolate has six different glycerides or fats,” Clouzeau explained. “You have to melt them down completely, and then you have to temper the chocolate.”
To temper chocolate is to heat and cool the product in a specific way. Clouzeau uses granite slates to do so.
“It’s alchemy – it’s time, temperature, and agitation,” Clouzeau said. “Once you melt chocolate and get those glycerides completely broken down, then you use time, temperature, and the coolness of the granite to lower it to a cooler temperature with the agitation. That gets the chocolate to make a chain – like playing nicely together. If you don’t do that, you won’t have tempered chocolate, and what that means is you won’t have that snap.”
Clouzeau further described, “If you put a chocolate that is not tempered in your hand, you’ll feel it starting to melt in your fingers. With tempered chocolate, you get that really shiny surface. If the chocolate is not properly tempered, it’s going to have a dull look.”
Other parts of the process involve grinding up hazelnuts and almonds if pralinés – a sugar-coated nut based candy – are being made. After melting and tempering the chocolate and praliné, it needs to be poured into a frame before cutting it into different shapes.
“I’ll let it crystalize in my cooling room, and I’ll make the ganache and pipe it in before letting it crystalize again for 24 hours,” Clouzeau said. “Then I can cap them.”
Due to the lengthy process, Clouzeau prefers to have a two-week notice when it comes to orders depending on how many chocolates are needed.
Clouzeau often holds chocolate pairings with local wineries, where she will typically bring five or six different types of chocolates to match with various drinks.
“Normally, they will tell me the wines that they are going to have, and then I do a pre-tasting, and I bring chocolates,” Clouzeau shared. “We try a bunch of wine and chocolates and see which ones the winemakers like and I like, and then we have the tasting.”
For example, if someone is enjoying a rosé champagne, Clouzeau recommends her Raspberry Club, a raspberry purée sandwiched in praliné, then enrobed in milk chocolate.
“When I pop-up, we have a little cart,” Clouzeau explained. “We have a little display, and on display, we have all of my chocolates. We run through the flavors and describe everything, and people can say, ‘I want a box of six, and I want this one, this one, this one, and that one.’”
A Letter About Clouzeau’s Chocolates:
I am a chocolate snob and have been since I was just a little bean living in Upstate New York near the town of Fulton, famous for its huge Nestle’s chocolate factory. Mom would be at the wheel of our family Rambler as we’d drive by with the windows rolled down, inhaling the scrumptious air that always made me ask; “Can we move to Fulton?”
Mom was a biology professor and a bit of a prankster, so it all seemed in good taste for her to treat my friends and I to chocolate covered ants and grasshoppers on special occasions. These fine specimens would come individually wrapped in gold foil and had a wonderful crunch. That is, until my mom would say something like “Enjoy that thorax!” after you’d eaten your second piece. What I knew even back then (despite the insect), was that these chocolates were far better than Nestle’s Crunch.
Fast forward more than a few decades to rural Ashe County where I settled on a farm with a new boyfriend and great neighbors, including Suzanne and Didier Clouzeau. The Clouzeaus and I shared a love of rescue dogs, gardening, and rural living.
Meanwhile, my boyfriend and I started a tradition of ordering artisan chocolates from far and wide for holidays and special occasions. It hadn’t taken me any time to turn him into a chocolate snob.
You can imagine our elation when Suzanne decided to become a chocolatier. We knew all about her love of European culture, her talents as a gourmet vegetarian cook, and her sense of perfectionism, so we felt certain she’d succeed. We rooted her on while she studied in France, we offered to be test subjects for any experimental creations when she returned, and when she hit the big time as Boone Chocolat, we became some of her first and most impassioned fans.
The gal knows how to make bonbons. Hands down, lips smacked. She’s got the passion and the talent as found in such creations as her Mango-Lime Cacao, Raspberry Club, Mint Truffle, Cherry Jazz or Rosé Lips. We especially enjoy the way Suzanne combines ingredients like lavender, chili peppers, beer, mint, tequila, pralines, and so much more. Once her kitchen was finished in 2022, I could hardly wait to make some sensational, if not sexy, photos of her chocolates.
As a child living up the road from the Nestle’s factory, I didn’t know the word ‘aphrodisiac,’ but I sure do now. There are a few other words I’d pair with Suzanne’s chocolates … words like divine, elegant, sumptuous, ambrosial, magnificent meltdown. But don’t take my ‘words’ for it. The proof is inside the box. The bonbon box from Boone Chocolat.
– Freddie Georgia
Clouzeau can regularly be found holding her pop-up shop on weekends at the wineries among other local places such as Hounds Ear Club.
“I usually bring about 30-40 extra of each chocolate because people want to buy them,” Clouzeau said. “A problem I’m having is selling out on the weekends.”
When asked what the best-selling product is, Clouzeau answered, the Madagascar Vanilla Caramel.
“My Madagascar caramel is probably my most popular, and it’s probably the easiest for me to make,” Clouzeau said. “I can probably make it in my sleep right now.”
While she does not have a personal favorite product, Clouzeau said there are some chocolates that she has more fun making because they are more of a challenge, such as the layered chocolates like Café Au Lait. This is a double-layered bonbon with almond praliné, milk chocolate, and ground coffee in the bottom layer and white chocolate caramel in the top layer.
Another popular choice are chocolates with Appalachian State University’s A decorated on them, which Clouzeau received the rights to use. She pays a royalty to the college every quarter based on what she sells.
“It’s a dark beer milk chocolate caramel molded in dark chocolate,” Clouzeau described. “You get this really soft, gooey caramel. You also get a little maltiness from the dark beer, but it’s chocolate.”
In order to receive the rights to use the App State logo, Clouzeau explained, “You have to apply and fill out all of these questions. They wanted to make sure I was going to represent the university correctly. I told them I use chocolate manufacturers that engage in fair trading practices. They wanted to make sure that whoever is representing the college is ethical.”
Clouzeau sources her chocolate from a variety of places including west Africa, Madagascar, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Brazil. Depending on which chocolates she’s making and for what events, she sources from small batches and large distributors.
One of her Belgian distributors is Callebaut.
“They are fantastic about free trade and treating farmers very well,” Clouzeau shared. “That’s two of the reasons why I chose them in particular. I want to make sure the farmers are well taken care of. I think that’s very important because they are going to take better care of the cacao trees. The prince of cacao, Creole, is the oldest cacao tree, and it’s very rare because it’s more fragile and susceptible to disease.”
Clouzeau has a bag of Creole that she uses for wine pairings at Grandfather and Linville, especially with their wine clubs.
“They’ve had my chocolates a lot, so I brought in the Creole just to let them try the prince of cacao – this rare chocolate – and I’m hoping that if the farmers are well taken care of, then they’ll have more motivation to keep the prince of cacao going, so we don’t lose it. It’s a phenomenal chocolate,” Clouzeau explained.
Chocolate is made from the beans of cacao trees, which are native to Central and South America.
“The cacao tree can only grow along the equator, 20 degrees below and 20 degrees above, and it’s slowly spreading from South America to Asia,” Clouzeau said. “Asia is starting to grow chocolate. I haven’t tried any of theirs, but I want to.”
The history of chocolate, and its creation from the beans of the cacao tree, can be traced to ancient Maya and even the Olmecs of southern Mexico.
“Thousands of years ago, chocolate came from Mesoamerica, and they would drink it,” Clouzeau described. “It wasn’t a solid like we know chocolate today, and they would put chili peppers in it.”
Instead of the rich-tasting treat that is popular now, chocolate used to be a bitter beverage.
“When the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs were drinking this, it was considered food of the Gods,” Clouzeau said.
Theobroma Cacao is a scientific name for a type of tree that cacao beans are sourced from. Theobroma is a Greek word that means ‘food of the Gods.’ Cacao is a Mayan word for ‘bitter/acidic water’ and later came to be associated with chocolate. When the Mayan word, with its modern definition, and the Greek word are combined, Theobroma Cacao can be interpreted as ‘chocolate is the food of the Gods.’
The Spanish brought chocolate to Europe, where originally it was a drink for the wealthy. Over time, others were able to enjoy chocolate as well.
“It was the Belgians that made it into the solid that we know today,” Clouzeau said.
Clouzeau mainly gets her ingredients from two different sources – a French and Belgian manufacturer.
“Every once in a while, I will play with different chocolates,” Clouzeau said.
Clouzeau’s historical knowledge of chocolate sparked her inspiration in creating her Devil’s Choice variety, which is dark chocolate ganache infused with dried chili peppers and cinnamon, molded in dark chocolate.
“I like when I’m doing infusions, like my Devil’s Choice,” Clouzeau shared. “When I’m infusing it with the chili peppers, you don’t always know what you’re going to get because sometimes the chilies are a little bit hotter than others. I like when they are a little more complicated because it’s a challenge that I enjoy.”
As Forrest Gump once said, “Life is like a box of chocolate. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
“The other challenge we try to aspire to do as chocolatiers is we try to give you the experience,” Clouzeau described. “So, when you bite into it, you’re going to get one flavor, and then as it’s melting in your mouth, you’re going to get another flavor and another flavor.”
One example of this experience can be found by tasting Clouzeau’s Paradise.
“It is a white chocolate ganache with mango and passion fruit purée, so when you bite into it, you’re going to get – and everyone is a little bit different – either the milk chocolate first, or you’re going to get the mango and the passion fruit, then you’re going to get the lime,” Clouzeau detailed. “Then after the chocolate is practically gone, on your tongue, you’re going to taste licorice. That’s coming from Pastis.”
Over the years, Clouzeau has been reflecting on what she has learned from her experiences.
Clouzeau shared, “Chocolate is not easy. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. Chocolate is temperamental, and if you don’t treat chocolate right, you’re not going to have beautiful looking chocolates. I still struggle with certain molds getting little air bubbles. I bang my molds to get those air bubbles out, but every once in a while, they are there. It’s a lot of trial and error, especially with my new recipes.”
However, experimenting with chocolate is what helps Clouzeau determine which recipes she will share with the world. She is starting to build a large following, as Linda Wiseman, the Tasting Room Manager at Linville Falls Winery, said, “I am a big fan! She really is talented, and her craft is fantastic.”
Wiseman further shared these words about Clouzeau: “She is an amazing and talented woman, cultivating the most delicious bonbons out of the finest ingredients, sourcing cocoa from various countries, bringing the High Country outstanding and beautiful truffles. Her background and experience makes her a master chocolatier. When I have the pleasure to indulge in one of her elegant chocolates, it transports me back to when I visited a gourmet chocolate shop in Belgium. I often tell folks, ‘it’s not just chocolate; it’s an experience.’ We as a business feel so blessed to be able to partner with Suzanne and her amazing confections.”
In response, Clouzeau said, “I’m so blessed that they have welcomed me with open arms.”
Nicole Tatum, Event Coordinator at Grandfather Vineyard & Winery, shared, “Suzanne has been bringing her delicious artisan chocolate and friendly face to Grandfather Vineyard for five years. She has forged an amazing partnership with us and quickly became a cherished friend to employees and customers, alike! Her expertise and knowledge in chocolate has made her a true Boone treasure!”
“I’ll go to wineries, and people will go, ‘You’re here! We’re so thrilled you’re here. You’re chocolates are so good!’” Clouzeau described. “And Nicole will be like, ‘Suzanne, there are already a few people asking if you’re here.’ To see how excited they are to get my chocolates, that’s the greatest compliment you can get – To see the excitement. Sure, my demographics are older, professional women, but I’m starting to see men as well as younger people.”
Clouzeau also said that she has started to see repeat customers as well who reach out to her and say, “We’re going to be in town. Where are you going to be? We have to get more of your chocolates!”
“That touches the heart,” Clouzeau responded.
As far as what the future holds, Clouzeau plans to venture into more wholesaling with local businesses. Boxes of artisan chocolate can already be purchased during business hours at Grandfather Mountain Vineyards and Linville Falls Winery.
“My chocolates are always available at Grandfather and Linville, even if I’m not there. They will sell my little boxes of four chocolates,” Clouzeau said. “I advertise where I’m going to be, and I give out my business cards. You can always call me or send me a text, and I’ll meet you to give you chocolate. Or, I’ll send chocolate. I’ve sent chocolate down to Charlotte, Texas, and Louisiana.”
For more information about Boone Chocolat and its products, please contact Suzanne Clouzeau at 704-796-2801 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To see the schedule of upcoming appearances, visit the website at https://www.boonechocolat.com/ or follow @boonechocolat on Facebook and Instagram to stay up-to-date on latest announcements.