Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Araya means chocolate in my mind, but the name...

....comes from the Araya region in Venezuela, home to salt mines, a very beautiful part of the country.  I learned this fact from Carla, one of the Araya's owners, Araya being the chocolate shop in River Oaks Shopping Center, not the salt mine. The chocolate makers were so taken by the beauty of the area that they named their company after it. Carla told me that while inspecting cocoa plants, they happened upon the salt mines. It is near the area where the plants grow. She also said that when the sun hits the salt at different times of the day, the salt shows off its array of colors. Certainly, there is an array of color and flavor in the chocolates that this small dynamic shop makes. I think I get the connection.

Another thing I learned and keep learning is when people follow their heart's desire good things come about. It was Carla, Stefano and Silvana's, Araya's owners and partners,  love of chocolate that brought them to Houston to open Araya. Great idea. I think that Houston was ripe for a chocolate take over, make over. There was a need, demand, a desire for high quality, artisan made chocolates. They certainly have met the demand. Just a very brief identification: Silvana is Carla's sister, Stefano and Carla are husband and wife, all originally from Venezuela. The trio spent six months with a chocolatier friend in Venezuela learning how to make chocolates. They set up their chocolate factory in Katy, Texas, using chocolate from Venezuela,  one of finest exports that Venezuela has to offer (in my mind anyway) and their chocolates on the finest export that Katy, Texas has to offer, as well. They transport the chocolates in daily from the Katy factory. Okay, so that is only 30 or so miles away, but to an inner looper, it seems like light years.

This small chocolate packs a big flavorful punch!!

They also sell French Macaroons, imported from Paris.

Their shop is nestled between The River Oaks Theater and La Mode Lingerie. Mmmm, what a great combination. Being in the shop makes me think about a couple of great films, that I saw at The River Oaks; "Like Water for Chocolate" and "Chocolate." Chocolate seems to spin some kind of spell over me. I like it. Many times I have popped into Araya before a movie and treated myself to one of their chocolates. I haven't tried all of them yet, but that is certainly on my list of to-dos!

Most of the chocolates that they sell are dark chocolate in the 58 to 60 percent cocoa range and a few are at 70 percent. Their milk chocolates are in the 40 percent cocoa range. They started out using recipes from the Venezuelan chocolatier and have continued creating many of their own. Some of their chocolates are seasonal depending on what fruits and flowers are available.
"Our chocolates are handcrafted following the French and Belgian techniques of using premium single-origin chocolate and only the finest and natural ingredients. No preservatives or artificial flavors added." Araya mission statement

The four chocolates I decided to bring home with me were:

Irish Cream (the orange one ) A soft milk chocolate mousse blended with Bailey's Irish Cream in a hand painted white chocolate couverture.
Acai Pomegranate (pink polka-dots) A merge of acai berry "pate de fruit" and a fragranced dark ganache made with pomegranate juice,
Manhattan (purple)  Dark chocolate ganache infused with a blend of Marker's Mark Bourban, Martini and Rossi Vermouth and cherry juice,
Chai Spice, (blue print) A dark chocolate ganache spiced with an infusion of black tea, cardamon, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
The descriptions are from their menu. Don't they just make your mouth water. I can't wait to try each one.

Their top seller is the Pink Salt. A strong dark chocolate ganache with a touch of pink salt from the Himalayan Mountains. I tried it while I was visiting with Carla. It is rich, smooth, dark. The thick ganache rolled around in my mouth, settling on my taste buds making them very happy indeed.

The chocolates are either hand painted or decorated with edible decals, beautiful to look at and even more lovely to eat.  They make for great gifts. I've been on the giving and receiving end, with delightful results all the way around.
The chocolate makes for great eating and gifts.

Samples, yes, you get to try a sample, a taste. It will make you want more. I'm proud to say that I am a repeat sampler, taster, customer. Araya is a very bright and friendly shop. It is worth a visit and a taste.

Quote of the day: "Chocolate causes certain endocrine glands to secrete hormones that affect your feelings and behavior by making you happy. Therefore, it counteracts depression, in turn reducing the stress of depression. Your stress-free life helps you maintain a youthful disposition, both physically and mentally. So, eat lots of chocolate!" Elaine Sherman, Book of Divine Indulgences

Araya Artisan Chocolate
2013 W. Gray, B
Houston, TX 77019

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