Just when you get "Yeah, I'm pretty swamped" out of your mouth, you spend a little time with someone whom you are more than happy to concede that title -- people like Valerie Gordon, who along with her partner, Stan Weightman, Jr., own Valerie Confections. They opened the small chocolate shop seven years ago with a singular (and fantastic) line of chocolate-covered toffees.
Those solo fleur de sel dark chocolate-dipped toffee days may over -- although thankfully Gordon has not abandoned that original flavor, still one of our favorites -- but take a closer look around Valerie Confections' Koreatown workshop. It's pretty clear, even before Gordon tells us as much, they will soon outgrow the new upgraded space. Which, incidentally, is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. And there is free chocolate for the taking (Who knew?). But we were talking about the reason for those bulging chocolate storage racks....
Gordon is not the type to linger over a long, chocolate-fueled, lunch. "I get into things, and have a hard time stopping," she says. And so she soon ventured into various chocolate hybrids, starting with an expanded array of toffees (her pumpkin seed version with smoked paprika, a holiday newcomer, is among our current favorites) as well champagne truffles, caramel-filled bonbons, handmade chocolate bars and such. A line of petit fours followed. "They were a natural progression, as they're really just a cross between a confection and a baked good," she says (you'll find them at the America Tea Room in Beverly Hills, or perhaps a wedding shower in your future).
Up next were the savory vegetable tarts and sweet pastries. "I always knew I'd eventually get into pastry," she says of the two dozen she offers up at various markets, including the Saturday Santa Monica Farmers Market). The jams were an unexpected sideline gig. "People kept asking for them after I taught a few jam-making classes," she explains, surrounded by dozens of tiny jars filled with last-of-summer strawberry preserves.
Those vintage cake stands in the front window of her chocolate factory? "Oh, that's my latest thing, I just really love vintage cake stands." They evolved after The Los Angeles Times asked her to reinvent a few vintage L.A. cakes like Blum's coffee crunch cake for an article (she now sells the cakes by special order only). "Vintage cakes really capture that bygone era, what L.A. was all about," says the San Francisco native (Did we mention Gordon is awfully busy?).
The couple also has a second child on the way (congratulations!), the holiday chocolate rush is about to begin (when their staff will swell to 30 employees), and Gordon has her first chocolate-centric cookbook (!) manuscript due in February. Yeah, we're wondering when this woman sleeps, too. "Right after the baby is born, the book is due and the Valentine's rush hits," she says, smiling. "I'll sleep after that."
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As for that pastry book, look for it in the fall of 2013. In the meantime, you snag a sample or two of her chocolates (for free!) by stopping by the Valerie Confections factory shop. The tiny retail counter in front (yes, you can buy chocolates, jam and cake stands there) is sitting pretty with a platter of her handmade chocolates and toffee for the tasting.
On a vintage cake stand, of course.