Magical Bonbons

Some took up new hobbies during the pandemic such as knitting, learning a language or playing an instrument. For Palisadian Kaori Shih it was baking… but in the middle of the night. Initially, it was to relieve severe insomnia, but the baking quickly led to a fascination with elegant desserts and the refined art of chocolate making. In three short years, Shih’s exquisite low in sugar, high in flavor chocolates, or bonbons as she calls them, are no hobby.

Shih was born in Japan and has a thriving consulting business to Japanese clients applying to MBA programs at top American and European schools, but working with chocolate spoke to her artistic side. In earlier years she made crafted origami–like handbags from bits of vintage Japanese fabrics and was absorbed by the detailed minutiae of the process. She discovered that working with chocolate was not so different, but with an added element of taste.

To learn more, she and her husband Bryan treated themselves to takeout desserts from Michelin–starred restaurants in New York. The chocolate creations of Eungi Lee, formerly the pastry chef at the highly regarded Korean restaurant Jungsik, and now owner of the pastry shop Lysée, convinced Shih that chocolate was the perfect union of food and art. After one online course she was hooked.

Her early attempts (described by husband Bryan as “stripey mudballs”) were frustrating. “The first fifty times I screamed in my head, ‘Why isn’t this working?’” says Shih, but her skills quickly improved and she was accepted into a workshop at Brooklyn’s exclusive L’École Valrhona where, out of ten participants, she was the only non–professional. There she continued to refine her technique and search for original flavors and textures, sometimes pulling inspiration from traditional Japanese ingredients such as matcha and golden sesame, but also playing with classic American flavors like peanut butter and lemon meringue pie.

Intolerant of refined sugar, Shih favors pungent fruit, nut and alcohol flavors over sweetness. Since sugar is the key preservative in chocolate, this means her bonbons have only a two–week shelf life. Not a problem! Each tiny bite marries tart, crunch and sometimes booziness with just enough sweet to make Shih’s bonbons irresistible. They’re also gorgeous. Gleaming mounds pop with bold, brilliant color and, when turned over, surprise with delicate patterns at the base. Others feature graceful brushstrokes reminiscent of Japanese calligraphy or Matisse drawings. Still others are shaped like delectable sprigs of bamboo, hearts for Valentine’s Day or adorable floppy–eared Easter bunnies.

Shih’s sense of color, shape, pattern and taste are evident in each bonbon she dreams up, but these petite works of art don’t come effortlessly. “If I knew in the beginning how much I’d struggle,” says Shih with a smile, “I’d never have started.” She credits her husband’s support with keeping her going. “When someone shows that much potential and passion,” says Bryan, “you have to support them, especially when I get to be her first taste tester!”

Shih’s insomnia therapy has quickly become a thriving enterprise and she’s accepting orders for November delivery. A nine–piece box is $28 and makes for a stunning gift.

Email kbchocolates or call (510)–735–4195.