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[whitespace] Richard Donnelly Swirl Domination: Richard Donnelly tames a sea of chocolate.

Photograph by George Sakkestad

Bonny Bon Bons

Richard Donnelly puts smiles on the faces of more women than Sean Connery

By Christina Waters

AND HE DOES IT ... with chocolate. Chocolate so creamy, rich, brilliantly balanced that his products have won national attention (this month, Richard Donnelly is mentioned in Kiplinger's and Playboy) as well as international awards (e.g., the 1998 EuroChocolate Festival in Perugia). Trained in France and Belgium, Donnelly has been handcrafting seratonin-enhancing sweets in his small Santa Cruz shop for 10 years, and now shows up on enlightened websites where surfing chocoholics procure their fixes.

"In certain ways, Valentine's Day is actually nice," Donnelly says. When asked about his chocolate traffic for the upcoming day of courtship and romance, he sighs. "It's definitely very busy for 10 days. ... But we actually do one-third of our annual business during the month of December." Christmas is still the busiest time of the year for the maker of terrific truffles, killer candy bars and assorted artisanal chocolates-to-die-for. Donnelly says the business out of his Mission Street store is surprisingly big. "We sell an awful lot of chocolate here--more than half our chocolate walks out the door." The other half is ordered up on the web.

Since fresher is better with delicate chocolate candies, it won't do to have them sitting on retail shelves. Hence Donnelly's delicacies are primarily available at the home retail kitchen and by mail (electronic) order. Given that California isn't exactly a chocolate-free zone, why (one might ask) is Donnelly's product so coveted? I know what my response would be, and it turns out to be the same as the chocolatier's. "It's unusual for an American company to make really good-tasting chocolate," Donnelly believes. Satisfying, yes. Attractive, to be sure. But deeply, deliciously good tasting is a lot harder, in the opinion of this expert chocolatier who uses the mighty Valrhona chocolate in his boutique products.

When such names as Valrhona and Scharffen Berger are brought up, Donnelly shudders. "That's like mentioning Pearl Alley Bistro and McDonald's in the same sentence." I probe further. "While I respect what Scharffen Berger is trying to do, being the first company since World War II to make chocolate directly from [cocoa] beans and using vintage European equipment," he says. "I just don't like what they turn out." Donnelly adds that the Scharffen Berger product might be fine for making pastries, where the pure chocolate content has been mixed in with other ingredients, but for a chocolate candy "it just doesn't taste good." Donnelly uses the international leader, Valrhona chocolate, in his artistic work.

Donnelly's Chocolates is located at 1509 Mission St., Santa Cruz (831.458.4214), open from 10:30am. And you can also find Donnelly's creations at the aptly named Chocolate (in front of the Bookshop Santa Cruz), where late-night desserts are the specialty of the house.

Theo Theory

Speaking of V-Day: Be quick and woo your sweetheart over a romantic dinner for two at Theo's--3101 N. Main St., in Soquel. Chef Pete Dressen has planned multiple courses beginning with a little surprise to whet the appetite (careful!) followed by your choice of lobster and mango salad or wild mushrooms baked in parchment. Then you select a roasted fillet of beef with pearl onions, potatoes and black truffles, or striped bass with fennel and artichokes, and dessert of Scharffen Berger chocolate pudding soufflé or rosewater parfait with raspberry sauce. The cost of $65 per person is exclusive of beverage--bubbly would be nice--tax and tip. Call Theo's at 831.462.3657 for reservations.

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From the January 31-February 7, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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