Following Her Passion for Chocolate Onto a New Path
Building a Life She Wanted for Herself and Her Children
Syovata Edari never planned to be a chocolatier. In fact, Edari spent 15 years as a trial lawyer before following her passion for chocolate onto a new path. While raising her two children as a single mom, Edari turned to chocolate as a creative outlet in her time outside of the courtroom. Despite her success as an attorney, she had begun to feel that she was compromising—her values, her identity, and the life she wanted for herself and her children—to achieve a very narrow picture of success.
With family, friends, and co-workers already clamoring for her chocolates, Edari decided to take the leap into chocolate full-time. She studied the art and science of chocolate at E'cole Chocolat and Valhrona in France and at ICAM in Lecco, Italy. When she returned home to Wisconsin, CocoVaa Chocolatier was born.
Edari and her micro-batch, avant-garde creations quickly began to attract attention on an international level. Edari and her chocolates will be the featured guests at an upcoming Epicurean Dinner on Friday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m. at Madison Beach Hotel’s The Wharf, 94 West Wharf Road, Madison. A guided chocolate and wine tasting event will follow on Saturday, Sept. 30, at 2 p.m., also at Madison Beach Hotel. More information about the event and a link for tickets is available under the event tab at thewharfmadison.com.
Edari’s CocoVaa brand has received more than 29 awards from global chocolate competitions, and Syovata Edari herself was named an International Rising Star by the Academy of Chocolate in 2018. She now participates in AoC as a judge.
A Mom Finding Independence
As we chat on the phone, Edari stops now and again to help her son get out the door to high school. I apologize as my toddlers create a ruckus in the other room, and she laughs kindly, recalling her own time working with small children in tow. “It’s funny,” she muses, “my story is really more about me as a mom finding independence than it is about the chocolate. By creating this chocolate world, I was able to have essentially the longest job I've held in my life because it's the job I created for myself, and it's doing something that I actually really love.”
That passion is evident in the spirit of exploration at the center of CocoVaa. The innovative flavor combinations are inspired by Edari’s own life, travels, and community. She proudly cites her Iranian stepfather as the inspiration behind one of her signature pieces, a Persian saffron-infused white chocolate ganache in a dark chocolate shell.
“I draw on the cultural community around me to inform the flavors that I make,” says Edari. “I don't just pull them out of a hat. I always make sure that I'm respecting the culture. If I’m using something that is a staple in or representative of another culture, I want to know that people [from that culture] can identify it.”
A Gold Medal
An unforgettable dessert at a culinary demonstration inspired Edari to translate its flavors into a bonbon of pear, lemongrass, and almond frangipane. The bonbon went on to win a gold medal in the Academy of Chocolate Awards. In another example, Edari’s Ube & Coconut bonbon was created at the request of a Filipino customer and perfected with the customer’s input.
As much as CocoVaa bonbons are known for innovative, vibrant flavor combinations, Edari is committed to highlighting the flavor of the chocolate itself. She sources most of her chocolate from Central and South America, favoring single-origin couvertures, which are manufactured in the same countries that grew the cacao. This approach to production allows more revenue to remain in cacao farming communities and promotes ethical labor and land use practices.
“Social justice is infused into everything I do,” Edari explains. “Even in the chocolate industry, there is an opportunity to contribute to lifting it up and doing good. There's an opportunity to educate people about the ethics of what they eat. There is a documentary about this called ‘The Dark Side of Chocolate’ that I think everyone should watch. I source my chocolate very, very intentionally.” She is effusive in her belief that producers investing in one another is the key to creating sustainable economies on local, national, and international levels.
Ethical Sourcing, Ethical Manufacturing
Additionally, Edari believes that single-origin chocolates just taste better. “Ethical sourcing and ethical manufacturing is as much about quality as it is about just doing good,” she explains. “When you treat people better, when people have dignity and can care about what they’re growing or creating, you’re going to have a better, truer product with less contamination.”
At an upcoming Epicurean Dinner at the Madison Beach Hotel, Syovata Edari plans to showcase the origins of chocolate in her dessert course. Many of the chocolate couvertures she uses are unique in that they are made without any additional flavors, such as vanilla, to distract from the bouquet of the cacao itself.
Though dark chocolate is best at carrying the nuances of terroir, Edari has found that white chocolate can be equally representative and beguiling. She sought out high-quality white chocolate when her daughter developed an allergy to cocoa and found a single-origin white chocolate from a Venezuelan company called El Rey.
“They don’t deodorize the cocoa butter, so it smells like chocolate,” Edari says. “We infuse it for hours with roasted ground cardamom to create our Eliki bar—Eliki meaning cardamom in my [Kenyan] father’s language.”
The dinner will be a five-course celebration of chocolate, the menu a collaboration between Edari and Madison Beach hotel chefs, with wine and cocktail pairings by sommelier Tanya Porcelli. As she brings her award-winning chocolates from Madison, Wisconsin, to Madison, Connecticut, Syovata Edari is looking forward to continuing to grow CocoVaa and share her vision for a new way to experience chocolate.
“I hope the experience will open peoples’ minds and hearts to the diversity of the world around us,” she says. ”When we care about every piece of the value chain of what we consume—from the Earth, to the growers of the ingredients, to the crafters of the end product, to the end consumers, the outcome equals pure joy.”
The Epicurean Dinner will take place on Friday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m. at Madison Beach Hotel’s The Wharf, 94 West Wharf Road, Madison. A guided chocolate and wine tasting event will follow on Saturday, Sept. 30, at 2 p.m, also at Madison Beach Hotel.
Editor’s Note: This story was edited on Wednesday, Sept. 20 to omit the name of Madison Beach Hotel executive chef Brian Warmingham who will no longer be participating in the event.