Stephanie Bernatchez has been hand crafting fine chocolates for years. Bunnies for Easter. Cocoa bombs for Christmas. Chocolate-dipped cheesecake-stuffed strawberries for Valentine’s Day.

Stephanie Bernatchez, owner of Maine Gourmet Chocolates in Auburn, displays her signature chocolate-covered cheesecake-stuffed strawberries. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

So. Many. Strawberries.

But while she’s delighted to make candy for everyone else, she probably won’t be partaking.

She’s a chocolatier who doesn’t really eat sweets.

Name: Stephanie Bernatchez

Age: 58

Town: Auburn

Job: Owner of Maine Gourmet Chocolates in Auburn

How did you get into chocolate? My mom used to do some for friends/family and after college I started dabbling and it just never stopped.

Do you make all the candy you sell? Yes, aside from a few retro novelty items and fudge. I hate making fudge!

What’s the biggest holiday for chocolate: Christmas, Easter or Valentine’s Day? Christmas, as the holiday shopping is typically November-December. We would normally do a few craft shows at that time of year in a normal world! Easter would be next — people love a “good” homemade chocolate bunny, and it is a tradition in many families. Valentine’s is super busy, but due to a short shelf life on the dipped berries it goes by quick. Four days before, all I do is dip berries about 12 hours a day! Nope, I am not sad to see it end!

When do you start getting ready for Valentine’s Day? I always say I am taking two weeks off after Christmas, and I am back in my kitchen by Day 2. So Dec. 27!

How many hours a day do you put in in the days leading up to Valentine’s? Pretty much seven days a week every week, until the husband says OK, time to go home!

What’s your best seller this season? Hands down cocoa bombs. They have finally hit the area and everybody “has” to have them. We have been making them for about seven years and they have always sold well, but this year the sensation hit and it’s been nuts. For those that might not know, a cocoa bomb (one version) is a hollow chocolate shell filled with homemade cocoa, marshmallows and a candy treat. When placed in a hot cup of milk, it melts into a cup of cocoa with marshmallows floating to the top. I also do what I call truffle ones that are dense and do the same thing. Both cocoas are homemade; no Swiss Miss here.

Is pandemic Valentine’s Day any different from regular Valentine’s Day? I am not sure yet, it’s my first time around. Last year it really didn’t affect us. Check back on the 15th and I’ll update you!

What’s your favorite candy in the shop? Oh, gosh, always the worst question. I don’t eat much candy at all. I am just not a sweet eater. But if I had to pick one, it would be a Baileys Irish Cream truffle — sinfully rich, smooth and delicious!

How do you not eat pounds of chocolate every day? The taste test sampling alone . . .: I sample only my truffle fillings, as I am not a cook who measures unless I have to. Different flavors react differently within each chocolate type so to me the truffles have to be tasted to be divine. The awards on my wall say it all!

Most common candy request you get? Oh my. Hands down the pistachio croquette that Mary’s Candy used to make! I have had my shop for 10 years — Dec. 4 was our anniversary — and I can say without a doubt a week does not go by without someone asking for this candy. Funny what people remember. I had so many different “Oh, I remember (Mary’s pistachio croquettes).” It was a wild goose chase (responding to customers’ requests) until a nice lady gave me sort of the recipe! I never had one and had no idea what it was. It took quite some time to get it close to right, but now people can place orders for them!

Most unusual candy request you’ve ever gotten? This may not be really unusual but it is unique and indicative of Pennsylvania. The opera cream, which takes at least three hours to complete, is worth it in the end, absolutely! Do I make them often? No, I don’t have that much time on my hands!

I hear dark chocolate is practically a health food. True? Sure if you believe it to be!


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