Valerie Beck

Valerie Beck

Dear Fashionistas,

I had the privilege to speak with the queen of chocolate and entrepreneur Valerie Beck.  I met Valerie at a Chicago patisserie:Toni Patisserie and Café and talked about all things chocolate of course.

You are a Chocolate Connoisseur and an Attorney second or is it the other way around?

I went to Harvard Law School, but haven’t practiced law in over a decade, so you can definitely say I’m a “recovered attorney!” I’m an entrepreneur and chocolate expert who speaks and consults on chocolate, and that suits me beautifully!

What makes you a Chocolate expert?

I’ve been drawn to chocolate my entire life. At the age of 4, I announced to my mother that I would no longer be drinking milk, unless it was chocolate! I always studied chocolate as a hobby, reading – and sampling! – all I could. 
When I was a 19-year-old Harvard College senior, I studied abroad in Paris for a semester, and it changed my life. I tasted my first piece of truly fine French chocolate, and was awed by the richness, depth, and deliciousness. That experience put me on a mission to share fine chocolate, and now fair trade chocolate, with others. I started immediately, taking a group of friends on the very first chocolate tour, which I invented before there were chocolate tours or specialty tours. 
I also started getting to know pastry chefs and chocolatiers, continued my study of chocolate, and became known as a go-to person for chocolate information or connections.
Then in 2005, I started chocolate tours as a business: Chicago Chocolate Tours was the very first chocolate tour company. I expanded to cities nationwide, growing a team of 50 people, before exiting the tour business 10 years laterand focusing now on my speaking, consulting, and other chocolate projects under my Chocolate Uplift brand, such as my Chocolate Freedom Walk to raise awareness of child slave labor on West African cacao farms (details:
Knowing that so many thousands of people have deepened their knowledge and enjoyment of fine and fair trade chocolate through the work that I began is very meaningful to me, because chocolate is joy, and my work spreads joy.

I love a woman entrepreneur that really goes after what she loves. And who doesn’t love chocolate? But you take a step further by describing chocolate as inspiring. Do tell ….
Yes! Chocolate can change your mood, your day, your life, and your world! 
The mission of my businesses in all of their iterations has always been Uplift Through Chocolate. This is because I want anyone who has anything to do with chocolate or with my business to come away feeling better for it.
The artistry of the chocolate maker who roasts direct trade cacao to create rich pure chocolate is inspiring. The creativity of the chocolatier who creates luscious chocolate truffles infused with amazing flavors is inspiring. The innovation of the pastry chef who devises scrumptious works of edible pastry art is inspiring. 
And knowing that we can each make a difference in the world, by giving someone a bonbon and making them smile, or by purchasing fair trade chocolate instead of child slave labor chocolate, is inspiring.
Your job takes you to amazing places.  Where is your favorite locale?
That’s a hard one. Chicago is my home, and I love it – especially when I can balance it with magic Miami in the winter! And then there’s Paris which is the pastry capital of the world and which is so entrancing that I am always at risk of staying forever, and Florence which is an underappreciated chocolate city. I was in Ecuador not long ago on a consulting project, and fell in love with the magical cacao farms, the warmth of the people, the delicious fruit and food, and the incredible natural beauty from mountains to rain forest to coast. And did I mention the cacao!

What advice can you give to other women who would like to follow their dreams and own their own business?
Find a way to fill a need by doing something you love, and you have the start of a wonderful business. Whether you seek freedom, security, social justice, or other types of riches, you can find these through business. We live in an odd world where it’s seen as courageous to do something you love. That should be normal! 
Don’t let obstacles stop you; let them foster creativity. When I give talks to entrepreneurs, I tell them that when I started my business, I had no money, no clients, and no business plan. Then I ask them to raise their hand if they started the same way. Two-thirds of people raise their hands! The entrepreneur’s motto: just begin. You’ll find the resources along the way, unless you never start on the way.
What chocolate stores are your favorite in Chicago?
So many favorites! I love Foodease, Hannah’s, and Cocoa and Co. for marvelous selections of fair trade or bean-to-bar chocolate bars, such as Askinosie, Dick Taylor, Marou, or Original Beans. I love Katherine Anne Confections for incredible truffles and some of the best hot chocolate anywhere. I love Hendrickx and Toni Patisserie for croissants and pastries so amazing you think you’re in Europe. I love Alliance Patisserie for some of the most amazing macarons on the planet. For photos and reviews, check my instagram @chocolateuplift and my blog    

Since this is a fashion blog and your very stylish, let us know one thing you have in your bag at all times (chocolate not counted).
Thank you! I’ve loved both fashion and chocolate my entire life! Constants in my bag are Ferragamo sunglasses, a Henri Bendel compact, and of course my Android phone to instagram chocolate!
Valerie Beck

Thank you Valerie!  Now let’s eat some chocolate!

xo Nicki

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