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Saturday, Aug 13, 2022
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Sweetness Gets a Little Spicy

Bite into a typical fudge bonbon and generally it’s all dark chocolately sweetness, with perhaps some raspberry liqueur, a flavor profile typical of the treat’s French provenance.

But bite into some handmade bonbons from John Kelly Chocolates – there’s little doubt this is a peppery candy that owes just as much to a south-of-the-border culinary heritage.

Inside is fudge infused with jalapeno and its spicier cousin, the habanero – something that company co-founder Kelly Green admits is a “love it or hate it” experience.

“They just go crazy,” said Green of his customers who prefer the taste. “They love that you get to taste the chocolate first before the spice kicks in.”

John Kelly, which makes its candies in Hollywood, tried out the exotic flavors last year, and after sales took off, began marketing them more heavily this year. A pair of 2-ounce bars sells for a pricey $9.75.

Green, an advertising veteran, and his business partner John Kelson, a former salesman, didn’t always have such exotic tastes. They began their business, John Kelly Foods Inc., in 2005, selling handmade chocolates with traditional flavors to high-end retailers such as Neiman Marcus.

Then, in 2009, they introduced chocolates enhanced with Hawaiian and French sea salt that sold well. The pair opened a retail space at their factory in 2010 and a second shop this year in Santa Monica. Today, the company makes up to 5,000 chocolates a day and counts actor Jesse Eisenberg and singer Hilary Duff among customers.

Green said the hot pepper flavor is a natural, given the strong influence of Latin cuisine in Los Angeles, where some competitors make similar chocolates.

“There’s kind of a built-in market for it,” he said.

John Kelly’s recipe calls for mixing ground peppers into the chocolate while it’s cooking in a kettle, infusing the spicy flavor into the sweet. But it’s not so hot that it sets your mouth on fire, something Green and Kelson wanted to avoid.

But what about customers who still can’t take the heat? A milder version made with ancho and chipotle chiles is available.

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