Albuquerque
 Albuquerque
Atlanta
 Atlanta
Austin
 Austin
Boston
 Boston
Buick
 Buick
Charleston
 Charleston
Chicago
 Chicago
Dallas
 Dallas
Denver
 Denver
Detroit
 Detroit
Kansas City, MO
 Kansas City, MO
Los Angeles
 Los Angeles
Memphis
 Memphis
Miami
 Miami
Minneapolis
 Minneapolis
Napa
 Napa
New Orleans
 New Orleans
New York
 New York
Oakland
 Oakland
Philadelphia
 Philadelphia
Phoenix
 Phoenix
Pittsburgh
 Pittsburgh
Portland, ME
 Portland, ME
Portland, OR
 Portland, OR
Raleigh-Durham
 Raleigh-Durham
San Diego
 San Diego
San Francisco
 San Francisco
Seattle
 Seattle
Washington, D.C.
 Washington, D.C.
Roundtable

Roundtable

Hidden gems from Boston's ultimate insiders.

Fish and Clips

Fish and Clips

A genuine Boston experience.

Old School

Old School

Local history, culture and tradition.

Sweet and Sour

Sweet and Sour

Check out the local food and flavor.

Hats and Hideouts

Hats and Hideouts

See what's hot in Beantown.

Insider Profiles

The Sweet Smell of Success

Valerie Conyngham"It was a lot of people offering help that didn't need to, which just reminded me of what a great community I live in and how supportive everybody is and so willing to help."


Valerie Conyngham's website is spare, elegant and to the point: Vianne Chocolat exists "because no one should waste their taste buds on bad chocolate."

Conyngham's business style is similarly smart and refreshingly down to earth. A full-time marketing professional, Conyngham has built her upscale chocolate business through hard work and good old-fashioned networking: She let her Boston neighbors and friends know what she was up to, and apparently they liked her enough to help.

There was the pastry chef at her husband's friend's restaurant who let Conyngham show up for the 4 a.m. shift twice a week to help with — aka learn — the baking business. In so doing, the chef inadvertently introduced Conyngham to the absolute and meditative joy of making chocolate.

"It's one of those things you can really zone out when doing it, and it's relaxing," Conyngham says. By zone out, she means "stay intently focused on the job at hand." Chocolate is fussy, she explains. "It's easy to make good chocolate go bad."

There was also the neighbor who invited a professional chef to one of Conyngham's block parties, just so the two could meet. They planned a private chocolate-making session that reinvigorated Conyngham's interest. (A pregnancy-driven aversion to chocolate and the demands of motherhood had sidelined her passion.)

And there was the babysitter who forwarded a Craigslist ad about a Boston company providing chocolate tours and classes — a tip that led to a teaching gig for Conyngham.

In addition, a photographer and artist each offered to assist with her Web launch.

"It was a lot of people offering help that didn't need to, which just reminded me of what a great community I live in and how supportive everybody is and so willing to help," she says.

If people are a product of their surroundings, it's Boston that gets credit for her original interest in cooking, too.

Raised in upstate New York, Conyngham says she had "a mother who worked and who loved her crockpot." After earning a marketing degree from the State University of New York, Conyngham followed a now ex-boyfriend to Boston. "He didn't last, but Boston did," she says. "I loved the city."

Later, another boyfriend, now her husband, showed how a bachelor eats: out. At Boston's finest restaurants, Conyngham discovered eating well.

"That was the defining point when I realized, 'Wow, I've been eating crap food all my life,'" she says.

Evening culinary school followed, then the early baking sessions, the weekends covered in chocolate, and so on.

Combining savvy marketing with an opportunity to give back to Boston, Conyngham uses, and promotes, local ingredients.

She buys her cream from Shaw Farm, in Dracut, Massachusetts, and her butter from Maple Farm Dairy, in Mendon, Massachusetts. The cost is not appreciably higher, except in time. Conyngham must make a 90-minute round via local mass transit to fetch the ingredients from a Somerville market.

The cream and butter are rich, and they improve the taste of the chocolate, she says. "It's worth it."

"There are tons of dairy farms in New England, and I have no idea why people are having their milk shipped in from Wisconsin," she says. "I hope if I start buying from these dairies, hopefully they'll get more exposure and it will be easier for people to go into their grocer and find these items."

Check out Valerie's Boston.