Karen Urbanek, Artist and Owner, Flying Noir Artisan Chocolates, Oakland, California

Art and chocolate are one and the same in Karen Urbanek’s creations.

Karen makes micro-batch artisan chocolates with fresh, local ingredients and single-origin, organic chocolate from the Americas then finishes their surfaces with original paintings in naturally-flavored cocoa butter and mica.

Karen’s all-natural process and her reverence for fresh ingredients is labor-intensive and time-consuming but rewarding in terms of the purity and complexity of her unusual flavors paired with fine chocolate.

Although Karen prefers to work directly from the fruit, that’s not always practical. She learned to craft with The Perfect Purée through the company’s sponsorship of the VIP hour at Cochon555, which has featured Karen’s ethereal chocolates.

“Through designing formulas to highlight chosen Cochon555 featured flavors I learned how versatile and interesting it can be to incorporate The Perfect Purée into recipes. I feel I am just starting on potential applications, but found them to be amazing in ganache and caramel recipes,” she says.

Karen’s recipe for a sweet but tangy Passion Fruit Liquid Caramel has a lighter viscosity with interesting spice.

“It could be used as a sauce, though I pipe it after cooling into chocolate moulds, let sit overnight until a skin forms, then seal the mould with tempered chocolate,” she says.

Like many artists, Karen uses her work to make a statement about her personal beliefs. A year ago she began making a series of chocolates that celebrates the flavors and ingredients of certain countries including Iran, Syria and Yemen, which were the focus of President Trump’s travel ban. The six-piece “Out of Country” collection was featured in a Berkeleyside article and caught the attention of The New York Times for its quiet statement.

“The box was never intended as a protest box per se, more a humanitarian recognition in light of current politics,” Karen explained. “It garnered a lot of praise, and some political blowback commentary about how I should just stick to making beautiful chocolates and keep my nose out of politics!”

As proof that politics and chocolates mix, Karen’s limited edition Out of Country series won the highest award in the North America Truffle Artistry Competition.