Over the last few years, Little Rock has seen a boom in small, locally-owned food businesses and artisans. Many of them get their start, and often gain popularity, by recognizing a need in our food community and carefully filling that niche to the best of their ability.
Carmen Portillo recognized Little Rock’s deficiency in fine chocolate years ago. Inspired by her travels through Europe, she decided to help fill that gap. But she did her homework first.
Portillo attended Notter School for Confectionary and Chocolates Arts in Orlando. She then went on to receive a certificate of the professional chocolatier from Ecole Chocolat Professional School of Chocolate Arts in San Francisco. When she finally began producing chocolates in Little Rock — being the one of the first (if not the first) to receive such training as a certified professional chocolatier — she was already poised to create a exemplary product, unlike anything available in Little Rock at the time.
Portillo opened Cocoa Belle in the River Market in 2008, and continued to sell there until 2010. However, even after leaving this location, she continued to provide chocolate services to Little Rock in a variety of venues. For example, she was asked to provide turndown service chocolates at the Capital Hotel. She finds a large chunk of her business involves favors for weddings and events, as well as custom-printed chocolate gifts for corporate clients. Here, Portillo creates stunning personalized pieces with any sort of desired lettering, initials, or names inscribed directly on the truffles.
All Cocoa Belle chocolates are handmade and hand-painted in small batches to ensure the highest quality and freshness. Her most popular truffles are often infused with liquors, like her milk chocolate ganache and carmel using Remy Martin 1738 Fine Champagne Cognac or Basil Hayden’s Bourbon Whiskey. Her “cafe con leche” truffle uses Leiva’s dark roasted coffee in a dark chocolate ganache within a milk chocolate shell. She offers a more whimsical box, too, filled with bright vibrant colors and fruity fillings. Look for bananas and white chocolate, peaches and cream, or raspberry.
But a part of what sell clients on Cocoa Belle chocolate is Portillo herself. She’s young, ambitious, and full of energy…eager to provide her clients with exactly what they’re looking for. The fact that she’s talented only helps seal the deal.
Chocolate junkies yearning for a taste of Cocoa Belle can order directly from her website or visit cocoabellechocolates.com. Delivery is free in the Little Rock metro. There are also a few retail locations that carry boxes of Cocoa Belle chocolates, in case you’re looking to pick something up immediately. Stop by Tracy Cakes on Rodney Parham to buy them by the box. Tanarah Luxe Floral on Cantrell sells them as an accompaniments to their floral arrangements. (Guys…flowers and chocolates…I’m doing you a favor here.) Lastly, By The Glass Wine Bar on Kavanaugh features Cocoa Belle on their dessert menu.
Portillo won’t release anything too specific regarding her future plans, but says fans of Cocoa Belle chocolates should “stay tuned for some exciting things coming in 2016.” Stay in the loop by following Facebook and Instagram (@cbchocolates).