Hispanic Roots and Designs on Chocolate

Hispanic Roots and Designs on Chocolate

As a child in Honduras this Hispanic businesswoman was inspired by chocolate which has come back full circle

Chocolate comes full circle via the heart and hands of Maribel Lieberman- a retrospective.

For this Hispanic businesswoman the Mayans and Aztecs of South America had a special meaning discovered…they chocolate 3,000 years ago. They not only used the cacao bean as currency, they also made a bitter hot chocolate drink that was believed to deliver good health.

Then the Europeans co-opted the bitter bean, adding oodles of sugar, milk, oils, and other ingredients, creating the forms of chocolate that we recognize today. Not too long ago in the minds of many, fine chocolate came only from Belgium, or the Swiss, or most of all from the French, who perfected the art of the chocolatier.

Imported chocolate was the only chocolate to be had by discerning palates until Maribel Lieberman brought fine and beautiful chocolate confections back to America, back to the roots of this 3,000-year-old delicacy that modern man (and woman) cannot seem to live without.

When compiling a list of the finest chocolate purveyors in the U.S., Maribel Lieberman’s MarieBelle New York has to be near the top. And it’s not just about the chocolate – which is superb – it’s also about the presentation and design of each confection. After receiving a box of MarieBelle chocolates, you’re left wondering whether to eat them or frame and hang them on the wall.

When she was a child in Honduras, Ms. Lieberman says, “my family taught me so much about passion and perseverance, and about wonderful food.” Her father owned a farm and her mother ran a boarding house while raising Ms. Lieberman’s eight brothers and sisters. “Today,” she says, “I can hear both my mother and my grandmother guiding me as I imagine what step I want to take next.” Even when she was young, Ms. Lieberman was stretching her Hispanic entrepreneurial muscles. “When I was just a child of eight, I made sugar candies and sold them to children in my neighborhood,” she says.

After moving to New York City, as an adult Ms. Lieberman studied fashion design at Parsons School of Design. But her love of candy never left her, and she decided to combine both her eye and talent as a designer with her love of candy, especially chocolate. This passion resulted in MarieBelle Fine Treats and Chocolates, the flagship store of her chocolate empire, located in the heart of the SoHo district of New York City.

Her MarieBelle New York branded confections are now sold internationally. Her husband, artist Jacques Lieberman, contributes eclectic, color-rich designs that adorn every chocolate, making each piece a visual delight as well as a mouth-watering treat. Each chocolate ganache displays a one-of-a-kind work of art, turning the simple act of eating chocolate into a sensory delight to the mouth, eyes, and soul.

The brand also sports a signature box of vivid blue and deep brown, in itself a beautiful item even before the box opens to reveal the luscious chocolates inside.

Ms. Lieberman’s success has led to an expanded and extensive product line that includes colorful candies, creamy chocolate bars, and even table-top and gift items.

Another delicacy that MarieBelle New York is famous for is the brand’s Aztec Hot Chocolate, available in four flavors Aztec Regular, Aztec Dark, Aztec Mocha, and Aztec Spicy.

Fall is an exciting time for Ms. Lieberman, not just because it’s hot chocolate season, but because each September, she unveils a new collection of gift sets and boxes just in time for the holidays.

MarieBelle New York is now sold across the world in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

MarieBelle Fine Treats and Chocolates, Ms. Lieberman’s flagship store in SoHo, opened in 2002 and is almost as visually stunning as her chocolates. The store is large yet still manages to be cozy and warm with antique curved glass and mahogany display cases. When entering the store, it’s hard to decide what area to visit first: the etager featuring the new Café Copan coffee tin in red and gold, or the long glass counter embracing the 26 varieties of custom-designed chocolate ganaches.

And if you visit that ganache-laden counter first, you’re going to find yourself losing complete track of time while trying to make up your mind based on flavor (Cardamon, Caipirinha, Dulce de Leche) or design (graphic, fashion, art deco, children’s). And while you’re perusing, your senses will be imbued with the rich scents surrounding you, wafting from The Cacao Bar at the rear of the store.

The Cacao Bar boasts fresh-baked pastries, cookies, and cakes, where you can enjoy the richest hot chocolate and most decadent confections, or even a traditional full-service high tea.

Monthly chocolate-tasting programs are held for chocoholics (and wannabe’s who will be addicted after one tasting session), where the origins of chocolate and the various historical uses of the cacao bean are explained. The intricacies of which chocolate to serve with which wine, tea, or coffee are also explored.

Working hard at forging strategic alliances, Ms. Lieberman had developed relationships with retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, as well as positioning her brand among other luxurious names worldwide. Expanding into corporate gift, catalog, and Web sales has also stimulated growth and brand awareness. “I’m always looking ahead, ” she says. “I credit the past for its contribution to my present success, of course, and then I take another confident step forward into the future.”

While Ms. Lieberman has been busy building her store and her brand, she has not forgotten about the broader community and her Latin American roots. She has acted as the spokesperson for the Museum of Hispanic Society in New York, where she recreated cuisine from original Aztec recipes and used the first book ever written about chocolate, Antonio de Leon Pinelo’s Question Moral, written in 1636.

In addition to her Hispanic business, her most personal mission is to help wipe child abuse and exploitation from the world map. She is an active member and supporter of Innocence in Danger, an international non-profit organization that operates in 29 countries.

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