My Heart is Melting

Lillie Belle Farms' handmade chocolates are a force of nature. Lillie Belle is the chocolatier behind Viva Terra's yummies, and the company's sweet-salty Lavender Fleur du Sel caramels have gotten me through the best and worst of times.

Jeff Shepherd is the mastermind and owner of Lillie Belle and has his own love story to tell. One made of organic sugar and cocoa nibs and 2 acres of organically-cultivated raspberries, marionberries and strawberries. And Lillie Belle's Valentine's Day sampler features three kinds of love: a Jamaican spiced caramel (my favorite) that melts on the tongue, a thin white chocolate shell filled with Madagascar vanilla bean-milk chocolate ganache. and a dark chocolate shell filled with a dark chocolate-bing cherry ganache. The chocolates are packaged in a sustainably-made silk box that you can keep for years to come.

But that's just the beginning of the love story. Here's Jeff, in his own words, telling the tale. . .Once upon a time there was this hippy/chef working the line of a very fast paced beach restaurant in Hanalei, HI. Like a fish out of water, he was new to the island. Having just come off of a tough five year relationship, he was, by no means, lookin' for love. Content for the time being, he was into his oil painting, fishing, and surfing hobbies.

One day the general manager was interviewing yet another hostess/ cashier while said chef was prepping dinner. He spied the respective applicant and slyly gave the thumbs up to the GM through the window. Lo and behold this girl and another were hired: one a short, cute brunette and the other a tall, chesty energy drink. Being a natural red-blooded male he, like so many other men in that small town, gravitated towards the precocious tall one.

One night, while trying to chat up the tall one, he struck up a conversation with the short one. He asked where she was from: Oregon"she replied. He commented how he loved Oregon and used to go the Oregon Country Fair. She eyed him up and down and said, with a sparkle in her eye, "You LOOK like country fair material!"

As the weeks went by, our intrepid hero chef noticed that when the short cashier laughed or smiled, his heart did this butterfly stroke. No, he told himself, this cannot be. But it was true. He was smitten.
The relationship blossomed and the summer of '92 was idyllic. The new friends became lovers and explored their island paradise. One day, they got an offer from a sailboat captain anchored in the bay to help him sail his boat back to Honolulu. They both jumped at the chance. Our intrepid chef had already done the trip once before and knew it could take up to 18 hours to get there. The crew of six set sail on a beautiful afternoon expecting to get to Oahu the next day. But a huge South swell forced other plans. 3 of the crew took ill and never came up, which left the captain, the girl, and the chef to hold course and man the 42ft boat as it rocked and pitched and yawed. The trough's were deep, the crashing waves swamped the decks, lifelines were used. As dawn broke, our waterlogged chef watched in amazement as his lovely hostess crawled out onto the bowsprit, lashed herself to the rail and laughed her ass off at the merciless mother ocean. His heart was awed.

36 hours later, when they made landfall, the chef's love was so strong for this wonderful woman who showed no fear in the face of what was most certainly an imminent death, that he got down on his knees and asked her to marry him. He wanted no answer right away as he knew it was sudden and unexpected--for both of them.

Weeks went by and their relationship blossomed anew with more openness, honesty and downright fun than two people should be allowed to have. By the time his 30th birthday rolled around a month later he had (almost) forgotten about the proposal. It took him a minute to decipher his birthday card--a plain white piece of card stock with the word YES written out about 1000 times.

Locked inside their hotel room for the next 48 hours, they never once turned on the TV or radio. On Sept. 11th, 1992 they awoke to the sound of air raid sirens: Hurricane Iniki was bearing down on the island and all residents were advised to seek shelter immediately. They had no idea that a Force 5 hurricane was approaching. Over the next 24 hours they watched as their idyllic island paradise was reduced to rubble. It was devastating.

The next morning the chef gave the girl an out. He told her that she could now back out of their proposed marriage and go back to the mainland if she chose, but that he was going to stay and try to help rebuild the island. Much to his surprise, she too chose to stick it out. 9 months after the hurricane, they were married in a simple ceremony on the beach in front of close friends and family with the sound of chainsaws and reconstruction efforts behind them. They stayed on the island for 7 more years where they gave birth to their only daughter, Lillie Sierra KaUakoko Shepherd, ran a succesful B&B; and finally left. The chef, the girl and daughter Lillie relocated to the girl's home state of Oregon where the hippy chef parlayed his experience in the kitchen into what is now, Lillie Belle Farms.

14 years and the love is still stronger than a force of nature.

Tags: Chocolate

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