The sweet life: Former physicist launches local bonbon business

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Gabriela Miu, right, discusses her homemade bonbons with shoppers at Wrightsville Beach Farmers Market. The European theoretical physicist, now a Wilmington resident, launched her own brand of unique chocolate creations earlier this year.
Gabriela Miu, right, discusses her homemade bonbons with shoppers at Wrightsville Beach Farmers Market. The European theoretical physicist, now a Wilmington resident, launched her own brand of unique chocolate creations earlier this year.

Gabriela Miu’s path to finding her true passion was a long one.

The Romania-born, Sweden-raised theoretical physicist didn’t discover her knack for the craft of chocolate-making until moving to Wilmington by way of France just a few years ago.

But in a way, life was preparing her for the moment she picked up a magazine and saw the smiling face of a woman who had switched careers mid-life to become a chocolatier.

“She was standing in her kitchen and she just radiated happiness,” Miu recalled. “I thought, I want to do that.”

Since then, Miu has combined her scientific mind and a Parisian embrace of good food, turning her own kitchen into a lab of sorts, where she has tried, tested and perfected her brand of gourmet bonbons.

Miu launched her line, Avenue des Chocolats, earlier this year. She is currently selling her products from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Monday through Sept. 28 at the Wrightsville Beach Farmers Market and by special order. She’s in the process of getting her products in area shops, and was recently given the go-ahead for a seasonal spotlight at Pine Valley Market.

After reading that magazine article, Miu–a Ph.D in physics who also worked in research and development in France and for the European Commission–decided to find out if she could tackle the chocolate world.

She had recently moved to Wilmington for another love–her American husband, whom she met in Paris.

Miu's ever-changing offerings include a dark chocolate peppered with hints of cinnamon and Ylang-Ylang. Photo courtesy Miu.
Miu’s ever-changing offerings include a dark chocolate peppered with hints of cinnamon and Ylang-Ylang. Photo courtesy Miu.

“After my first child turned one and went to preschool, I was looking for something to do. I was used to working all the time, and I had started looking for jobs but not finding anything,” she said. “And I’ve always loved food. In France, I had this friend and we would meet up for lunch at a cafe and eat and talk and, many times, end up staying for dinner. And it would always end with some chocolate.”

She enrolled in online classes through the prestigious Canada-based school, Ecole Chocolat, to hone the skills needed to give herself the important distinction of chocolatier: an artisan who works solely with chocolate, tempering, molding and shaping creations.

“I really got into this,” she said. “Me being a scientist, it was a lot of trial and error. You always make mistakes.”

Part of the draw for Miu was a focus on quality, all-natural ingredients. Miu takes candy to the next level, creating bonbons with a snap-crispy shell filled with smooth, creamy homemade ganache. And they are all preservative-free.

Flavors at the Farmers Market vary week to week; Miu is constantly trying out new combinations. She has made, among other fragrant selections, dark chocolate with lemon, rosemary and Himalayan pink salt, milk chocolate infused with orange and, most recently, pretty pieces of white chocolate and hibiscus, which gives the bonbons a pastel purple hue.

It’s a complicated and complex process – often taking several days of making and waiting to complete – but one that Miu embraces.

“It’s not about quantity; it’s about quality,” she said of her packages of two and four bonbons. “I know the amount of work that goes into this.”

That approach is how she also sees enjoying chocolate, a treat Americans can sometimes see as indulgent.

“In France, people don’t have that guilt feeling about food,” she said. “But chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is actually good for you. It’s okay to give yourself a little treat everyday, savor it and take the time to enjoy it.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.