Chocolatier: Debora Varon
House favorite: A tie between the apricot, coconut and cherry flavors
Born and raised in Peru, Debora Varon came to the United States in 1985 to get a master's degree in food science and horticulture, and stayed to get a doctorate in genetics. But after nearly a decade in breast cancer research, she knew her heart wasn't in it and left.
"I knew I spent all of this time [becoming a scientist], but I had to ask myself — do I want to spend any more time here?" She was brave enough to admit to herself that the answer was no.
After experimenting with everything from computer graphics to being a collection agent, Varon, at 50, is now fairly certain her calling all this time was hiding beneath a candy shell.
"I was really searching for something," she says. "Every day I go home now, and I'm happy."
Varon has waded slowly into the chocolate business. She makes her candies by hand, renting kitchen time a few days a week from a church on Harford Road that's not far from her home in Arcadia.
Izzy's makes just one type of chocolate, Varon's spin on a traditional Peruvian delicacy called "tejas," which means roof tiles in Spanish.
Tejas are typically a mixture of fruit, nuts and dulce de leche, often covered in fondant. Varon covers hers in a bittersweet Belgian chocolate and has gotten creative with the fruit fillings.
People in Peru enjoy the candies filled with plums, raisins, apricots and coconut, and Varon makes some of those. But she also focuses on cranberries, mango, pineapple, cherries, figs and dates. And while Peruvians often try to cut the cost of the tejas by going heavy on dulce de leche, Varon loads hers with fruit — each one is filled with a heaping spoonful of it, resulting in a piece of chocolate double the size of what one would typically find.
She realized she might have a future in chocolate after her mother came for a visit a few years ago and the two of them decided to try to make the candies. She gave the results out to friends, word spread, and soon people were offering to buy them. She named the fledgling business after her daughter.
Very recently, Whole Foods told her they'd sell Izzy's in their specialty food department.
Someday soon she'd like to expand the business. For now, however, Varon makes the candy entirely by herself, in very small batches — only about 300 pieces a day. She wraps each piece by hand in her signature foil-and-tissue packaging.