NEW PORT RICHEY — When Colleen Keeley and her daughter Jane visited the chocolate day camp at the New Port Richey Public Library last week, mother and daughter had different objectives in mind.
"My daughter is very crafty," said Keeley, who lives in Port Richey. "I'd like to see her make different things with chocolate."
Jane, though, was guided by her sweet tooth. "I'm going to go home with about a pound of chocolate. Chocolate is good."
The 8-year-old joined a group of 12 young chocolate lovers at the library, where Michelle Palisi, owner of Chocolates by Michelle in New Port Richey, hosted a free class to teach young people about the art of chocolate making.
"Who likes chocolate?" Palisi asked the crowd, standing before a counter filled with chocolate-filled pots, fruits and various toppings.
"Everyone!" said Dezarae DeBeaumont, 11, joining the children raising their hands.
Also looking on was Jessica Meredith, Youth Services librarian.
"I attended a chocolate-making class myself and thought it was fun," said Meredith. "I asked Michelle to host a class here. This is something that is not being offered at any other library, and I thought it would be something cool to offer to people in this area."
Since Palisi opened Chocolates by Michelle in the mid '80s, she has taught numerous chocolate-making classes to people of all ages, including special sessions to children served by area hospice agencies and the Salvation Army. She started off last week's session by telling the story behind Chocolates by Michelle, which is also, she said, the story of a small businesswoman who was told repeatedly that her venture would fail.
"I was told that no bank would fund a chocolate store in Florida. They said the chocolate would melt," she said. "This years marks the 29th anniversary of my business."
Palisi went on to demonstrate how to make no-fail fudge, and how to dip just about any food — from strawberries to marshmallows to bacon — in white, dark or milk chocolate.
Dipping apricots and cherries in sweet topping, she declared, "It's healthy!"
Palisi demonstrated the proper way to write one's name in chocolate. And she taught students the "No. 1 toughest rule" of cooking with chocolate: Don't lick your fingers. Students then were free to create their own chocolaty creations. One particularly attentive student was Tara Pirozzi, 12, who says she may be planning a career in the culinary arts.
"I like to bake cakes at home," she said. "Here I can learn more."
Five-year-old Riaya Wintjen learned how to roll and dip chocolate, under the guidance of parents Joey Wintjen and Christine Molnar.
"Roll it up like Play-Doh," Joey told his daughter, who earned raves from mom with the final results.
Palisi said several chocolate camp participants have gone on to consider and pursue culinary careers.
"I show them how and they pick up quickly," she said. "They do things better than me."
And they have fun in the process. The brother and sister team of Tyler and Tabitha Quinn smiled and laughed as they prepared and filled the personalized chocolate boxes that each student took home. And while Tabitha, 5, asked mom Victoria for permission to eat her honorary chocolate star (one awarded to each student upon successful completion of the chocolate camp) while still at the library, her 7-year-old brother expressed his satisfaction with the class as a whole.
"Chocolate makes me happy!" he declared.