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Austrian turns chocolate into exotic, edible art

SAN DIEGO — With the July 6 grand opening of Dallmann Fine Chocolate Boutique, Isabella Valencia is doing exactly what she hoped to get away from when she left her homeland about seven years ago.
Valencia’s grandfather, Guenther Dallmann, opened a pastry shop in St. Gilgen, Austria, in 1954. The business was a local success and Valencia’s parents eventually became involved and expanded the store.
“Food always came first and I didn’t like that,” Valencia said. So rather than join the family business, as her brother did, Valencia headed to college, where she earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management.
She was hired by the Austrian general manager of the Westgate Hotel to work for 18 months. When the job ended, Valencia decided to stay in San Diego.
But feeling “underchallenged and bored” with the position, she asked for more responsibility and was named manager of the hotel’s onsite gourmet store.
“One day a company called me and wanted to buy this special Austrian chocolate — Mozart chocolate — which my parents make,” she said.
At first Valencia had the chocolate shipped to the United States, but eventually returned home for a “crash course” and learned how to make it herself.
In 2008 she opened Dallmann Confections, the El Cajon wholesale shop where Valencia and her fellow chocolatiers create her artistic confections. Valencia said what sets her chocolates apart from others is that they are all handmade with natural ingredients from family recipes.
“There are no machines in my kitchen,” she said.
Her flavor list includes exotic creations such as pistachio marzipan with milk gianduja and ginger; spicy passion, a fresh passion fruit caramel encased in bittersweet chocolate decorated with togarashi, a Japanese seven-spice blend; and the best-selling fleur de sel, buttery caramel seasoned with sea salt in bittersweet chocolate topped with fleur de sel.
The grand opening of her first retail shop in Flower Hill Mall featured samples of Valencia’s truffles and chocolate bars paired with wine and champagne. Tastings and classes are offered weekly. Visit for information.