The Q&A: Chef Mama Cocoa

A Bowie, MD confectioner gets ready for her national closeup zv7qrnb
Credit: Clarence Franklin

Credit: Clarence Franklin

Nestled behind an antique shop in Bowie Maryland’s historic district is the divine candy shop Mama Cocoa’s Delights. With its funky decor and a soundtrack consistently featuring the likes of Alice Smith, Prince and Bilal, it would be easy to think that you’ve left the suburbs of Washington DC and have been transported to a hip new spot in Bed-Stuy–DC’s Adams Morgan for that matter. And when you’re greeted by the gale of curls, energy and smiles known as Mama Cocoa, the journey seems complete. However, as she’s quick to remind her customers, Mama Cocoa’s Delights are made in Bowie, a motto that is about to take on greater significance as she makes her debut in front of a national television audience as a contestant on Food Network’s Sweet Genius.

I recently caught up with Mama Cocoa to get her perspective on this journey on which she is about to embark.

Given how much we focus on music at Bold As Love Magazine, you know I have to ask, does the name Mama Cocoa come from the Gino Vannelli song?

Actually it does come from the song “Mama Coco” by Gino Vannelli. When I first started thinking about having a candy business, my aunt’s sister says to me “If this were the 70’s or 80’s, we’d call you Mama Cocoa!” She told me all about the song, I downloaded it and loved it!! One of his first lines says “Feed me woman, food”. It’s a funky little love song, I couldn’t resist it.

How long have you been making candy?

I’ve been making candy personally for ten years now, professionally for 3 years. I started experimenting with truffle recipes and realized that I really loved candy making. So I taught myself as much as I could and then I went to culinary school to learn more. After school I pursued a career as a Pastry Chef, because I wanted to have as much food knowledge as I could before I opened my shop.

You’ve lived a number of places and could have opened this store anywhere, so why did you choose Bowie, MD of all places?

I live in Bowie and I’ve lived here for about seven years now. I love the people and the community and the proximally to several different cities. I have also spent the better part of my working life commuting. And I decided that one of the perks of owning your own business was the ability to control your commute. My house is minutes away from my shop–talk about winning!

How did you land on Sweet Genius?

My mother and I would always watch Sweet Genius together. And of course I would say “if I were on that show, I would have done it this way instead.” I was all talk but I never tried to get on the show. Then a friend and fellow Pastry Chef here in Bowie, recommended that I send in my information to try and get an audition. I ignored her completely, but she wouldn’t let up. So finally I sent in my information just to say I did and get her off my back. I never expected them to actually call.

What else can we expect from Mama Cocoa’s Delights in 2013.

This business has taken me to several unexpected places. It has given me countless unexpected experiences. What I can tell you is that I plan to keep working very hard, and doing my best. I will keep growing and expanding and getting the word out to let people know that I exist.. And I promise you I will continue to enjoy this wonderful ride!

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Ferentz Lafargue is a faculty member in the History and Social Sciences Department at Georgetown Day School. He is also a memoirist (author of 2007′s Songs in the Key of My Life) and a essayist often exploring New York and national politics and culture, Haiti’s diaspora, social media, and community outreach.