Chocolatier Lucy Gustafson, owner of Santa Rosa's Recherche du Plaisir confectionery shop, got bitten by the chocolate bug after emptying her piggy bank for her first addiction: European travel.
The Forestville native took her inaugural trip to England with her family at age 9, then returned alone for a bicycle tour over the Alps at age 15. Six years later, she grabbed a backpack and set off on a five-month odyssey, visiting penpals in every country.
Returning to Sonoma County two days before Halloween, she took up chocolate candy-making as a budget strategy for giving gifts during the holidays.
"I was 21 and broke," Gustafson said, now 44. "So I went to Nancy's Fancy's (party supply store), bought a book and started making truffles, using their chocolate."
Recherche du Plaisir, loosely translated as the quest for pleasure, took home the Best of Show Candy award at this year's Harvest Fair Professional Food Competition, along with eight double gold, six gold and four silver medals.
Halloween marks the start of the unofficial chocolate season, which runs through the winter holidays and Valentine's Day, ending with Easter.
To celebrate her first Halloween at the shop, Gustafson has created a wide array of treats for adults and kids alike, in the shape of cute littlemice and bats, spooky skulls and skeletons. Halloween, she said, is the biggest candy holiday, followed by Valentine's Day, then Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.
Although the shop feels more like a Parisian patisserie than a haunted cemetery, Gustafson has hung out all kinds of spooky decor as a nod to her favorite holiday.
"At Halloween, it's all about creativity and throwing judgment out the door," she said. "You can play with your food."
Jonathan Taylor of Santa Rosa first walked into the shop a few months ago and ordered a dark chocolate truffle made with sea salt and ancho chile. He's now a regular customer.