Chocolate – a food that ignites love, mends a broken heart, and appeases the gods. For Chef Karen Neugebauer, proprietor of Forte Chocolates, this confection is not only the food of life but is her life, or as she likes to say, “it is in her veins.”

Chef Karen Neugebauer working on chocolate at Forte Chocolates in Mount Vernon
Chef Karen Neugebauer, owner and leading chocolatier at Forte Chocolates in Mount Vernon. Photo courtesy: Forte Chocolate

Chef-Turned Mount Vernon Chocolate Shop Owner

Karen began her infatuation with chocolate while a student at the Art Institute of Seattle’s Bakery and Pastry program. From the very first snap of the tempered chocolate bar she was hooked, seeing firsthand chocolate’s ability to enhance lives, bringing joy to someone’s face.

In 2006, newly graduated, she opened Forte Chocolates in Mount Vernon, where memorable moments are made in dark, milk and white varieties.

“Food, even in its simplest form, is amazing at bringing people together,” says Karen. “It breaks down walls, helps us to learn about each other’s cultures, and needs no language to create lasting memories.”

Culinary Classes at Skagit Valley College

Earning many awards, nationally and internationally, for her stunning flavor combinations, Karen sits on top of the confectionary world as a leading chocolatier. Yet while being on top feels great, it is passing on her knowledge that keeps her inspired.

purple, pink, orange and yellow truffles
Chef Karen Neugebauer love to pass on her knowledge by teaching culinary classes in Skagit County. Photo courtesy: Forte Chocolate

Working with a variety of culinary outlets such as the Skagit Valley College baking and pastry program fills her craving for new ideas. She consults with American chocolate companies, teaches masterclasses globally and even ran a kid’s chocolate summer camp before the pandemic hit. Sharing her passion only deepens her craft. “Every time I teach, I learn,” she says. It is truly a win-win.”

Mount Vernon Chocolates

Forte Chocolates in Mount Vernon runs a retail shop on First Avenue with their commercial kitchen only a short distance away. It is in this kitchen, Karen teaches classes as well as creates some of her more popular candy combinations like the Gusto White Chocolate bar with lemon and pepper, a flavor combination inspired by the lemony goodness of a Greek potato.

Popular White Chocolate Gusto bar with lemon and black pepper at Forte Chocolates in Mount Vernon.
Popular White Chocolate Gusto bar with lemon and black pepper at Forte Chocolates in Mount Vernon. Photo courtesy: Forte Chocolate

Being centrally located in the hub of Skagit Valley provides Karen with a cornucopia of tastes and farm-fresh ingredients. “From the majestic and varied landscapes to the immense variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains grown here, Skagit Valley has it all,” says Karen. Partnering with farmers for locally sourced ingredients also minimizes the carbon footprint. A win-win there too.

At Forte, the motto is, “to celebrate chocolate is to celebrate life,” meaning to pause and connect with the moment at hand, be it savoring a salted caramel or devouring a dark chocolate truffle, every type of moment can be more meaningful and be celebrated.

Nothing reminds us more of the fragility as well as the joys of life than a chronic health concern. In 2013 Karen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis yet she has not let this slow her down, especially when it comes to enjoying her family and her life.

After her right side became affected some tasks like walking and using her arm or hand proved a challenge. What did Karen do? She taught herself how to work left-handed.

dark and milk chocolate hearts at Forte Chocolates
Share the love with these dark and milk chocolate hearts at Forte Chocolates. Photo courtesy: Forte Chocolate

Everyone has challenges, some are visible, some are not. Even if life looks a little different than before, Karen insists on focusing on the positive, like what she can do. According to her what matters most is your attitude. “Life is as beautiful as you make it therefore, I make my life as beautiful and fulfilling as possible,” she says.

Adding a bite or two of chocolate certainly doesn’t hurt either.

The future is sweet for Karen and Forte Chocolates. She is busy working on a secret truffle inspired by the most beloved cocktail in Brazil. Stop in, sample some chocolate, and see her latest creations.

Forte Chocolates
700 South First Street, Mount Vernon

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