N.Y. model puts heart into Valentine’s Day delights

Kanami Kawaguchi's passion to please via sweets trumps fashion, allergy to chocolate

by Seana K. Magee

Kyodo News

NEW YORK — With an artistic flair and a passion for chocolate, Kanami Kawaguchi, a Manhattan-based Japanese fashion model, is creating her latest concoctions in time for the Valentine’s Day rush.

While her full-time job in New York is as a fashion model who has strutted the New York runways in fancy clothes, accessories, different hair styles and makeup for about five years, she has an unusual zest for chocolate, despite being allergic to it.

“For me, making chocolate right now means making many people happy, as well as making myself happy, and it is a cure and exciting for me and above all, it is becoming a part of my life,” she explained during a recent interview.

At a downtown cafe she could barely contain her enthusiasm for the ingredient she believes has universal appeal.

As a high school student in Fukui Prefecture it became clear that chocolate caused her headaches and acne, so she learned to give it to others rather than consume it herself.

“I love the smell of chocolate,” she admitted, adding she finds the aroma almost intoxicating.

With a genuine love of making handmade treats, she has also been able to reach out and communicate with all types of people since moving to the hectic city. In addition, it has made her stand out in the competitive world of fashion.

Popularly known as the “chocolate girl,” Kawaguchi has made inroads in her circles — from her bookers to photographers and stylists at places such as the Patricia Field boutique, which is well known for styling stars in hit television shows and movies including “Sex and the City,” “Ugly Betty” and “The Devil Wears Prada.”

Her creations have even attracted the attention of some of New York’s best-known designers, especially after she appeared as a model for an aspiring designer on “The Fashion Show,” a weekly program on the Bravo cable network.

With her growing reputation, it is the positive feedback she finds most rewarding.

She has also provided her chocolates for receptions at Japan-related events, such as those put on by the Pikadon Project, whose goal as an independent art initiative is to promote peace and an end to nuclear proliferation.

For this year’s Valentine’s Day selections, Kawaguchi has perfected five flavors that are neatly packaged in a slim box that she said reflects her Japanese sensibility.

In addition to offering organic orange peel, cayenne pepper with tequila, white chocolate and cranberry, and dark chocolate with salt, she is also adding her newest item — “purple aroma.”

She came up with it after being asked by her tea ceremony instructor to create a sweet to compliment a New Year’s bowl of “matcha” green tea.

She hit upon the purple association through using some of the kanji associated with her name that mean “aroma.”

The chocolate is uniquely infused with a soft center made of crushed red beans.

To prepare for the Valentine’s Day onslaught she usually begins working at around 9 p.m. and keeps going until she finishes making batches of the same flavor at about 3 a.m.

While plenty of friends have offered to help out in the labor intensive process, which includes melting chocolate over the stove, preparing the fillings, cooling, cutting and finally packaging them, and preparing the individualized boxes, she is hesitant to call on them because even busy New Yorkers are usually fast asleep by the time she cleans up.

Each night her ritual begins with a shot of tequila and selecting her favorite music, which depending on her mood ranges from the alternative rock group Radiohead to house and upbeat music. “I just need music when I am making chocolates,” she added.

Since she is unable to taste what she makes, her recipes have been perfected through previous taste tests with a diverse set of friends.

Valentine’s Day is among her busiest times of the year as more and more friends and associates ask her to make chocolates for them as gifts.

Kawaguchi also puts in extra hours to fill special requests during Christmas, Easter and Mother’s Day in May.

Kawaguchi has started a blog and has a Facebook page touting her delicacies and the enjoyment she derives from creating them.

She attributes much of her success to her curiosity and willingness to push her boundaries, such as arriving in New York to compete with thousands of other models from around the world and make a name for herself.

Upon reflection, Kawaguchi said that if she had known how hard it would be to break into the fashion scene, she never would have taken the plunge. However, she is glad she took the risk.

Likening herself to the eponymous main character in the “Curious George” children’s book about a monkey, she reflected on how her sometimes arduous journey has taken her to unexpected but adventurous places.

“I am like Curious George,” she said. “I like to try everything.”