By Kristin L.Wolfe
Photos By Lisa Nichols
Two years ago, while on a tour of the state for the best hot chocolate for Connecticut magazine (tough job, I know), I ended up calling Le Rouge in Westport the Rolls-Royce of chocolate shops. Aarti Khosla’s artistry is evident in every bite and she knows she offers her customers something very special. In terms of the hot chocolate (very different from hot cocoa, she will remind you), there is nothing like it around. I remember dreaming about drinking that thick, dark, delicious gravy she first served me, or the hot white chocolate with raspberries, rose petals, or even saffron and pistachios. The combinations were electrifying cupfuls that paid homage to her native India.
When meeting with Aarti more recently, we talked more about her need, her passion, to give. “Humanity is my temple,” she so beautifully stated, as Lisa Nichols, our photographer, and I hung on every word in her little shop. “Giving,” she continued, “is at the core of Indian philosophy.” So when she hands over a box of Le Rouge chocolates, each created by her from start to finish, she believes she is not only offering a beautiful gift, one hand-crafted and hand-painted with high quality ingredients, but that she is also expressing love.
Love is about giving, and Aarti believes that is at the essence of who she is. That has never been more evident than this last year during the pandemic. Not only does the shop during “normal” times keep her on her feet for long hours, crafting, painting, and packaging every morsel, but 2020 turned everything up several notches. Many businesses had to be resourceful, be creative, and quickly pivot to stay afloat; she was still compelled to give in the biggest way she could.
In 2016, four years into the business, Aarti began Le Rouge’s “Give a Little Love” campaign where a portion of the shop’s proceeds go to charities within the community. The “You Share, We Give” tagline of the campaign had already become a successful local message so, if you’ve received Le Rouge’s decorative blue, red, and gold packaged heart, you knew that not only were you getting to enjoy a solid, hand-painted tasty gem, but you were giving something back as well. With the success of her regular campaign, Aarti knew that during the pandemic, even a seemingly small gesture, like giving a chocolate heart, could raise the spirits of those enduring so much.
That’s exactly what she did. As Covid began to ravage physically and emotionally, Aarti went out of her way to drive and deliver chocolate hearts to EMS and frontline workers at local hospitals. When realizing the kids of her community wouldn’t have their traditional Easter Egg Hunt, she still created and delivered 300 chocolate Easter Eggs in front of a local church where families could pick them up. During Mother’s Day, Aarti wanted moms to feel like stars, so for every star cake purchased, one also went to a healthcare worker. Knowing important student milestones, like graduation, could not go forth as usual, she was particularly motivated to still make them feel recognized and special. She created an effort wherein the community could sponsor a local high school graduate. So, after personally, tirelessly creating enough hand-painted hearts for the graduates of Bridgeport, and recruiting the help of women ages 8 to 80 to package them, Le Rouge was able to deliver 1,125 signature morsels on Graduation Day. And, of course, she did the same for teachers and staff of the district, knowing their work often goes unnoticed and under appreciated. Most recently, in her latest campaign, “Give a Little Warmth,” she delivered over 250 solid hot chocolate bombs to the local police force.
From India to the U.S. Aarti has traveled the world, and her artistry is informed by the many places she has called home. Although chocolate is not a regular part of Indian cuisine, it is beloved. Things that shimmer and shine, however, are. She wanted to use the medium of chocolate, something many know and desire, to showcase the flavors of Indian desserts and other flavors from around the world. And, with Kamala Harris in office there may be more opportunities to shine a light on Indian culture than ever before. Aarti beamed with pride, she recalls, over the opportunity to give Madame VP a chocolate portrait when meeting each other last fall.
Aarti’s work with Le Rouge chocolate is beautiful; it is thoughtful and creative with every detail attended to. Furthermore, she doesn’t make it as a way to make a living; actually, she hasn’t even paid herself in several years. Instead, she makes it to give. “Giving is what makes my heart beat.”
Le Rouge – Artisan Chocolates
190 Main Street Westport, CT 06880