At KeKe Confections, veteran chef Keoko Turner proves sweet on Cleveland

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A favorite former Cleveland chef recently popped back up on our radar: Keoko Turner, who returned to his hometown last fall after a three-year stint as a restaurant consultant in Atlanta and along the East Coast. Prior to his departure, the Culinary Institute of America grad had worked downtown at Vivo and the former Alexandria’s on Main; in Valley View at the former Park City Diner; and in Aurora at Vito’s Italian Grill, where we grew particularly fond of his luscious braised short ribs. These days, though, Turner’s gone sweet, with a new endeavor he calls KeKe Confections, which finds him crafting artisanal, handmade chocolates from all-organic ingredients. ... We caught up with Turner on Saturday morning, at the North Union Farmers Market on Shaker Square, where he regularly sells his goodies. Among the prettily packaged hand-dipped chocolates, we sampled buttery caramels in dark chocolate; milk chocolate-covered peanut butter cups; and organic-pecan turtles tweaked with sea salt – all outstanding, with wonderful richness, well-balanced flavors, and no hint of overbearing sweetness. For real indulgence, though, the best may be his peanut-butter pretzel bar: honey-roasted peanut butter and handmade pretzel bits, sandwiched between layers of melt-in-the-mouth milk chocolate, for an irresistible interplay of creaminess and crunch. No wonder Turner says he typically sells out before noon. The indoor farmers market wraps up this Saturday, March 22, but don’t despair. Turner will be at the outdoor Shaker Square market when it resumes on April 12, as well as at North Union’s other market locations (in Lakewood, Westlake, Parma, and the like) when they start operating later in the summer. Long term, Turner’s plans call for sales to area coffee shops and cafes, as well as the possibility of launching a small retail spot of his own. And while he swears he’s “really enjoying” working with chocolates, he won’t rule out an eventual return to the restaurant biz. “It’s a tough market out there,” he says. “And it’s getting harder to make money all the time. But you never know. Sooner or later, if everything looks right, I just might take the plunge.” --- Elaine T. Cicora Read Elaine Cicora's restaurant reviews, food news, and comprehensive dining guide on the restaurant page at clevescene.com.

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