Her Goddard senior study, “Unwrapping Chocolate: An Ethnobotanical Study of Theorama Cacao,” had prepared her well for winning the Food Network's "Sweet Genius" competition in 2012.
Having worked for several years as a chocolatier, Neely was familiar with cacao beans – the seeds harvested from fruit on cacao trees. (Theobrama cacao, the Greek name of the tree, translates as “food of the gods”).
During her first semester at Goddard, Cohen honed her culinary arts skills by training at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City. For her second semester at Goddard, she landed a placement as Executive Chocolatier at ChocoMuseo, a museum in Cusco, Peru, devoted to understanding the history and production of chocolate. While there, Cohen had the opportunity to spend time in the Amazon rainforest and to see cacao trees in their native habitat. Like an artist getting to know her raw materials, she learned how to roast and ferment cacao seeds and to create cacao paste. At ChocoMuseo, Neely created chocolate recipes and taught visitors the bean-to-bar process.
Her senior project expanded on her Peruvian experience with research on the historical, agricultural, medicinal, and folkloric aspects of cacao.
One of Neely’s future goals is to open a chocolate café where people can enjoy creative varieties of chocolate while also learning about the bean-to-bar process. In the meantime, anyone can try one of Neely’s brilliant desserts by visiting Cambridge, Massachusetts, and heading over to Central Kitchen, where she is Executive Pastry Chef.