Many of us grew up being nursed to health with grandma’s chicken noodle soup. But ever wonder why it’s not quite the same when we get it from a can—or even from a gourmet counter? Jim Walsh, founder and CEO of Intentional Chocolate, says it’s all about intention. That’s why grandma’s soup made us feel better. It’s why a friend’s made-from-scratch brownies cheer us up. Walsh believes that by applying the same concept to his chocolates, he can help heal the world in his own little way. Walsh says it goes deeper than simple goodwill; it incorporates the cacao bean, quantum mechanics, shamans from the Amazon jungle, mind-over-matter technology, Buddhist monks and the Dalai Lama.
For Walsh, the love affair with chocolate wasn’t always there. “I was raised in the 60s and was always told that chocolate was bad for me, that it would give me cavities and cause me to gain weight,” Walsh says. But years later, he says it was chocolate that transformed his life. “I was raised Catholic by two very old-school parents and went to Jesuit boarding school,” he says. “It’s amazing to watch just how I’ve gone through this process, and while I claim no specific faith, I now believe in more levels beyond what I was taught.”
In the 1980s, Walsh found himself delving into the meaning of intention. “I was told I was going to die, and I was in the process of writing final notes to my family when I had one of those moments of revelation,” he recalls. Walsh was in a whitewater rafting accident in Chile that left him with severe head injuries and partially paralyzed. “I had to ask, ‘How do you set an intention—which could be anything from getting a new Porsche to being 20 pounds thinner?’ I figured whatever was good for me would manifest itself in my intention,” he says. “For me, it was deeply personal: My wife was pregnant with our second child at the time, and I remember having this deep, crazy desire to see this daughter born.”
The long hours spent recovering also allowed Walsh to take stock of his life. “In those moments, you make a lot of promises,” he says. In addition to vowing to live life consciously, he explored his ingrained interest in food. “Food was always something I wanted to be involved in—I just didn’t know what kind of food.” After considering ideal places to fully recuperate, Walsh relocated his family to Honolulu. “We also came up with San Diego and Sydney, Australia. But getting off the plane in Honolulu, I thought, ‘This is the spot. It’s warm—and safe. This is where I want to grow food.'”
Working with the sacred cacao trees
Walsh founded Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate in 1992, after years of experimenting with growing cacao beans on Hawaiian soil. The company holds the distinction of growing the first cacao beans in the United States. Accolades soon followed, including a mention in The New York Times proclaiming Hawaiian Vintage the “best chocolate in the world.” In 1994, the chocolates were served at Bill Gates’ seaside wedding on the island of Lanai. Hawaiian Vintage was also the first chocolate the Dalai Lama ever tasted, at which time, Walsh says, the Dalai Lama proclaimed, “I think this chocolate will bring great happiness to mankind.”
Walsh’s work with chocolate took a mystical turn in 1996 when he received a call from Mark Erb, an Austin, Texas scientist. Erb was participating in an indigenous peoples conference in South America. “Mark said he was told by the cacao shamans of the upper Amazon to contact the man working with the sacred cacao trees in the United States—me,” Walsh recalls.
He says the deva (or living spirit) of cacao instructed him to continue his work to fulfill cacao’s purpose. “The words expressed to me were, The cacao tree is here on earth to heal the etheric heart of man, and this mission is as important as plankton fixing oxygen from the sea.”
Walsh says that at first, he didn’t fully understand what the message meant. He continued to develop his product, working with top chefs and educating the public about the benefits of eating good chocolate. “In growing these trees, I realized what a health food chocolate is: It’s good brain food, good for blood pressure, etc.” It was also during this time that one of the company’s investment bankers suffered a massive heart attack.
Walsh explains: “Months later, this man was on Hawaii, walking amongst Hawaiian Vintage cacao fields when he tastes the outside coating of the cacao bean—a thin, creamy substance that’s chock full of antioxidants. Minutes later, he turns to my wife and exclaims, This is the first time I haven’t had chest pain in two years!”