Chef Tamarra Thomas

A dream rooted in the desire for knowledge has come full circle with a Sweet Genius victory.

Tamarra Thomas, owner of Mama Cocoa’s Delights, recently won Food Network’s Sweet Genius, a competition that tests chefs’ creativity and confectionery skills. While the $10,000 prize was certainly a sweet reward, Thomas says her shop has been the true winner.

“The shop is busy and thumping,” she says. “The exposure has been great. It’s priceless.”

Tucked away in the Antique Depot in historic Bowie, Md., Mama Cocoa’s Delights is the fruition of Thomas’ culinary goal: to open a candy shop. Originally working in government, Thomas says pastries had always made her happy.

“I started researching recipes, just looking for more knowledge,” she says.

The first recipe she found — chocolate truffles. After successfully making a batch and receiving great reviews from her friends, Thomas came to realization, “They were a lot of fun to make, so why not make them all the time?”

Thomas attended the Art Institute of Phoenix, and after working in a number of culinary venues — hotels, bakeries, caterers — she opened her business at its first venue, the local farmers' market.

“The candy’s as all natural as I can get it,” she says. “We use natural flavors, natural colors and local ingredients to the best of our ability.”

After a year at the market, Mama Cocoa’s Delights moved into a building, and while the 450-sq.-ft. space is small, it does not hinder Thomas from creating over 1,000 pieces of candy each week by hand.

The company makes 50 to 60 different types of candy, ranging from chews to chocolate bars. The most popular items are Mama Cocoa’s iconic truffles, specifically the Aztec Spice truffle – a dark chocolate truffle with a ganache infused with vanilla, cinnamon and chili powder in the center, and topped with smoked paprika.

However, since her Sweet Genius win, Thomas has added two of her show pieces to the menu – a s’more and a brittle – both made with pieces of ramen inside. She says both confections are being well received by her customers.

With a victory under her belt and money to put back in her business, Thomas says she feels like she’s reached the pinnacle of what once was only a dream.

“I don’t have to be the small candy store hidden away anymore,” she says. “I can be bigger.”