She Sees Epilepsy Patients and Heads Up Major Research Grants. Off Hours, She's Designing Fine Chocolate
By Gina Shaw
July 11, 2019
Article In Brief
Lara Jehi, MD, is a leading epilepsy researcher and sees patients too. But when she's not at work, she designs chocolate treats. She said it's one way to keep sane with the busy life she leads.
During her day job, Lara Jehi, MD, research director of the Cleveland Clinic Epilepsy Center, manages a cohort of adult patients with epilepsy, along with a major portfolio of clinical research—including a five-year, $3.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create an epilepsy surgery nomogram (ESN) using diagnostic technology and predictive modeling.
The collaboration between the Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute's Epilepsy Center and the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute's Quantitative Health Sciences team with Mayo Clinic and the University of Campinas builds upon an initial nomogram published in 2015 in The Lancet Neurology, to generate what Dr. Jehi calls “the first objective, validated, user-friendly epilepsy surgery prediction tool.”
Dr. Jehi was also recently named the first woman and first non-surgeon to chair the International League Against Epilepsy's Surgical Therapies Commission. But that's during the day.
When she comes home to her husband and young sons, Dr. Jehi takes on another role: chocolate maker extraordinaire. She spoke with Neurology Today about the transition from work in the lab to designing artisanal chocolate.
How did you decide to start making chocolates?
It's a bit of a long story. I've always been crafty. I grew up in Lebanon during the civil war there, so we had no electricity for sometimes months at a time. The way we lived, there was often no TV or anything else to keep us busy, so my mom kept us entertained by doing crafts. When I was 10, she taught me how to knit and crochet. It's always something I've enjoyed doing. Cooking for me is another release mechanism; I make up parties to have people over so I can cook.
After I came to the Cleveland Clinic for my neurology residency in 2000, I met my husband, who is also from Lebanon and a chemical engineer. His family is all here, and with young kids, it was easier just to stay here where we're surrounded by family.
So two years ago, I had a hip injury. I fell and hurt my hip and needed arthroscopic repair. It forced me to stay at home for about two months. I needed something to do, sitting down, that would keep me busy. At the same time, my youngest son was preparing for his first communion, so I thought I would put my crafty skills to work and make his communion favors. I worked with our nanny to make chocolate favors: I drew up the design for how I wanted them to look, she made the chocolates using pre-made molds, and I packaged them into favors. We made chocolate crosses, with these edible pearls on top. I also found these clear boxes and cut colored paper backgrounds to fit them, we put the crosses inside, and wrapped them with different types of ribbons. They were a huge hit!
What made you decide to keep doing it?
People kept asking about the favors and wanting them. And by then my kids were 8 and 10, and my nanny was getting a little bored and antsy. She was being approached by other parents who wanted to hire her, and I needed her to stay for the flexibility of having someone at home for my kids during the day, so I had to keep her busy. I said, “Luisa, why don't we open a chocolate business?”
So we opened an Etsy shop. We named it Posh Favors by LuLa—combining the first two letters of her name and my name—and started making all kinds of chocolate gifts. We make wedding favors, baby shower favors, bridal showers, you name it. Whenever I need a release, I'll make some chocolate. I used to go out for long walks, but right now I still can't walk long distances because of my hip. So this is my release. I come up with a new design and draw it up for her, Louise makes the chocolate, and then I make it happen with the packaging and the colors and the ribbon.
How do you come up with your designs?
There are molds for everything, so we just go on Amazon and find a mold that's close to the design we want to make. We settle on colors and mix different kinds until we get what we want. We have lots of different ways that we decorate the chocolate—brush painting, edible pearls, or an edible rose that we stick in the center of the favor. Some customers request specific looks, specific tastes and I work with them to personalize their orders, like adding nuts or mint or other flavorings.
Where do you create the chocolate?
We do it all in our kitchen. The other project I did during those eight weeks right after my surgery—when husband couldn't wait to send me back to work—was I renovated the kitchen. We changed the granite, we changed the appliances, so it was all beautiful and clean, and this was the perfect excuse to use the kitchen more.
How is the business going?
Over the past year, we've filled 60 separate orders and the business just keeps growing. People like chocolate! It slows down in the summertime because I think people worry about it melting. Before starting the business, I did a lot of research on the federal guidelines regarding what you need to do to create a food business. So in the summertime, we package everything in dry ice so it doesn't melt. I always send people a handwritten thank you note in the order, and I try to put a couple of extra favors in the package in case some break or melt. We're rated as a five-star store! The profits all go to my nanny, and I just keep what's needed to maintain the business.
How do you fit this all in with your clinical and research responsibilities?
It doesn't take that much time honestly. In the evening, instead of watching TV, I spend about 20 minutes checking on orders or answering questions, and then a couple of times a month I'll take a couple of hours to come up with a new design. During the day, Luisa makes the chocolates, and then I'll do the packaging in the evenings. It's something I can do while I'm sitting with my kids watching TV. It's been very relaxing. It's a way to create something pretty that makes people happy that has nothing to do with working on the brain.
Some of our other Off the Clock profiles have related their hobbies to their work in neurology. It sounds like you don't consider this related at all.
It has nothing to do with what I do professionally, and I need that. I enjoy what I do at work and I'm very dedicated to it, but to keep me sane, I need a hobby that's very different. I'll definitely keep doing this as long as I need my nanny! Every now and then I think, well, when I retire maybe I'll be doing this more. I could definitely put more time into it and grow it much bigger. I'm also doing a master's in health care delivery science through Dartmouth, which is a combination of their MBA and MPH programs. There are a lot of business skills that I'm learning through the program, and I can see many ways I could develop this if I focused on it. Who knows what may happen in the future?