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Kapos: Chicago chocolate company’s 2 sweet deals

Katrina Markoff, founder of Vosges Haut-Chocolat

Katrina Markoff, founder of Vosges Haut-Chocolat

Katrina Markoff‘s Vosges Haut-Chocolat is wrapping up a dizzyingly busy holiday season — and a year that brought two big business deals.

The company teamed with Sotheby’s to showcase handmade chocolates inspired by artwork for sale at the New York auction house. And Vosges chocolates will be available in United Airlines’ new Polaris business-class lounge.

“We’ve been busy,” Markoff says in an interview.

For Sotheby’s, Markoff’s company has created chocolates with art in mind. The chocolates are a gift to those who stop by the auction house to view the art up for sale. The truffles are translations of the work of each artist (greats like Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Joan Miro) into chocolate featuring some of the unexpected flavors that are signature to Vosges Haut-Chocolat.

Think chocolates hand touched with rosemary and freeze-dried blueberry or candied ginger and turmeric.

“There’s a lot of creative liberty, which is really fun for me,” Markoff says in an interview.

She grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with an interest in chemistry and baking before going on to attend Vanderbilt University with a plan to go into medicine. Cooking remained a passion, which she would eventually pursue. Markoff traveled the world to learn about food and spices. She studied at the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris and had cooking stints with chef Ferran Adria, then with El Bulli in Spain.

She moved to Chicago and started Vosges in 1998. It has stores in Chicago and New York and revenue of about $25 million.

In March, she’s starting a scholarship program for young women wanting to start food businesses.

“When they get this far, I know it’s because they have grit,” says Markoff, who was 15 when she started a cake business. “I want to support that.”

Brad Keywell’s next big thing

Brad Keywell, co-founder of Uptake

Brad Keywell, co-founder of Uptake

Chicago entrepreneur Brad Keywell has launched a podcast called “The Upside” — a take off on Uptake, the software company he co-founded.

Uptake, valued at more than $1 billion, helps companies gather data and then create analytics to increase efficiency and save money. Keywell also remains a director of Groupon, which he helped start, and he’s the force behind Chicago Ideas Week, the nonprofit think fest.

He runs all those businesses and projects under one roof on Chicago Avenue. His team has built a podcast studio there, too, to allow easy access to the friends, colleagues and entrepreneurs he’ll feature on the show.

“It’s an outgrowth of what I like to do, which is learn,” Keywell told me. “Curiosity is a binding tie across all parts of my world.”

The podcast, he says, dovetails with much of his work. “Curiosity is one of the core values” of Uptake, he says.

Keywell’s guests will run the gamut from well-known to unknown, and from tech entrepreneurs to professional athletes, actors, artists and writers.

Among the first guests: Academy Award-winning producer Brian Grazer (“A Beautiful Mind”), author and journalist Charles Duhigg, IDEO design firm’s Neil Stevenson, and Kamau Murray, the founder of XS Tennis in Chicago.

Bustos gauges Chicago support

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos was in town last week meeting with potential supporters for a possible run for governor.

“I’ve been sitting down with people and getting their reaction and getting their guidance and advice,” she told me. “I’m asking them ‘Would people in Chicago and the collar counties go for someone like me to run the state of Illinois?’ You can’t run in the state of Illinois and not do well in Chicago.”

Bustos wouldn’t reveal who she was talking to but acknowledged they’re potential donors.

The Democrat’s election victory was noticed by Washington Democrats as she was a lone blue congresswoman in a sea of red voters. She was picked for a leadership position in the House. She says she’s happy with the new role but is also interested in “working for Illinois.”

Sean Conlon’s name-dropping parties

Chicago real-estate broker Sean Conlon, who hails from across the pond, has much to celebrate this year. The head of Conlon/Christie’s International in Chicago recently signed a deal with CNBC to co-host a reality TV show called “The Deed.”

So he doubled up on holiday parties, throwing one in Chicago and another in London.

Sean Conlon

Sean Conlon of Conlon/Christie’s International

Yusef Jackson, Alexi Giannoulias and Stephanie Poulakidas were among the Chicago business names at the local event at Fulton Market Kitchen. The cocktails were fancy and entertainment out-of-the-ordinary: a painter created a beautiful landscape as guests mingled.

The London party was held at 5 Hertford Street, an exclusive nightclub owned by a British aristocrat.

Conlon travels often to London to visit with lords and ladies and his childhood friends from Ireland. So no surprise that names on the guest list read like a who’s who: Churchill, Windsor, Guggenheim and Cadbury. No need for entertainment with head-turners like that.

A Chicago name popped up, too — Matt Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotels dynasty.

Read more Taking Names at shiakapos.com.