As far as Chelsea Bowden was concerned, this was heaven on earth.
The newly crowned Florida Strawberry Festival queen loves strawberries and chocolate. So, she was more than happy to accept the offer from the to dip the season's first strawberries in chocolate for what has become a tradition at the Valrico chocolate shop.
"This is our third year having the strawberry queen dip strawberries for us," said Anthony Caligiure,who owns the shop with his wife, Leena, at 1048 Bloomingdale Ave., in Plaza Bella.
The super-sized ripe strawberries were hand picked at Brandon Farms on State Road 60 in Dover. The pickers intentionally left the long stems intact to make dipping easier, explained Leena Caligiure, who instructed Bowden on how to dip the fruit into milk, dark and white chocolate and then decorate the treats with sprinkles, candy hearts and icing.
"This is great," said Bowden. "I absolutely love strawberries and chocolate. This is the most fun thing I've done so far as strawberry queen."
Of course, Bowden has held the title only a few days. The 17-year-old Durant High School senior was crowned Florida Strawberry Festival queen Saturday night where she competed against 27 other young ladies for the coveted title.
She said she's yearned to be strawberry queen all her life.
"They're so beautiful and such amazing role models for young girls," she said. "So far, I've loved every minute of it."
Barbara Bowden wore the crown in 1948 followed by Ruby Jean Redman who won the title in 1953.
The reigning queen is the daughter of Bud and Pam Bowden, the principal of Durant High School. Born and raised in Plant City, Bowden is the captain of the varsity volleyball team, a member of the Leo Club, student government and the National Honor Society. Her hobbies include shopping, swimming and dancing. Upon graduation, Bowden plans to attend Hillsborough Community College and then a four-year university to pursue a degree in pediatric nursing.
Her arrival at Leena's Wednesday, Feb. 1, to dip strawberries made quite a stir. Among her admirers was 13-year-old Pearlie Mondovics of Riverview and Thomas King, an employee of Robeks next door, who brought the 2012 queen a strawberry smoothie.
For Bowden, it was a toss up as to whether it was more fun to create the chocolate treats or eat them.
These chocolate-dipped strawberries are the first of hundreds Leena's will create over the next two weeks, said Leena Caligiure.
"Chocolate-covered strawberries are our most popular item for Valentine's Day," she said. "We sell them individually or in bouquets. It gets crazy here on Valentine's Day. We're dipping strawberries nonstop."
Hand-dipped strawberries aren't the only Valentine's treats at the Original Leena's Chocolates, however, The shop also offers giant-sized kisses, chocolate love letters and a variety of heart-shaped chocolates.
"Valentine's Day is one of our busiest times of the year," said Leen Caligiure.
For information on ordering chocolates from Leena's, call 813-643-8500 or visit Leena's website at www.originalleenaschocolates.com.
Bowden will be on site throughout the 77th annual Florida Strawberry Festival March 1 through March 11. And she will continue to represent the festival during her year-long reign.