January 15, 2013
The first of a series of profiles of some of the finest chocolatiers in France, if not the world!
This week I am in Paris, meeting my top pick of the city’s wonderful chocolate geniuses, and tasting their finest creations for articles to be published by Girl’s Guide to Paris. I thought it only fitting to share with you the first on my list.
In a corner of Paris bursting with character and charm is to be found a veritable world of fine chocolate. Pierre Cluizel, a man whose experience and knowledge of chocolate is deep and lifelong, has created a special place. This is somewhere to buy the finest ganaches, bonbons and bars, to sit in the café and sample the best patisserie, to sample the cutting edge of cooking with chocolate in their restaurant and bar, or to attend one of their chocolate courses and learn more about this glorious foodstuff.
Whether you are dropping to grab a bar, or stopping to take your time over the unsurpassed velvety indulgence of their hot chocolate, you cannot help but appreciate the excellence and attention to detail.
You have Pierre Cluizel to thank for it. Over one of his extensive selection of fine teas I talked to this passionate chocophile about his life and work. Scion of the market-leading French chocolate maker Michel Cluizel, Pierre was helping out in his father’s atelier from the age of six years old. As he put it himself:
“When you are brought up in a world of champagne, wine, tea or chocolate I think there are two options. You could hate it, because it is there all the time and you have too much of it, or you fall in love with it. Me, I fell in love with it!”
The years of childhood passion grew into decades of adult hard graft as Pierre worked his way through the company’s commercial and marketing sectors, gaining invaluable experience in everything from selling his family’s superb chocolate to the wide range of businesses that wanted to use it, to selecting plantations for the finest beans, and nurturing relationships with the farmer’s that grew them. His love of, and passion for, all aspects of the business is evident as his eyes sparkle at the memory of selecting the particular plantation that produces the beans that now go into the Los Ancones chocolate with which Michel Cluizel won a gold award at The International Chocolate Awards.
“It is possibly the most beautiful plantation in the world! In any event I don’t know one more beautiful.”
Growing up within the Michel Cluizel brand left Pierre hungry to push boundaries and to create something new of his own. He is inherently creative, and driven in the pursuit of excellence. As he puts it:
“I have dreamt for a long time of making a brand of my own, starting with a completely blank canvas, and building it up from scratch. “
Un Dimanche à Paris is the result of this desire, more than just a chocolatier, it is a centre for discovery of chocolate in all its forms. He does not use Michel Cluizel chocolate, preferring to ensure that his new endeavour has a separate identity. He confesses this is tough, as he knows just how good it is. But he is well able to sniff out the best of the rest, the finest chocolate in the world to work with.
“The couverture used depends on what product you are making. In the kitchen my philosophy is to work with pure single origin chocolate.”
Everything from the tempting menu to the clean and calming design is personal to Pierre. He wanted to come closer to the customer, to please, inform and delight, to bring new ideas to fruition in our chocolate experience, while still retaining the reverence and classical excellence for which the French chocolatier is world renowned. He is in the ideal position to do so with his unparalleled knowledge and drive.
There is such an extensive and tempting range of things on offer that it was hard to settle on any one thing to taste and tell you about. So I chose two products that felt key to Pierre’s vision. Firstly, the single origin chocolate bars; his Chocolats de Voyages, and secondly something that encapsulates the spirit of experimentation and originality, the chocolate covered spices.
There are four Chocolats du Voyages, and they can be bought in a box of individually wrapped squares so you can try them all and compare. Or they can be bought as full size bars, if you just want to try Pierre’s choice of one origin, or if you have already tasted the range and want to ensure a full sized indulgence in a favourite.
The Madagascar 63% is full of red fruits, mellow with prune and the subtle sweetness of honeysuckle.
The Equateur 65% is fantastically bright and green, redolent of fresh grass and green banana, moving into almond and cocoa notes.
I found the Venezuela 71% wonderfully smooth, cocoa rich and fruity, with notes of raisin and a hint of grapefruit.
The final chocolate in the four, San Domingo 63% is full of cherries and plums, soft hints of cinnamon and ending with the sweet warmth of toffee and toast.
I made a beeline for the chocolate covered spices as soon as I entered the boutique. They looked pretty as a picture, little pearls of cream, pink, green and earthy browns in sampling dishes on the counter. They are indicative of what Pierre does so well. He wants to push boundaries, but he is not wacky, he isn’t going to innovate for innovations sake and make something that doesn’t deliver on taste. Spices have been paired with chocolate since its earliest origins, but these little treats turn the usual balance on it’s head putting the spice centre stage. They are not infused in a ganache, or one of many ingredients in a broader recipe, they are simply enrobed. The result is a simpler, more potent, and highly satisfying pairing. Pierre is excited at the notion of cooking with these spices. In my kitchen they never got that far. They are simply one of the most addictive, delightful, yummy, taste sensations I have encountered. I want a lifetime supply.
Fennel seeds are paired with the creamiest white chocolate. These are delicately sweet, but with the aniseed freshness and warmth of the fennel.
Rosemary is also enrobed in white chocolate, which has a gently floral result, tempting and herby.
The pink berries in white chocolate are as pinkly pretty as can be, but pack a spicy punch. The lively peppery berry is mellowed nicely by the creamy chocolate.
Mild chilli is matched with a fruity dark chocolate, whose intensity of flavour matches its heat. The fine cocoa opens the show, and then there is a build up of balancing chilli warmth.
My favourite of the lot is the coriander seed in milk chocolate. The aromatic spice revealed by the pop and crunch of the toasted seed, married with the honeyed milk chocolate, is altogether gorgeous.
So if you have plans to go to Paris, make sure you go to Un Dimanche à Paris, and if not, make a mental note for your to do list. It was the greatest pleasure to meet a man with the vision and energy of Pierre Cluizel, to get behind the scenes of such an elegant and delicious foodie experience, and of course to eat such truly fine chocolate.
A version of this article first appeared in Girl’s Guide to Paris.