November 5, 2013
It's that time of year again in the city of love. Chocolate love.
Last week saw me in Paris, another week of full chocolate immersion, but this time with a French accent. This year the Salon du Chocolat had expanded, not only housing the professional show, which is only once every two years, but also giving over an entire new hall to patisserie. It was also the host to the finals of The World Chocolate Masters, a jaw dropping display of international technical mastery. I managed to squeeze in a few other Paris chocolate essentials on my trip too, paying a visit to my beloved Jacques Genin, and getting an exclusive behind the scenes at the new Alain Ducasse bean to bar chocolate workshop. It was a full week!
I started off with Alain Ducasse – Le Chocolat, and will publish a full report of my tour of the factory and interview with chief chocolate maker Nicolas Berger in due course. But it is worth a mention now because you must not visit Paris without visiting. It is quite simply producing astoundingly good chocolate, and in making chocolate from the bean on site, is ground breaking too.
Next the salon, and on Wednesday the chance to glory in the fact that Ruth Hinks, our brilliantly talented UK entrant, gained the highest every position for the UK. At overall fifth she made it up onto the podium. Her work was stunningly executed, and all of great coherent and charming design. I was hugely proud of her achievement, and it was a pleasure to see two women up there on the winners box, the other being Marike Van Beurden from the Netherlands, in second place. The overall winner Davide Camaschi of Italy, presented a slick and sensual series of pieces that rightly drew much attention.
It is always an amazing event, and I feel filled with admiration for those lone chocolatiers focusing and producing such fine work with a barrage of international judges, cameras and onlookers bearing down on their workstations. Of course now the whole is streamed live, and there is an active online vote. So it is possible to join in the fun without being in the inner circle, or even in Paris.
But to enjoy the vast array of exhibitors you do have to be there, and it is well worth the trip. The professional salon is probably mostly of interest to those in the trade, and it does do a great job of hosting a wide range of packaging suppliers, machinery manufacturers, ingredient producers and many new or established couverture dealers. I tasted some delicious chocolates at the Domori stand, and could well imagine being quite happy in the kitchen with some of this Italian chocolate to play with.
It is in the public salon that the fun really takes off for the consumer, and with the new pastry hall it was double the fun. Of course there is always lots to taste and buy, but the pastry hall meant that there were more options of things to buy and eat as you wandered, brioches, crepes made to order, cake! I liked the simple classic brioche from Graines des Createurs in Neuilly, light, buttery in taste but not overly rich. However their chocolate studded version was spoilt by indifferent chocolate. For many the patisserie highlight will have been the chance to see macaron god Pierre Hermé in person. His book signing sessions produced snaking queues unlike any other at the event.
In terms of chocolate there is always a broad range at the salon, inevitably much of it is tasty but unexceptional, or even best avoided. But the sheer scale of the event and the networking that goes on ensures a great showing of truly wonderful chocolate, established and up and coming. Bonnat and Pralus had well placed stands abundant with their fine things. Fresh from winning best dark bar in the world at the International Chocolate Awards for the second year running, Pacari had a dedicated stand this year. I was thrilled to find a full range of their bars. Why don’t we have their glorious new fig bar in the UK, it is really special, the mellow acidity of the fruit a great match to the chocolate.
I met and talked to Vincent Mourou-Rochebois one of the founders of Marou, a chocolate company I have been meaning to get to know better for some time. They are producing delicious and diverse things in Vietnam with Vietnamese cacao from different origins around the country. I was hugely impressed, this chocolate is certainly worth trying, and I hope to bring you an interview and more on Marou in due course.
Manakao, the bean to bar chocolate maker making exclusively in Madagascar, was there with their range of beautifully packaged bars featured portraits of tribe members local to their origin cacaos. They also had some new couverture and pure cocoa butter for the trade. Their bird chilli bar sets the bar high on how chilli chocolate should taste.
Fine cacao of origin was in sharp focus with the presentation of the Cocoa of Excellence awards, an endeavour which rewards the fantastic flavours being nurtured and created by individual countries worldwide. It was a pleasure to see such diverse nationalities, and such fine source cacao, take centre stage at this celebration of chocolate consumption.
Another name present at the salon that you are going to be hearing more of, from me and the chocolate community is Susumu Koyama. At patisserie Es Koyama this delightful and brilliant Japanese chocolatier is stunning the world with his technique and mastery of flavour. He was the highest medal winner at the world finals of the International Chocolate Awards and I am excited by his east meets west chocolate creations. Among the not yet released new range of filled chocolates I was lucky enough to try is a version of the dark chocolate enrobed Almond Praline with Temple Green Pepper, a textural treat with a moreish and complex taste that grows more savoury as you munch. Sadly his work is only available at his boutique complex in Japan, but the west has started a love affair with his work, so watch out for appearances nearer your home and be sure to buy when you can.
You would think I might like a day off chocolate before my return to London, but I couldn’t leave without a visit to Jacques Genin. I took Barry Johnson of Rococo and Italian chocolate expert Monica Meschini for a hot chocolate (see photo at the top of page) and a chance to taste some of that legendary pastry. I do not think there is a finer millefeuille to be found, and that day’s pastry choice, a zesty tarte au citron vert, was the best of its type I have ever eaten.
A perfectly crisp and delicate shell was neatly filled with the smoothest, light and full flavoured filling. It was a breath of fresh air, and brilliantly topped with a fine sprinkling of fresh lime zest. Nothing jarred, nothing could have been improved by a millimetre. This place is pared back, calm and focused, and what there is to offer is done brilliantly. The great man himself was in fine form, getting ready for the season to come. There are Muscadine chocolates now available, I find these nutty cubes, snow-dusted with icing sugar and providing a slighty boozy deep chocolate warmth utterly irresistible. The perfect ending to a great week.
P.S. If any of you happen to be in London this coming weekend I am giving a talk with perfume expert Odette Toilette on Pioneers & Alchemists in Perfume & Chocolate. We will be introducing some of the most interesting innovators in both fields and tasting and sniffing their work. It will be a delicious afternoon, held at the Scent Salon of Les Senteurs, Marylebone, Saturday 9th, 2.30-5pm. Here is the link to buy tickets.