The Salon du Chocolat was everything I expected and more. It seemed like every chocolate shop in France represented there and every type of chocolate imaginable was for sale. Next to the showcases popping with colorful bon bons, there were booths with mountains of chocolate barks, dipped marshmallows, and macarons, over which the French are obsessed. There were spreads, and pastes and creams and even some fois gras laced with chocolate for your baquette.
The chocolate came in many shapes from cocoa pods to hand painted spheres to penis shaped lollipops. People were crazy for those. At Chapon, they scooped single origin mousses with or without cocoa nibs into little paper cones which you could take with you while you wandered around. It dawned on me that perhaps I am more of a consumer of chocolate than than I am a maker.
We came pretty early with the kids and Cyrus’ folks. The plan was to see as much as we could together until Ilona got tired and then to separate. I think Ilona lasted about 45 minutes before refusing to visit any more booths. She did agree to watch the Peruvian dancers with her grandpa who also rejected our agenda of visiting and talking to anyone who would either facilitate a plantation or factory tour or who would dole out free samples.
There were a few bean to bar makers there who we spoke to about the former. One was Michel Cluizel whose rep was pretty positive about the likelihood of visiting the Maralumi plantation in Madagascar. The other was Bonnat who has a factory in Boiroin, France. We spoke to Stephen Bonnat’s sister and brother-in-law who were extremely nice and genuinely wanted to help us facilitate a factory visit.
Samples were everywhere but we bee-lined it to the good stuff: Pralus, Jean Paul Hevin, Pierre Marcolini. We bought some things that would travel well and make good presents (look out staff at Kerstin’s Chocolates- good things are doing your way!) and then of course, we also got treats for ourselves. I got a beautiful box of chocolates at Franc Kestener ( I tried them today and they are really incredible), some chocolate neapolitans from a Sicilian chocolate maker named Sabadi who makes unconched chocolate flavored with fruits and wild herbs found in Sicily, and a 100g bar of chocolate by a Danish chocolate maker who turns wild Amazonian beans into a masterpiece.
By late afternoon, the place was a mad house and the grandparents took the kids to the Eiffel tower so we could continue our shopping, I mean, our networking.
We stopped briefly to listen to chocolate expert, Chloe Doutre Roussel speak about the differences between good and bad chocolate. I wanted to say hello because we were signed up for her chocolate tour the next day.
I was impressed with the information present at the salon. There were educational lectures, musicians and dancers from cocoa growing regions and other visual aids aimed at connecting the grower to the consumer. Some bean to bar makers brought machinery, and some brought beans in order to educate people chocolate origins.
My favorite moment was speaking to a man who runs the chocolate museum we visited in Paris (the very same museum where Ilona spilled her hot chocolate on the man). He told me about an ethnic group in Panama who consume cocoa daily and use it for ceremonies not unlike the ancient mayas would have hundreds of years ago. I was happy discover that there are others who share my passion about discovering other cacao cultures.
The Salon du Chocolat is a huge spectacle that speaks to our passions: for pleasure (chocolate), for knowledge (about chocolate) and for great skill (the chocolatiers).