Paris chocolate tour with Chloe

The day after our visit to the Salon, Cyrus and I joined Chloe Doutre-Roussel‘s chocolate education/chocolate tour. It was pretty awesome. I’ve been wanting to meet her since I read her book, The Chocolate Connoisseur, several years ago. Her book helped me gain an understanding of fine chocolate and build a vocabulary to better explain what I was tasting.

We started the morning out by tasting some chocolate.  It was fascinating —  I learned to taste chocolate in a different way. Chloe suggested that instead of picking out various notes in the chocolate, we should take note of how the chocolate makes us feel. She used the metaphor of a symphony to describe tasting chocolate. There’s the beginning, the

crescendo and the end. You don’t dissect the piece while you listen, but every once in a while your ear picks out the piano or the violin. Overall you listen to music for the pleasure that it gives you. It’s should be like that with chocolate. I hadn’t thought of it, but she said that you choose a chocolate because of the way it makes you feel, and you do the same when you choose the music you want to listen to.

Afterwards we went to Rue St. Honore where we visited 2 chocolate shops: Michel Cluizel and Jean-Paul Hevin. We compared the difference between a fresh truffle and one that was made to last a long time. The fresh one from Hevin was as delicious as I remembered from a year ago. We concentrated on plain dark ganaches and a rocher made of praline (roasted hazelnuts and caramelized sugar). The difference between them was interesting.

My favorite rocher was the one I tried at La Maison du Chocolat. It nearly brought tears of joy to my eyes. During our morning discussion, Chloe told us that the French don’t forgive inconsistencies in quality. Once you’ve messed up, you don’t get another chance. Thank you La Maison for always delivering!

We stopped at Pierre Marcolini (who has partnered with Nestle since 2007 but is still making great chocolate as far as I can tell) before ending the tour at Gallery Lafayette where Chloe dropped us off at the chocolate section. She suggested we buy our gifts here because they have the best selection and best prices for gourmet bars in the city. Knowing I was planning a visit to the Valrhona and Bonnat factories, I decided against buying anything, but didn’t stop me from marveling at the selection (and prices!).

Chloe’s tour was a huge highlight of my trip to Paris (dare I say I enjoyed it even more than the Salon du Chocolat?). It was great to meet someone so influential in the chocolate world and to learn from her the secrets of enjoying chocolate even more (which I had thought  was impossible!). Once again I am in awe of how much there is to know about chocolate, and I am inspired after meeting people who are truly knowledgable.

One night in Paris…

On route to visit my hometown in Germany, we stayed one night in Paris to catch up on some sleep and to try to overcome our jet lag. Our hotel was situated near the Gar de L’Est where we would catch our train to Mannheim the following day. We decided to do some sight seeing in the neighborhood and came upon a chocolate museum. We paid our 8 euros to get in plus a couple more for some hot chocolate that we received upon finishing the tour. The museum was very interesting and contained many artifacts such as ancient Mayan drinking vessels and silver hot chocolate pots from the 17th century. There were antique winnowing and conching machines on display and a chocolatier demonstrated proper tempering techniques.  The museum was excellent but I was severely fatigued and couldn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to.  We finished our tour early and went to the lobby for our hot chocolate.

One word of warning: do not give your child hot chocolate when she is over tired and jet lagged because something bad will happen! We had the not so brilliant idea of letting our kids sit on a bench next to another guest while we looked over some of the displays that we missed. Just as we began to walk away, we heard a splash and to our horror, our daughter Ilona had spilled her entire drink on the man sitting beside her including his briefcase! The man calmly stood up and said goodbye to the person he was speaking to on the phone saying “I have to go, a girl just doused me with hot chocolate”.   Cyrus and I began frantically dabbing at him with paper towels and apologizing profusely. To make matters worse he told us that the suit he was wearing was brand new. We offered to pay for dry-cleaning. He explained that it needed to be pressed too. I gave him 50 euros and we got out of there as quickly as we could. It wasn’t funny until much later when we realized that our 5 year old had just had the most expensive hot chocolate in the world!

New York: The beginning of the beginning

Clay Gordon with Kerstin and the Family outside Roberta's in Bushwick, Brooklyn

Clay Gordon with Kerstin and the Family outside Roberta's in Bushwick, Brooklyn

It’s our last day in New York and this evening we fly to Paris. We’ve spent the last few days here sorting ourselves out and getting mentally prepared for what will probably be the biggest trip of our lives. I’ve discovered that there isn’t much one can do in terms of preparations except to just dive right into the great unknown.
I have done a bit of research regarding what plantations to visit and where. In Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, I’ve scouted some good bean to bar chocolate companies who I will try to contact to set up a visit. I’m impressed with a company called “El Ceibo” who makes their bars right in Bolivia with the help of Chloe Doutre-Roussel – the chocolate expert and former buyer for Fortnum and Mason. I’ve been impressed with chocolate that uses Bolivian cocoa beans such as Felchlin’s Cru Sauvage and a visit might be in the cards.

Clay chats with Ilona at Roberta's

Clay chats with Ilona at Roberta's

On Tuesday we met up with Clay Gordon from The Chocolate Life in Brooklyn. Clay has a web site and social network called The Chocolate Life where chocolate makers and chocolate affecionadoes can congregate to discuss all things chocolate. We will be posting updates to his new blog, The Chocolate Chronicles as our way to share our experiences during our travels, our discoveries and our insights. (We highly recommend that you take look at this site if you are passionate about chocolate.) Clay gave us many good contacts for bean to bar makers in various countries such as Brazil, Guatamala, Mexico and Ecuador. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to visit all of these countries, but we will try. It will probably depend on the kids and how much more schlepping they can endure by the time we reach Central and South America. I personally hope to spend a lot of time in Chiapas and in Mexico as I’ve developed a bit of a love affair with the culture of this country.
I suppose the best way to organize the trip is to take one continent at a time. Our first stop is Europe where we hope to meet as many chocolate makers as we can at the Salon du Chocolat to set up plantation visits and possibly visit a few factories as well. The kids will have fun going to some of my favorite chocolate shops and patisseries in Paris (Jaques Genin, Patrick Roger, Jean-Paul Hevin!). I’m excited to go to my home town of Speyer near Heidelberg, Germany to revisit the places of my childhood and share these memories with my kids. We’ll probably gorge on the chocolates that I loved as a kid, the ones I found in the candy aisle of the Supermarket. I’ll consume many cakes plied upon us by aunts and long lost relatives. I hope I make it out the same dress size!

Gearing up for our first leg, preparing for Paris!

We leave for Europe on October 6th and our preparations for our departure are reaching a fever pitch. We will be visiting some family in Germany for a week, and then we go to Paris and prepare for the Salon du Chocolat. We might even get to go to the famous Chocolate Fashion Show (Click this photo for more images.)

To give you an idea of what we do to prepare, we are reading the list of exhibitors and figuring out who we want to see and what chocolate we want to taste.

(NOTE TO OUR BLOG READERS: If you have any booths that you would like us to check out while we are at the show, please leave your requests in the comments below. We will do our best to blog about it here!)

We have also arranged a visit to Valrhona headquarters in the town of Tain-l’Hermitage which is located in the wine-growing district of Hermitage, near Lyon. We hope to find out how they develop all of  that wonderful chocolate that they make there!

In other news we have been in contact with the folks at Madecasse Chocolate, and they have agreed to set up a visit to their location in Madagascar when we go there in mid November. We hope to give you more details about our plans soon.

We will be blogging regularly from now on, so keep your eyes glued to this blog!

David Lebovitz visits Patrick Roger

Many of you likely read David Lebovitz’s blog. He does a lot with chocolate – specifically sharing information on all the wonderful chocolate shops in Paris, along with tips for eating and baking with chocolate at home.

This past fall David paid a visit to the workshop and Paris retail shop of Patrick Roger. You might recognize the name from Kerstin’s tour of Paris’ chocolate shops last spring. He recorded the following video whilst exploring the shops and garden of Roger’s operation:

A Visit to Patrick Roger Chocolate in Paris from David Lebovitz on Vimeo.

Digital Easter Egg Hunt!

We are having another Easter Egg Hunt this year! Although last year’s event was a huge success, we have decided to make the 2010 hunt digital! Here’s how you can get some ganaches on us:

Pictures of Kerstin and Angie’s chocolate tour around Paris have recently been posted on our blog. There are four eggs hidden throughout the photos in Kerstin’s posts below on Paris (click on the photos to get a closer look). Each egg has a letter on it, and together make a four letter word… in French.

Come tell us the correct answer at the Shop between March 30th and April 3rd, and you will win a box of Michel Cluizel’s Les Criolles ganache cacao pods (retail value $12; while supplies last).

Good luck, and have fun! See you soon!

A summary of our tour of the Paris chocolate world.

(For the previous installments about Kerstin’s trip, and lots more photos, please see Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the series.)

Debauve and Galais

Debauve and Galais

Now that my stash is nearly all gone and I have had time to reflect and compare all the different chocolate from each chocolatier, it’s time to share my overall impressions(since I can’t share the chocolate). There is no way that I can chose a favorite chocolate shop because the good ones were so good in their own way.

I loved La Maison du Chocolat for it’s quality, simplicity and purity. I loved Pierre Marcolini for his ability to surprise me by layering flavors and textures in his bon bons. I loved Patric Roger for his boldness and authenticity-everything I had of his exploded with flavor in my mouth.

There were some surprise winners among the stash that I brought home. I had absentmindedly picked up a couple of bars and some marron glace (candied chestnuts) at Debauve and Galais not expecting too much since my experience in their New York shop had underwhelmed me. Their milk chocolate and sesame bar, however was probably one of the best milk chocolate bars I’ve ever tasted; so simple with just a hint of crunchy sesame. The marron glace too were a revelation- sweet, creamy, and unbelievably delicate in flavor and texture.

Posing with Jacques Genin.

Posing with Jacques Genin.

Tasting the drinking chocolate at Genin.

Tasting the drinking chocolate at Genin.

The drinking chocolate....
The drinking chocolate….

And the winner of the best drinking chocolate is….Jacques Genin.

Oh my God! It was so good!

The spoils ready for the trip back to Edmonton.

The spoils ready for the trip back to Edmonton.

Three things I learned:

1. Chocolate tastes better in Paris(I’ve been to some of these chocolatiers in their New York shops, but they weren’t as good). Which leads me to my second point:

2. Freshness is key, so always buy one piece to try before buying a whole box.

3. Just because you walk off all the calories you consume in Paris doesn’t mean you’ll do the same when you get back home. So the best way to keep off the weight when you return from a chocolate tour is to hit the gym big time, or to share your spoils-which is the best way to enjoy chocolate anyway.

Parisian Packaging

Kerstin brought back all sorts of treats from Paris for us to test at the Shop. My favourite quickly became the mint ganache by Patrick Roger – it was infused with a heavy concentration of mint, and the impact was amazing… it seemed as though I had just eaten a bunch of fresh mint leaves!

While the ganaches I sampled tasted lovely, after travelling halfway across the world, the shells looked a little worse for wear. So instead of taking pictures of the confections themselves, here are some shots of the jewelry box-esque packaging.

While I love the colour of the Patrick Roger, my favourite has come down to a tie between the luxurious, crocodile textured box by Jean-Charles Rochoux, and the cool, sleek, brushed stainless from Jacques Genin… I think the latter is beginning to take the lead however.

While the chocolate inside may truly be what matters, as Kerstin noted in her previous post on Patrick Roger, the gorgeous packaging is often what draws us in.