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.

Paris Salon du Chocolat (Grand Publique) 2011

At the Michel Cluizel booth.

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.

Painted Chocolate Sphere At the Pralus Booth

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.

Simone From Sabadi with his Sicilian Chocolate

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.

Kerstin With Rasmus Bo Bojesen at the Oialla Chocolates Booth

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.

Chocolate Logs, a traditional treat.

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.

Macarons, Lovely Macarons

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.

A Chocolate Hedgehog

A Chocolate Hedgehog

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).

Darius And Ilona trying some of the confections.

Michel Cluizel Bars

Day One at the Salon Du Chocolat

We went up to Paris to see the opening day of the Salon Du Chocolat at the Porte De Versailles expo center. After a long subway ride, we arrived and excitedly went in!

We left the kids back in Fontainebleau with Grandma and Grandpa. Don’t worry! They will come back to the Salon over the weekend (when it is open to the public.) First, here is a short video that shows some of our impressions of the Salon and the World Chocolate Masters competition.


The French member of the jury was one of our chocolate heroes, Patrick Roger. As you may remember, Kerstin went to his store in Paris this March, as reported in this blog posting. It was great to see him evaluate all the the sculptures with an expert’s eye.

One of our early favorites was the Japanese entrant, Umezaki. Like everyone else, he only had 3 hours to assemble his sculpture. He had a very complex delicate design, and he executed it with ease.

We saw that the Canadian entrant was a woman, Veronique Rousseau, from Quebec. She was the first woman to ever represent Canada, and she came out blazing. She was the only one of the 19 finalists to use a carving technique instead of molds. This meant that her scuplture weighed over 60kg, but it looked uniquely artistic. Watch the video above for some action shots of Veronique working!

The Dutch contestant won the WCM title, and his sculpture was large and scary! I think the shock value was what pushed him ahead of the pack. I hope Veronique comes back next year to try again!

At the end of our day we had a great chat with our Japanese chocolate hero, Koji Tsuchiya of Theobroma Cacao, a pioneer of fine cacao in Japan.

Stay tuned for our report from the “Grand Public” Salon, coming in a few days!




World Chocolate Masters 2011 (preview)

We made it to the Salon du Chocolat! The chocolate masters are currently underway. Some of The best pastry chefs in the world are competing for the title of world chocolate master. They are making wild and wonderful chocolate sculptures and there’s a huddle of judges observing and calculating including my favorite Parisian chocolatier, Patrik Roger! We haven’t made it to the public salon yet. We must pace ourselves.


A tour of the chocolates of Fontainebleau

Outside of Frederic Cassel in Fontainebleau

Fountainebleau is a town on the outskirts of Paris. We are here with Cyrus’ family who is visiting from the Netherlands and New York.
The town is famous for its palace and palace gardens which date back about 400 years. To be honest, I don’t know much about the history of the place. I’ve been too busy checking out the Fountainebleau food scene.

Kerstin at Frederic Cassel

Much to our surprise, Fountainebleau has at least 6 chocolate shops within about a 1km radius. We visited 2 of them today.
The first is a French franchise called “Jeff de Brugge”. Our B&B host purchased it and has given it to his daughter to run. He gave us a tour and explainded the operations of the business. The selling point seems to be that the chocolate used in production comes from their own cocoa bean coop in the Ivory Coast. It’s something that they advertise on their brochures and marketing material. It’s good to see that there’s a demand for responsibly traded cacao. The chocolate was o.k. I preferred the bark which used a 70% cacao over the bon bons.

The bon bons at the place up the street, on the other hand, were REALLY good. The shop is called Frederic Cassel and everything looked pretty wicked. There was a good selection of macrons as well as a other pastries, cakes and baked goods. I purchased a few bon bons to try and loved the bee pollen one I had earlier.

I’m a little concerned about my chocolate consumption as we approach the Salon du Chocolat which starts tomorrow! Cyrus and I will take the early train in to Paris and hope to get there when the doors open at 9am. There we will meet the great chocolatiers of Paris and France. Stay tuned for photos and updates in the coming days!

A fountain in Fontainebleau

A Chocolate-y Afternoon Tea Party

UPDATE: Cally herself will be in the shop with us for the afternoon! She is preparing 3 different tea blends, and will be selling some of her wares as well. This is a good chance to stock up and hear a bit about her future plans!

Rachel, in particular, has been waiting to host a chocolate-y tea party for quite some time now, and it’s finally here!

We hope you will join us on Sunday, October 23rd, to celebrate fall and chocolate at the shop. Three custom tea blends from Cally’s Teas will be served alongside our sweet and savoury menu:

Pear and walnut tarts with The Cheesiry’s Pecorino, Radish tartines with butter and sea salt and Pickled cucumber sandwiches with Smoky Valley chévre.

On the sweeter side there will be ginger scones with lemon-white chocolate cream, orange shortbread dipped in Valrhona’s 64% Manjari and an assortment of our bark and confections.

Tea will be served at 1pm, and again at 2:30pm. We will have a few tables in the shop for those who would like to take seats, but please note that (due to the size of our space) we encourage mingling amongst other chocophiles.

Tickets may be purchased online, by phone or in shop for $12. All guests will receive a 10% discount off of any purchase.

Meeting Herr Mohr

Me and Mr. Mohr, the man who made Puffreis.

I had an interesting meeting with a man who used to own a chocolate factory in the town of Maechtersheim where I lived as a child. His name is Mr. Mohr and he and his family once made chocolate in the region including a certain confection called “puffreis schokolade” which simply means chocolate and puffed rice. For some strange reason, this confection is adored by Germans and supposedly, Mr. Mohr made the best around.

A mass-produced Puffreis that is very popular in Germany.

I’ve wanted to make it commercially for a while but I didn’t know how to make it without the chocolate hardening too quickly before it got into the molds. I mentioned this to my aunt and she arranged a meeting with Mr. Mohr at her house on the evening that we would have our family gathering. When we arrived a bunch of us (my aunts are as into making food as I am) grilled him on the proper puffreis making technique. What’s the proper ratio of chocolate to rice? How do you put the mixture into the molds? How do you scrape the lumpy chocolate to get it smooth on top? Most importantly, how do you keep the stuff from hardening? The trick, Mr. Mohr explained is to use a water bath with 2 compartments and to have the rice chocolate in one and tempered chocolate in the other. You then add more chocolate as the mixture runs low. This was not groundbreaking information and I probably would have figured it out myself had I made it on a regular basis. I suppose I was hoping there would be some magic piece of machinery that would make the job easier. It’s tedious work, hand making bars of chocolate, but alas, no new miracles were made. Nevertheless, it was nice to get a description of the full process from someone who made it commercially. I did however, discover something upon speaking to Mr. Mohr. The best way to learn how to do something is through trial and error. If I spend too much time researching and don’t spend the time on doing, I won’t make any discoveries. The making is the research.

The main drag in my home town of Speyer. We have a 950 year old basilica too!

The Americans – Portland

While Portland may only have one bean-to-bar manufacturer (Woodblock), the flavours going on in Oregon are pretty exciting, with the likes of Cocanú, Shagùn, Alma and Xocolatl de Davíd all in the mix. I couldn’t resist filling my suitcase with “a few” bars for Rachel and I to sample back at the shop. Here’s how it went:

Cocanú – Sebastián Cisneros does his best to keep his chocolate ‘weird’. Right on his website it says, “We tinker with chocolate couvertures (from Felchlin) and give them an alternative portrait.” Things like Pop Rocks, Palo Santo wood from Ecuador and Saigon cinnamon can all be found in his beautifully wrapped collection of nine bars. My favourite (and Rachel’s) is easily his ‘Holy Wood’ bar – Felchlin’s 68% Bolivian chocolate infused with incredibly floral, fresh Palo Santo wood.

Sahagún – Two bars from this chocolatier made it back to Edmonton – Oregon Bark and Palomitapapá. The former featured a dark Madagascan base which held rich hazelnuts and fruity sour cherries, both from Oregon. Beautiful. The latter was a bit more complex – Ecuadorian chocolate, exploded corn, chile and fleur de sel. We loved the layers of flavours, though in the end we still weren’t sure about the crunchy ‘exploded corn’.

Xocolatl de Davíd – I wish now, that I would have picked up a few more treats from this company that seems to focus heavily on that glorious salt + chocolate combo with ingredients like bacon, foie gras and Parmesan cheese. I ended up with two bars – 68% Bolivia with olive oil and 72% Ecuador with Parmigiano-Reggiano – as well as his ‘bacon caramel’ Raleigh Bar. Everything was excellent, but by far my favourite is the olive oil. The olive oil gives the bar a great fruitiness, while some smoked salt in the background gives some unexpected texture and savouriness.

Alma – I tracked down Alma at the Portland Farmers’ Market at PSU, after hearing wonders about their confections. I sampled a rose caramel and brought back ginger-almond toffee and Habanero caramel in my suitcase. By far the star was the toffee, consumed by Rachel and I in just one afternoon. Sharp and gingery with perfectly executed, flavourful caramel and a deep, dark chocolate base. I should have bought more.

Woodblock – As far as I understand, this is the only company doing ‘bean-to-bar’ in the area (I think Moonstruck imports chocolate for their bars and confections). Rachel and I cracked their 70% Dominican salt and nibs bar at the shop. While we wished there were more salt and nibs, their chocolate is undoubtedly beautiful, with lots of fruity notes throughout.

Two great sources for chocolate in town are Cacao Drink Chocolate in the downtown area, and The Meadow, a shop in the NE that also carries copious amounts of finishing salts, Oregon wines and bitters.

Cacao features drinking chocolate flights, an amazing selection of bars, confections and other chocolate related items. Plus they have a beautiful, rustic space that everything can be enjoyed in. Walking into The Meadow is quite the experience, and thankfully friendly staff are there to help you choose a bar from their wall of single origin chocolates or fill your container with a new sea salt. And I immediately fell in love with their copious selection of bitters, something so rarely encountered in Edmonton.

I recently chatted with some customers at the shop who said they’ve also tried some of Xocolatl de Davíd’s items; they were amazed at the savoury items he was including in his bars and confections (as was I). What about you? Any combos from American chocolatiers that have blown you away?

Say hello to Vosges (and more Domori, Zotter and Venchi)

We’re starting to run out of shelving space in the shop, but last week we happily made room for items from Vosges, Domori, Zotter and Venchi.

From Vosges we received Red Fire, Blood Orange Caramel and Black Salt Caramel bars, in addition to their famous Mo’s Bacon Bars in dark and milk. There’s also some of their Aztec and La Parisienne drinking chocolates, plus Peanut Butter Bonbons and their “Sweet and Salt Exotic Caramel Collection.” Tupelo honey + bee pollen + milk chocolate? We’re there.

Domori also sent us some beautiful new bars from their “D-fusion” line. Favourites like white chocolate with mint and their milk chocolate lattesal are back on the shelf. Additionally we ordered their dark Peperoncino bar which has turned out to be a ‘must’ for heat lovers. Finally, we received two new milk bars – a soft cappuccino and a puffed amaranth.

The much loved “Bacon Bits” bar from Zotter is back on the shelf (yes bacon lovers, this is the time to come in), as is their “Strawberry” in-and-out bar. We also received new flavours like Arabian Date, Late Risers (a beautiful coffee bar) and a crunchy caramel nougat. And don’t forget their “Scotch Whisky” bar – a caramel-y scotch ganache, created with Highland Harvest’s Organic Scotch, all enrobed by dark chocolate.

Also new from Zotter are their solid Labooko bars in raspberry (“Himbeer”), milk chocolate made with Muscovado sugar (“Karamell”), and an all cocoa butter white chocolate with crunchy almond brittle (“Gelbe Shokolade mit Krokant”).

Finally, no fall would be complete without gianduja. Venchi sent us a beautifully soft version wrapped in gold. They also sent us some gianduja specially created for Christmas (I know, we thought it was a little early too). Keep an eye out at the end of November for the appearance of gianduja Nutcrackers.

We continue to receive new chocolate each week (very exciting – it’s like Christmas each time an order comes in!). We’re expecting new Theo bars and caramels in the next week or so, and Amedei should re-appear on the shelves near the end of the month. In the meantime, there’s lots of chocolate on the shelves waiting to be enjoyed.

Our October Pick: Michel Cluizel’s Maralumi Lait

We were originally wowed by Michel Cluizel’s handling of the Maralumi Noir, made up of beans from his Papua New Guinea plantation. But then he sent us Maralumi Lait.

Cluizel has an excellent record when it comes to dark-milks. Just taste the surprisingly bright and citrusy Mangaro Lait. His Maralumi milk keeps this trend going.

On the back of the bar, Cluizel suggests the following: “The characteristic notes of bananas, red berries and blueberries emanate progressively in an herbaceous harmony and then in salty caramel.” In short, we loved the soft, well balanced fruit notes in this bar that mingle throughout with rich caramel. And certainly at the end, the quick appearance of ‘salted caramel’ is quite endearing, and something much loved in all dark-milk chocolates.

For all these reasons, we chose the Maralumi Lait as this month’s pick. Drop by the shop and mention this post to receive 10% off Maralumi Lait bars throughout October.

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!