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Chocolate craftsmen make their mark

​Last April, chocolatier par excellence Patrick Roger decided he wanted to try his hand at sculpting poultry - and the result was a whole farm-yard of individually hand-finished chickens, each with its own particular personality. You can certainly count on chocolate artists to bring a touch of humour as they mould, sculpt, and prepare their chocolate creations with such amazing skills!

At Easter, the shop windows filled with these dreamy delights attract the attention of passing eyes and taste-buds alike. It’s GoodBye traditional Easter eggs, beribboned chocolate bunnies, and chickens filled with mini-eggs , and Hello little pigs, garden gnomes, and mushrooms with lovingly crafted melting ganache caps. Chocolate manufacturers Marquise de Sévigné, Puyricard, Bonnat, and Richart all agree on one thing: "French chocolatiers are diversifying even if their clientele hasn’t changed."

Victoire Finaz, the young designer and owner of Abanico, has no doubts on that score: "We take the chocolate paste, and make whatever we fancy with it – bars, sweets, all sorts of things, paying close attention to the temperature and the chocolatier’s instructions of course. Anything goes – as long as it is absolutely top quality!" Christmas inspires equally inventive creations – chocolatier Pierre Marcolini, for instance, is so enamoured of chocolate that he chose to completely lose his head over it – and have his chocolate Santas do the same!

And among this unique group of crafstmen, we can find the great chocolatier Jean-Paul Hévin. "Last Easter, I dreamt up a number of themes paying homage to mother Earth, such as my giant chocolate egg, ‘Cocooning’ (pictured). ‘L'An-poule’*, on the other hand, is a reminder that we are very wasteful of our energy supplies!"

As soon as Spring is on the doorstep, Patrice Chapon’s Paris boutiques are a shopper’s delight, filled with artistic bars of chocolate, spicy sweets, and remarkable little chocolate fish, while Christian Constant offers a black forest bear that’s as spiky as a hedgehog. The likes of François Pralus and co are slaves to both genius and perfection. These artists are inexhaustible lovers of good food who want to please their customers on one condition: that they enquire about their amazing craftmanship.

According to Jean-Paul Hévin, "good chocolate is easy to recognise – by its warm, dark colour and of course its powerful aroma. As soon as you open the box, it should release a strong, pervasive, delicate yet insistent aroma that instantly makes you feel good and also makes you want to taste it!”

Revolutionary chocolate containers - and contents – for palates and palaces: if we are talking artistic creativity then the prize has to go to gifted craftsman Alain Le Furet Tanrade. At the same time, Hélène Colas knows a thing or two about expressing herself in cocoa beans from Latin America, Africa, and Indonesia – she makes chocolate bags, chocolate candle-sticks, chocolate masks, and other exclusive objects to be exclusively enjoyed – including chocolate chocolate pots !
Practically a French institution, La Maison Boissier is diversifying by offering its usual lines plus some very unusual ones over the Easter period. "Last year we made Lucky Bags for boys and girls to open during break!" Jérôme Lépinay and other fans of everything Asian have created all sorts of amazing chocolate animals, while Pascal Le Gac, or ‘ganache king’ as he is known in the profession, only allows very special people to try his very special inventions – talking to this voluble, proud craftsman is an absolute joy.

We must not forget Jean-Marc Scribante, Hubert Masse (Le Cacaotier), or Franck Dubos, all leading thinkers and taste-makers..."The French Federation of Chocolatiers and Confectioners (Confédération de chocolatiers et confiseurs de France) represents both craftsmen and small stores that make and sell chocolates, confectionery, and biscuits," says its president, Tanguy Roelandts.

"Our chocolate is the gold standard for chocolate all over the world, so we have no qualms about promoting it proudly!"

He and all chocolate fans are well aware that to be a chocolatier is a privilege requiring rigour and perfection. "If the chocolate is poorly flavoured, badly balanced or of poor quality, it shocks the palate...Whatever you are creating, you have to respect the material you are working with, from the initial processing of the cocoa bean right through to the moment of slow, studied enjoyment...And the title craftsman chocolatier is not easy to come by either!" emphasises Jacques Pessis, president of the Chocolate Munchers’ Club (Club des Croqueurs de Chocolats).

A love of making good chocolate is not just a French thing however – and the many men and women in the profession clearly love what they do and are keen to pass on their expertise. "Teaching people – children and adults alike – what is meant by a chocolate couverture, or a hand-made, powerfully-flavoured ganache…telling them where cocoa-beans come from…what could be better than that?" concludes Robert Linxe, a master chocolatier who was one of the first to find inspiration in unusual combinations and put his finger on the stability of great vintages, and yet, paradoxically, just cannot resist a milk chocolate!

* 'Year of the Chicken' – the French title sounds like the French word for light-bulb