In late April I was treated to a couple of days in Paris, and what a treat! The capital of chocolat in spring was heavenly, and I recommend navigating any city by chocolate shop – but most especially Paris!
The wonderful thing about these shops is that they are as much a feast for the eyes as they are for the taste buds – shops so overwhelmingly chic and cool that it takes a while sometimes to realise that they are selling chocolate. The sound of swishing drawers opening and shutting, the white, silver or black surfaces – you would normally associate with a jewellery shop or high class dress shop. This almost seems to be the purpose of the exquisite style – to the extent that the shop assistants seem determined not to mention the word chocolate either; or answer any questions about flavours or price. Don’t bother the assistant with mundane questions of ganache or praline, dark or milk, cinnamon or raspberry. These delicacies have been made by the Maître – that is really all that needs to be said about it. I have to say I did find this a bit frustrating in the end – but maybe I am too obsessed with detail?
And they are all so different – expressing such difference in character that often but not always comes through in the chocolates themselves (were we getting chocolate blind by the end of day?). Solid tradition in Michel Chaudun classic corner shop (oh to have a corner shop like this on your street) where he himself works creating his confections; perfect elegance in Jacques Genin - the absolutely chicest shop, beautiful honeyed stone walls that are almost fudge-like – with chocolates and pate de fruit dispalyes as if treasured jewels ; bright clarity and knowledgable assistance with Richart, wild expressionistic art from Patrick Roger, calm quality and competence from Michel Cluizel, tradional sweety shop detail from Chapon, funky multicoloured and flavoured macarons in Pierre Hermé
In fitting with the elegance of these shops, there are no samples sitting on the counter; a taste was offered reverentially, presented to you on a small plate or tray. Conversation was minimal – language not really being an issue – most of the assistants spoke excellent English. I was most excited to be early enough one morning to find Michel Chaudun in his shop, before he needed to head off to his workshop to make chocolates for the day. He was charming and patient and forgiving of my poor French. He was the only maker I met in all the shops
Many of the shops had Muguet; May 1st is a national holiday (international labour day) and also Lily of the valley day – traditionally people gave those they loved a small bunch of these gorgeous flowers. Still do I am sure – but now they can also give a chocolate variety. We saw these in many of the shops, and each followed a similar theme of a chocolate flower pot, filled with praline and then topped with a Lily of the valley leaf and flowers. Most of them had false greenery – but the Patick Roger (picture above) was an artful interpretation.
We have slowly been eating our way through the many (oh so chic carrier) bags of chocolate that I brought back. In the end the one that really stood out was a simple box of Pavés from Michel Chaudun. These are perfect little cubes of ganache, dusted with cocoa powder rather than a chocolate shell, and fashioned on cobblestones; he created them in the 80s when the road outside his shop was dug up and there were piles of cuboid stones outside his shop. His chocolate versions are small, simple and perfect and definitely a lesson in ‘less is more’.
Back in Perthshire and at my market stall I am a far cry from these palaces of style! Especially recently – it has been hard work keeping cheerful in relentless rain and wind. However, I have taken a few lessons from my trip; I offer samples rather than leave them on the front of the stall; I am going to slim down the range a little – it has got a bit out of hand; and produce some better promotional material. And I have lots of inspiration for the September Perthshire Open Studios art work! And I ask myself, where are the women chocolate masters of Paris?