This year marks the 500th aniversary of the discovery of chocolate by the old world. French gastronomy took the opportunity to put on a show, the eighth International Chocolate Exposition, in grand style. Burke and I paid our respects.
The vast halls of the Carrousel du Louvre were turned over to the exhibition, a three-day festival that transformed the basement of the world's largest museum into a chocolate-lover's paradise. Ten Euro admission bought access to hundreds of booths literally dripping with chocolate (actual fountains of the stuff). The big corporations had their wing: Nestlé, Toblerone and so on, but we concentrated on the rest of the show, the artisanal chocolatiers and their astonishing, innovative work.
Like most trade shows, especially popular ones open to all, this was a crowded, tumultuous affair. Hundreds of vendors, some representing ancient houses world renowned for their chocolates, others bright new contenders flashing their postmodern confections, fought for your attention on the sprawling floor. Add to this mix a lot of overexcited children and too much sugar, and it's clear why we stayed only an hour and a half.
Most every booth offered samples, yet we wound up eating very little. You were encouraged to try, but also to buy. Some of the products offered at this show are unavailable anywhere else but in the boutique's home shop, often in another country. We tasted, we glowed, we bought. Here are the highlights.
VALRHONA is the one of the few industrial, international chocolate manufacturers that keeps the standards, quality and attitude of a boutique. It is the chocolate of choice for those artisans who don't process their own beans but who specialize in hand-made delicacies. It's the only chocolate our hero Richard Donnelly uses. Their titanic, tasteful booth offered samples only on request, and debuted a whole new limited edition chocolate made from the beans of a single plantation in the Caribbean. We picked up a bar, and found it good but over subtle.
DAUBOS is a French house label with its store in the town of Versailles itself, just outside Paris. The standout here was the best cannelé we've ever had. This honey and beeswax pastry was moist, flavorful, slightly creamy, better than any we'd had anywhere in France to date. Of course, there's no chocolate in it, but who cares?
MADAME SETSUKO of Tokyo was the discovery of the show for us. Room after room featured artists fixated on traditional European flavors and combinations, rarely daring to step beyond familiar territory. Her neat booth staffed with efficient decorators creating before your eyes the unusual aesthetic of her chocolates announced a new force had been born. Where so many competitors still insist on plastic-transfer cocoabutter designs (that's how a chocolate can look "printed"), Setsuko embraced the less efficient and costlier hand-decorated floral patterns that turned her works into tiny paintings.
All this would be a bit precious if her flavors weren't outstanding. They are. Green tea powder has been used by Western chefs and chocolatiers for some time now, but we finally understood the power of it in Setsuko's Green Tea Ganaches. Some candies were flavored with soy and other unusual ingredients. Burke predicted her use of toasted sesame seeds would be the next big thing in chocolate design, and I agree.
Other attractions included a chocolate sculpture exhibit in honor of the Louvre, and lots of international exhibits about the history, development and production of chocolate. A fascinating, delicious show.
a Burke and Wells essay