Chocolate à la Alain Ducasse
Whenever Alain Ducasse opens a new restaurant or a charming countryside inn, the cognoscenti immediately take notice. So it is no surprise that his recent venture into chocolate making—Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse (40 Rue de la Roquette; 33-1/48-05-82-86; lechocolat-alainducasse.com), which opened in February in the Bastille neighborhood of Paris—has heads turning. Instead of relying on premade couverture (bulk chocolate), as many high-end brands do, the Frenchman enlisted his former pastry chef, Nicolas Berger, to source and roast beans for the ultimate pod-to-bar creations.
From a workshop attached to the store, 42-year-old Berger does everything from cracking the cocoa pods to tempering. Treats include milk- and dark-chocolate bars in different percentages, nine praline varieties and a dozen ganaches (dark vanilla, lime, coffee). The head chocolatier spoke with us recently about the hard work involved and why eating the sweet treat shouldn’t be so serious.
Q: There are some high-quality brands out there that you could use for your chocolate. Why make your own?
A: Mr. Ducasse and I have had a dream to open a chocolate workshop since 2005, but we always knew that we wanted to put our hands on it from the very beginning, where we actually source the beans. It’s in line with his philosophy of always using the best of the best, and we felt we could only get that by doing it ourselves.
Q: How did you choose the plantations?
A: I visited a few dozen of them in the Dominican Republic and Peru and from other places we source from, including São Tomé, Madagascar, Trinidad and Ecuador. Plantations actually sent me bean samples here in Paris. I looked at the quality of the pods and the beans to make sure they were clean and without stones. If I was satisfied, I would roast the beans and make small batches of chocolate to see how they turned out. Then, based on the taste, I made the final decisions.
Q: What is involved in making the chocolate?
A: It’s an elaborate process with several steps and machines. We usually get about a half ton of beans a month. First we sort through them and throw away the ones with the broken pods. We roast them for 25 to 30 minutes and crack the shells to get the nibs, which we mill into a cocoa paste and mix with sugar and milk if we are making milk chocolate. Then we refine this mixture through big cylinders, conche it and temper it before it’s ready to be used in bars and pieces.
Q: How often do you produce?
A: We do it once a week—200 kilos of pieces and 500 kilos of bars. Since the chocolate is available only in Paris, that amount is just for our store.
Q: Do you eat it every day?
A: Yes, at least a pound. My favorites are the bars from Ecuador and Peru and also the pralines.
Q: And how is it best enjoyed?
A: Anytime and by itself. Some people try to make chocolate intellectual by pairing it with wine or doing formal tastings. Eating chocolate should be fun, not serious.