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When La Maison du Chocolat opened in 1977, the concept of a high-end boutique chocolatier had yet to catch on. To hear chef Nicolas Cloiseau tell it, chocolate in the ‘70s, even in Paris, was just thought of as sugar-saturated candy for children, rather than an artisanal delicacy. Cloiseau heads up chocolate creation and innovation at La Maison du Chocolat and is known in France as a Meilleur Ouvrier de France—essentially, a master sommelier of chocolate. He describes the opening of La Maison du Chocolat as paving the way for boutique chocolate shops. Prior to the late ‘70s, chocolate was an industry run by Mars, Nestle, Cadbury, and Hershey. And as a result, chocolate-making was focused on mass production, with little investment in the artistry of high-end chocolate.
While artisanal chocolate shops have now opened around the world, La Maison du Chocolat is still thought of as the original chocolat boutique. And yet, they demand clout in the chocolate space not because they are a relic in the business, but because they are still on the cutting-edge of chocolate innovation.
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Cloiseau said, when he was brought on under La Maison du Chocolat founder Robert Linxe, their work involved a lot of custom designs for specific holidays—Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter—which allowed them opportunities for elaborate design work. From working on made-to-order pieces, Cloiseau was promoted to working on long-term innovation for their menu, which coincided with him becoming a Meilleur Ouvrier de France. Chef Cloiseau describes the Meilleur Ouvrier de France as a highly selective government-granted honor that involves a series of tests on chocolate-making techniques over the last century—many of which are no longer in use. France gives out awards like this across nearly 200 specialties of craftsmanship, including cheese, wine, and various spirits.
“In order to succeed, you need to master the current and past techniques specific to your field,” said Cloiseau.
As a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, Cloiseau is a master of ancient chocolate-tempering techniques, while simultaneously innovating the future of chocolate. Cloiseau said it’s the techniques of the trade that have truly evolved over his last 25 years at La Maison du Chocolat. For example, the making of ganache has evolved to the point where, instead of using a whisk or hand mixer, La Maison chefs now use specialized equipment that significantly reduces the amount of air allowed into the ganache. The result is a silkier, creamier ganache, thanks to the technology advancing to keep up with the quality consumers have now come to expect of luxury chocolate.
It’s really the consumers’ taste preferences that govern the shifts in the chocolate-making world. Most recently—just in the last five years—there has been a notable shift toward more natural ingredients. Specifically, Cloiseau is working on integrating fruit in its most natural form into his chocolate, a complete departure from how chocolate chefs once used fruit to fill chocolate.
“Twenty five years ago at Maison du Chocolat, when they were making, for example, a raspberry ganache, they’d use a raspberry liqueur,” said Cloiseau. “Alcohol was used then as a digestive and a preservative. And then, in the ‘90s and ‘00s, they took out the liqueur and instead made a cream with the fruit. Over the last few years, say 2018 to 2021, they’re just using raspberry pulp and going all natural.”
So, really, over the last quarter of a century, chocolate filling has gone from being primarily liqueur-based to becoming more of a cream ganache. But just in the last five years, the chefs at La Maison du Chocolat are doing away with the fruit cream fillings in order to exalt the fruit and make the chocolate consumption experience more natural. As Cloiseau explained, the fruit is the star—they’re not transforming it into something else.
As Cloiseau modernizes fine chocolate, he has been working on one more crucial shift: making chocolate without animal products. His vegan chocolate ganache spent years in the research and development phase—Cloiseau worked with a nutritionist to figure out how he could make a rich, creamy ganache without ganache’s two star ingredients: butter and cream. His new iteration of ganache, which will be widely available this month, is all about wellness. It’s a return to natural ingredients and ultimately yields a decadent luxury chocolate completely devoid of animal products.
“It’s a huge success, and it’s very popular,” said Cloiseau.