La Maison du Chocolate sets a global standard for excellence in chocolate. Since 1977, when Robert Linxe opened the first Paris shop, there has been attention to detail and a real love of fine chocolate at the core. They now have shops across France and have created a worldwide presence for fine French chocolate in Hong Kong, Japan, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.
I spent a day at their atelier outside Paris, and was blown away by what I found. The workshops are delightful, a series of rooms, each with their own function, and complete with a charming team of worker bees, intent on the task in hand. The whole feels happy, industrious, intent on perfection and taste. Each room has a subtly different smell, a little more toasted here, a little sweeter there, maybe a drop of coffee in this next one.
In one room at the heart of it, in between the pastry room and where the ganaches are prepared, is Nicolas Cloiseau’s headquarters, a room where he and just two other chefs, cook up recipes, taste, design and create. There is nothing industrial about La Maison du Chocolat’s production, which is surprising and wonderful, given their scope. All the chocolates for all their stores worldwide are made in this very building in Nanterre.
Monsieur Cloiseau himself is a quiet presence, focused, and when he speaks it is softly, but rapidly and with assurance. He has a close and harmonious relationship with Robert Linxe, truly one of the most important figures in the history of French chocolate, and is at pains to honour and respect all that La Maison du Chocolat became under its illustrious founder. Cloiseau started there 18 years ago, straight from patisserie training in his native Brittany. He began with a plan to spend 2 years at La Maison du Chocolat, but never left.
As a chocolatier he is of course a different man to Monsieur Linxe, and his creative challenge is to both uphold the heritage of the house and to innovate. In that respect it is much like a young designer taking over at a grand couture fashion house. In addition to its classics there are regular new collections, seasonal releases or collaborations, that allow a completely new set of flavours, created in such a way as to chime in well with the house style.
A summer 2014 collaboration with Bar du Bristol and its Chef Barman Maxime Hoerth, has resulted in a group of chocolates that reinvent the cocktails from the bar of the iconic Paris hotel. They are bright and fruity, the alcohol never over played and the chocolate adding extra sophistication to the recipes.
What is key in a chocolate from La Maison du Chocolat is that the chocolate comes first, that the added flavour doesn’t overwhelm. When eating you will taste the chocolate first, then any added flavour, after you will be left with simply chocolate. It is a subtle, elegant style, a clean pleasure, whose lightness of touch belies all the care that has been taken in its creation and construction.
In a nutshell: French chocolate at its best, spreading the word worldwide.
La Maison du Chocolate
Catherine (Cat) Black is a food blogger, a chocolate specialist and judge of chocolate competitions. Check out her chocolaty blog and follower her on twitter @CatBlackChoc.