Sometimes, occasionally - okay, only really as I write this and reflect on a day spent almost entirely in the pursuit of chocolate perfection - I do ask myself, is it entirely healthy for a grown man in his late 20s (cue awkward coughs and sideways glances) to be so fixated on what is, essentially, candy?
To which the self evident answer is, well, what else is there to do with a free day in Paris? An almost perfect ignorance of art and architecture liberates me from the crushing tedium of galleries and museums. My wife’s necessarily iron grip on the household finances, and the Wiemar Republic-style devaluation of the pound means there isn’t much mileage in shopping in Euros. And, besides, I’m not in my late 20s anyway.
So let’s get on with the business at hand. Who is the greatest chocolatier (someone who makes chocolates, rather than someone who makes chocolate) in Paris today.
The usual answer to that is, whichever one I happen to be standing in, but this time I thought I’d try and be a little more rigorous in my evaluation, which is just another way of saying, I wondered just how many I could visit and sample in one day.
First up was an old classic, and a favourite of mine since I first started coming to Paris about, ahem, that can’t be right... but it seems, well, that was 17 years ago (how can I have reached a stage in my life when I can recall doing anything 17 years ago with any clarity?).
As well as fashioning quite staggering statues, figures and, erm, sausages out of chocolate - not sure why, really, as the guilt you’d feel at dismantling them would surely undermine the pleasure of their consumption (if only for a brief moment, at any rate) - Michel Chaudun also makes the definitive, bare naked ganache truffles.
Ganache - essentially a crystalised blend of chocolate and cream, usually with a little butter and trimoline/sucré inverté (inverted, or syrup sugar - you can use honey) - is usually coated with tempered couverture and often infused with citrues fruits, herbs, teas, spices, alcohol or, these days, any other theoretically edible compound that exists within the universe. But some of Paris’ chocolatiers also sell them in teeny tiny cubes lightly dusted with bitter cocoa powder. I am not sure, but I think Chaudun was the first to do this, and his are still the best: light, smooth and silky with no hint of graininess, and, somehow, delightfully springy. This box of six worked out at over 50 cents a piece, which probably makes them about as costly as mammoth ivory, but they are an unsurpassed sensual pleasure and an essential rite of passage in any chocolate lover’s life.
(His shop is on the corner of the same 7th arrondissement street - rue Malar - as two great value restaurants, Stephane Jego's Basque restaurant L’Ami Jean, and L’Affriolé, by the way).
To counteract the calorific burden of my Chaudun purchase (and as I knew I would pass a couple of really fine patisseries on the way) I actually walked across a good chunk of the Left Bank to the next stop on my chocolate itinerary, the little shoe box shop of John-Charles Rochoux (whose chocolate crocodile featured in my last post) at 16, rue d’Assas in the 6th. I’d read about it on David Lebovitz’s wonderful blog, and thought I’d check it out.
As well as the croc, there were more wacky/troubling, gothic choc-tures (could you eat a baby? A whole one?).
The cheery M Rochoux himself was manning the till and directed me to his basil and tobacco ganaches the flavours of which were punchily vivid. The tobacco flavour had an amazing length - if you can forgive me the choc-poncery - but the basil - which seemed to have candied basil stalk mixed in - was especially, and unexpectedly fab. Definitely up there with the best I have ever tasted, and nice and chunky too.
This is the tobacco ganache. Very nice too it was.
Part II of my chocolate odyssey after the break. No flicking!