Salon de Chocolate - Paris, France
Photos & Text by Harris Gaffin
Summary: A convention dedicated to chocolate. The
Paris, France – It is Saturday and I am taking a walk past the Louvre when I notice a poster advertising a chocolate festival.
France is the easiest place in the world to find high quality chocolate. Gourmet chocolate is sold here the way candy bars are sold in other countries. This culture is into chocolate, not sugar.
And on this crisp November afternoon, it is just as easy to visit a chocolate festival as it is to walk in the park.
Chocolate has increasingly become a reason to celebrate and more cities now host a chocolate festival including New York and Tokyo. But the original one started in 1994 in Paris and since then has had over 600,000 visitors, sold 338 tons of chocolate, served 360,000 cups of coffee and 250,000 cups of hot chocolate.
I head into the theater where the Paris fashion shows are held but instead of finding fashion groupies, I find chocolate gourmets. Everyone is here to appreciate and to taste this socially acceptable sin.
I enter the salon and am overwhelmed by the crowd. Tens of thousands people have paid 10 Euros each just to look at high quality, gourmet, artisan, chocolate.
I want to taste everything but it is impossible. It will take two full days just to visit every stall. Most of them are French but there are also chocolatiers from Russia, Japan, Germany and Italy.
The stands are set up in every style from lovingly and neatly to high piles of raw bricks so hard pieces can only be broken off with a hammer and chisel.
Besides exhibitions, the organizers provide statistics on chocolate eaters, noting for example that surveys indicate that women prefer black to milk chocolate, bars to bonbons, evening over daytime.
Companies have invented new ways to use chocolate including making jewelry with it, using cocoa butter in body lotion and hair treatment as well as adding the scent to perfume. The Body Shop skin care company features a ‘Lounge Beauté’ and a ‘Cacao massage’ as well as offering make-up produce based on cocoa beans.
The purpose of the festival is to promote high quality chocolate and provide recognition to and an outlet for talent in the profession. The three-day event attracts about 100,000 people including 500 journalists.
The festival includes a fashion show of avant-garde couturiers who have created fashion items inspired by chocolate. There is a chocolate-related job market service and career consultation, over 50 seminars and demonstrations, a chocolate awards ceremony, a display of chocolate sculptures and a collection of chocolate memorabilia including tools, posters, molds and porcelain.
The Ivory Coast contingent does both, giving out free samples and selling bananas covered in chocolate sauce.
There are all types of vendors. Some are very businesslike, some are on a mission to educate, others seem downright uncomfortable dealing with the public and seem to prefer to just make chocolate.
There has been an increased emphasis on packaging. The boutique ‘La Maison Pralus’ has pyramids of brightly colored tissue wrapped chocolate squares on the counter and very cute shop girls behind it.
They introduce me to their boss, Francois Pralus, a handsome, fit looking man with Popeye-like forearms. He invites me to join him at a table. His assistant brings us a couple of espressos and a tray of chocolates. He pulls out a couple of cigars and offers one to me. Things could be worse.
The vast majority of artisans buy their chocolate from big distributors. But Francois goes to Africa, visits the farms, selects the pods and ships them back to his factory located outside of Lyon. There he supervises a staff of cute African girls from the Ivory Coast who are experts at roasting and manufacturing chocolate. Mr. Pralus also has a small cocoa farm in Madagascar. And he has all his wooden hand-carved gift packaged made there by local artisans.
Mr. Pralus is the second generation chocolate producer. His company, La Maison Pralus was set up by his father, Auguste Pralus, in 1948 in Roanne, France. In 1955, Auguste Pralus was awarded the title, Meilleur Ouvrier de France, Best Worker in France.
In 1988, François took over his father’s business. After he apprenticed with his father and worked with other chocolate masters, he opened a laboratory dedicated to the ‘gourmandise royale’ of chocolate. He is one of the few Masters of chocolate who actually buy the beans and roasts and manufactures it from scratch. Most artisans buy the chocolate in bricks, melt it down and then mix it with various flavors.
“Like the great wines, one can speak of the origins of cacao,” he says. “Venezuela has a slight smoked taste. Trinidad is slightly woody. The cacao of Madagascar has a hint of red fruits.”
He offers Pyramide des Tropiques which includes 10 squares, each one is in a different colored tissue and is named after a different plantation region like Ghana, Colombia, Ecuador, etc. the package is wrapped together with straw.
He also makes a Crème de noisette, coco powder, coco and vanilla liquors, and a tour of the world in 15 different flavors. But there are no strawberries dipped in chocolate, just 100% pure chocolate items of 100% pure chocolate. //end// (900 words)