Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Alain Ducasse Opens Parisian Chocolate Shop

Chef Alain Ducasse has just added yet another delicious enterprise to his extensive culinary empire, which already includes 27 restaurants worldwide (three of them with three Michelin stars), plus hotels, cooking schools, a consulting division and more. Oui, Mr. Ducasse jumped into the world of high-end chocolate today with the opening of La Manufacture de Chocolat Alain Ducasse in Paris.

The celebrity chef teamed up with pastry chef/chocolatier Nicolas Berger to transform a former garage into a unique 'bean-to-bar chocolate workshop and store, where customers can watch just about every aspect of the chocolate-making process, starting with the roasting of carefully-selected cocoa beans from Peru, Sao Tomé, Madagascar, Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Vietnam and beyond. La Manufacture is at 40 rue de la Roquette, at the back of a small cobbled courtyard in the 11th arrondissement, not far from the Bastille.

The superstar chef says this has been a dream of his ever since he apprenticed under chocolatier Michel Chaudun at the legendary Lenôtre in Paris in 1975.  Later, while working with Alain Chapel in Mionnay, Ducasse used his days off to train with Maurice Bernachon, the famed artisan-chocolatier from Lyon. ''Chocolate bewitches me,'' Ducasse says today. ''It opens doors to imagination and creation....Like a hidden treasure, it demands a high level of method, precision and proficiency. And now I'm inviting you to enter this unique universe.'' 

Nicolas Berger also fell under the spell of chocolate quite young. Working with his father Paul Berger, an artisan chocolatier in Lyon, Nicolas would spend full days coating bonbons in the workshop. After working for the esteemed chocolatiers Hévin, Peltier and Ladurée in Paris,  Nicolas went abroad: to Genoa, first, followed by New York where he landed at Pâtisserie Payard. Alain Ducasse hired him away to be head pastry chef for his restaurant in the Essex House, followed by the same position at Restaurant Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée in Paris. Finally, Nicolas was named executive head pastry chef for the whole company. Nicolas spent four years traveling and sharing his expertise with the Ducasse team around the globe.

It took nearly three years for the two men to scout out the perfect location; it had to be in the very heart of Paris and meet all the technical requirements (an extraction system, strong floors, wide access for deliveries, etc).  The partners wanted a ‘’raw and authentic’’ feel, to enhance their concept of ''transparency'' in every aspect of the chocolate-making process.  The furniture and fixtures came mostly from flea markets and antique shops and were adapted to the space; the heavy steel gates with brass handles came from a former Bank of France building, as did the shelves where tools are now lined up alongside boxes and chocolate bars. The suspended lamps once hung from a 1930s military ship and the drain board in the dishwashing area was formerly a train luggage rack.

‘’We’re both very fond of vintage and we love antiquing,’’ Nicolas explains. ‘’So we used this passion to decorate and furnish the Manufacture.  Even the moulds for the little chocolate Easter fish (a French tradition) where recuperated from old family boxes. Fish with such personality… they don’t make them like this anymore!’’

But one of the greatest challenges of the project was sourcing the right machines,  many of which also led previous lives; tracking them all down took almost four years. ‘’Today, the only machines still manufactured are intended for industrial or semi-industrial use, with a capacity of five tonnes or more,’’ Nicolas explains. ‘’We needed to find machines with capacities of 150 to 200 kilograms..." [A tonne is equal to 1000 kilograms.]

Advised by mostly retired craftsmen, Nicolas travelled all over Europe looking at old machines. Some he found he found dusty and abandoned in dark corners; others had long ago put to other uses: the sorter was being used for Jordan almonds, for example, and the Fryma mill had been used to grind mustard seeds. Methodically, manuals and technical data sheets were gathered...missing parts were ordered...and other pieces were custom made.  The bellows on the old tarare (cocoa crusher) was recovered from an ancient confectionary in Italy, then reassembled by an artisan blacksmith in the Paris region. Each machine was restored with the utmost care and respect. "And still, very frequently, especially when first restarting the machines, I got a few surprises!’’ Nicolas says. Along the way, he says he became an excellent handyman, one who ‘’can assemble and dismantle his Bühler grinder in a flash!’’

I can imagine how magnificent the the shop smells right now...and the excitement of the staff as the doors finally open today...and the row upon row of irresistible bars and bon bons, pralines and truffles, ganache and caramels...everything made from superior ingredients sourced from all over the word…all the exotic, vibrant new flavors and all the old favorites too.

I can also imagine how the Parisian foodies must be flocking today to have the very first irresistable tastes….

Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse
Manufacture à Paris
40, rue de la Roquette
75011 Paris
Tel : 01 48 05 82 86
Web: (under construction)
Metro : Bastille
Open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 7 pm

Photos: Chocolate in its various states at La Manufacture; the idea is bean-to-bar manufacturing of the very highest quality and customers can see just abut every part of the process. At the machine is Nicolas Berger, the executive head pastry chef for Groupe Alain Ducasse. Berger is the son of a well-known chocolatier in Lyon and, like Ducasse, he was bit by the chocolate bug early. Photos #1, #7 and #9 by Pierre Monetta; all other photos by Stephanie Fray. 

Want to read more about Ducasse? My story about his recent party celebrating the 25th anniversary of his Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, is here. And for my story on the posh picnics at Ducasse's Bastide de Moustiers, click here.

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  1. This is fantastic, Julie! Love seeing the photos of process. Thank you!

  2. Waouh I LOVE the photos.
    such a shame I didnt know before as I was in Paris yesterday and now I wish I'd gone. Next time I will....

  3. Julie, What a great story, what a terrible temptation. Have avoided chocolate since I arrived last Sept in that I have lost 41 LBS since arriving and writing the cookbook. Now I am drooling for a fine piece of Chocolate.

  4. This reminds me of the film "Chocolat" with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp - and for those who haven't seen it, it's a must to understand what chocolate is all about. Bravo to Alain Ducasse for getting in on the current wave. Julie - great photos as always. Jackie x x

  5. Image, branding, fame, and chocolate = what a winning combination! Thanks for the informative post.

  6. Just spent the weekend in Paris two weeks ago...yet another to return for a visit for this new outlet plus exploration of the 11th, with which I am unfamiliar!

  7. Julie, thank you; I will be in Paris next month and will go to the shop!!



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