On a recent work trip to Paris I was very lucky to get access to the kitchens of the relatively new La Manafacture de Chocolat from Alain Ducasse and to chat with the head chocolate maker Nicholas Berger, a warm and knowledgeable chef who didn’t seem to mind me disrupting his day for an hour, at all. To say I was excited about this is an understatement. I love working with chocolate and have visited many production kitchens, but I’ve never been in the kitchen where chocolate is actually made so I could not wait to see it.
For a city so enamoured with chocolate it might be surprising to find out this is the first bean to bar chocolate maker in Paris, even in France its not that common, with only a handful of people making chocolate this way. Setting up a facility like this could not have been easy, in fact the chef was told by many people in the industry that it was too difficult and that there was no point making his own chocolate. Thankfully Nicholas himself saw it in the complete opposite way, if he was going to make something special and different then surely making everything from scratch was the way to go. Finding the right location was one of the biggest hurdles, it took 3 years to find the perfect spot (apparently some people don’t like the smell of chocolate!) Equipment for chocolate making is also difficult to find. Unless you are starting a large scale production there just isn’t the equipment around so you have to improvise. The roaster for the beans was originally designed for coffee and has been adapted for chocolate, the rollers used to refine the chocolate were originally used in the production of ink and the machine that grinds the nibs into cocoa liquor was originally found in a mustard factory!
In the same way the equipment is repurposed so is the shop. Originally it was a citroen garage which is maybe why the shop is very unassuming from the street. When you walk through the archway towards the shop you are instantly hit with the aroma of chocolate, and I visited on a day when they weren’t roasting beans (Nicolas assured me that the smell is even better on those days). The shop has a great look and whilst it appears to have been custom designed lots of the fittings were actually found at flea markets and antique shops, most of the large elements are actually from an old bank.
The shop has now been open for 9 months and by all reports it is doing very well, whilst I was there the shop was full of people and the amount of chocolate and truffles being made seemed, to me at least, impressively large.
Nicholas was previously the executive head pastry chef for all Alain Ducasse restaurants and he has been a pastry chef for most of his working life, so I asked what the difference was between pastry and chocolate. After spending years travelling around the world setting up restaurants and creating dishes for different menus Nicholas found that he really wanted to build something from the ground up, he wanted to use products he was actually making, he didn’t just want to continue using what everyone else was using. Knowing this explains the way the kitchen works. You don’t see bags of chocolate from other producers, tubs of praline paste bought in, everything they can make is made in-house, this extra level of work is something I was very impressed with.
What came across was his passion, speaking to him for an hour we chatted about the state of chocolate in England what brands are popular and whether people are into origin chocolates or whether they are purely into confectionary or cheaper products. Origin chocolates are something Nicholas definitely appreciates, the whole shop seems to based around that idea. The bars are sold according to the region and percentage of cocoa content, there is even a box you can buy which comes with chocolate made with different origin beans so you can taste the differences.
The Ganaches come in two forms there are the origin ganaches which are basically classic chocolates made with different single origins in ganache form. There are also different flavoured ganaches which come in a great mix of flavours. Nicolas seems to want to do something different, he almost seems to be reacting against what other chocolatiers in Paris are doing, he said he didn’t just want to do what was currently trendy. I think that’s what sets him apart, he is doing things differently but with a huge respect to classic ideas.
Whilst I was in the shop I tried a few different chocolates including an amazing Tonka bean ganache, a lime ganache that really packed in huge amounts of flavour and wonderful Prune and Armagnac ganache. Asked if he saw more shops in the same vein, with an onsite kitchen, he said that the visible kitchen has become a signature for the brand so it would make sense to eventually have another shop like this, however at the moment the only other place to buy his chocolates is at a have a little concession in Galleries Lafayette but he does eventually see more shops, and you never know one in London isn’t out of the question.
Le Manafacture de Chocolat
40 Rue de la Roquette, 75011 Paris