As we enter the festive season, chocolatiers in Paris are preparing treats to warm up winter hearts and stomachs, to give as gifts and to treat yourself. In Jacques Genin’s kitchens the Muscadine chocolates I tasted are a wonderfully seasonal reminder of good things to come. Their slightly boozy nuttiness is just what is wanted on a frosty morning. Frankly anything from Jacques Genin, one of the best shops for chocolate in Paris, would be a welcome gift for the holidays.
The season kicks off with the extravagance of the Salon du Chocolat, that enormous exhibition of chocolate and pastry that this year filled three vast halls at Porte de Versailles. If you love chocolate, the salon is the perfect place to indulge. Many of the best chocolatiers in Paris had stands at the show, but it was not just French chocolate. There was also a wonderful showing of international visitors, from the exciting chocolate maker Marou, who works exclusively with Vietnamese cacao, to the multi-award-winning Japanese chocolatier Es Koyama, whose work is otherwise only ever available at his boutique in Japan.
New for this year was the expansion of the salon into en entire extra hall devoted to pâtisserie. Traditional treats such as macarons, brioches and nougat were in abundance, and there were caramels aplenty. Marshmallows were everywhere, a trend that doesn’t seem to be going away. There was also a fine display of them in a colorful array of flavors in the windows of Pain de Sucre, that fashionable pâtisserie in the Marais, a sure sign that marshmallow is the in thing. Chocolatier Aoki, a Japanese outfit with a strong Parisian presence, had its stunning chocolates of course, but also matcha tea croissants and éclairs filled with green tea crème pâtissière.
This year the salon was again host to the finals of the World Chocolate Masters. This prestigious and impressive competition takes place once every two years, within the Salon du Chocolat Professionnel. It was a chance to marvel at the 19 chocolate masters, each representing his or her own country with a virtuoso display of highly technical creations. A chocolate showpiece is just one of a series of challenges that are carried out under the scrutiny of the exacting international judging panel, the world’s press and the assembled attendees of this trade show.
The exhibitors in the professional show are aimed at the industry, with chocolate-making machinery, smart packaging and fine ingredients to be discovered. My eyes were on the precision juggling of ingredients and the gravity-defying creations of the master’s finalists. This year the overall winner was the Italian entrant Davide Comaschi, who clinched it with a sensual piece involving stunning airbrushing techniques. The competition is streamed live, and there is an online public vote, so it can be good fun to get involved even if you are not a chocolate professional.
Of the many chocolatiers in Paris, one who I always like to visit at this time of year is Jean-Charles Rochoux on the rue d’Assas. He is a master of the decorative and whimsical, and his window displays are always delightfully festive. His shop also sells a great range of sculpted and molded pieces. Not quite on the scale of the pièces montées at the salon, they are far better suited to brighten the face of a chocolate-loving child (or adult).
The newly expanded salon covers all chocolate and pastry needs, from the traditional to the outré. But if you missed it, there is an array of chocolate treats appearing all over the city.