That is what I call the first few seconds when I or anyone else around me opens a beautiful box of chocolates (or maybe just a small cellophane bag filled with chocolate goodness). Here’s how it happens, from the store all the way to my stomach: I walk in, breath deeply and head straight for the counter where all my little friends are decked out in their Sunday best. Usually I go for a custom-filled box, so I take my time in choosing flavors (all things caramel, yes! Liquors and marzipans, maybe not…). Once the shop attendant starts giving me an eyeful for taking so damn long, I ask him/her to just finish the box with something classic, like orangettes or simple dark chocolate ganache. After that, and depending on the weather (no melted choccies, please) I skip or rush back home and take a seat at the dining table. Whoever heard of this chocolate run is probably there already, with a glass of water to sip between tastes. We admire the packaging, the sturdiness of the box, the artistry of the logo. Then we unfurl the ribbon, take or slide the top off and, lo and behold, our little friends just waiting for us. The best boxes usually come with a great little picture menu, so that you always know what you are going to eat. But sometimes, blind tasting is fun. We each pick out a bonbon, look and smell it carefully and then bite into it, checking for a thin casing around the filling and a smooth ganache or sandy praline or whatever the case may be. Then we switch bonbons and compare. We only have two or three bonbons at a time. I think it’s because we enjoy this brief, wondrous moment all too much and want to recreate it as many times as possible with each different box we ever get our hands on.
There is no denying that at Cacao Art the inspiration comes with a decidedly French accent. Our favorite chocolatiers are of the Gallic persuasion: Michel Richart, Patrick Roger, Jean-Paul Hevin, La Maison du Chocolat. There are others, of course, like the very classic Wittamer and avant-garde Pierre Marcolini both in Brussels and the gorgeous and hip Cacao Sampaka in Barcelona. However, when you open a box of our confections, we hope you are reminded of a chic Parisian boite de chocolat.
With our shared love of chocolate, Paris and chocolates from Paris in mind, Susana and I bought tickets for the Salon du Chocolat. We thought it would be a great learning experience and we certainly took home a lot of ideas.
This is a trip to the Mecca for chocolate lovers. We went to lectures given by people such as chocolatier extraordinaire Francois Pralus, the godfather of molecular food Herve This and renowned chocolate expert Chloe Doutre-Roussel. There was also a book signing by a rather large Pierre Herme (must be the sampling of his many delectable macarons), an “organoleptic” tasting of Nestle’s new haut chocolat brand and workshops on marketing and advertising.
In the ground floor, we sampled all sorts of delicacies, from exotic spices to countless chocolate bars. Our most cherished discovery was the divine Veritable Fondant Baulois, a thick and decadent chocolate cake. It is like biting into a rich brownie, only this one is made with the best quality cacao and has just the right touch of salt to balance out all the sweetness. Sometimes you can find it at the Grand Epicerie de Paris at the Bon Marche department store. Luckily for us all, they recently launched a great website with e-shop: www.lefondantbaulois.com.
We could not have enough of the delightful little Praslines churned fresh from the stand of Mazet Confiseurs. Perfect oval almonds are given a caramel-infused whirl in a professional coating machine to produce cracking, golden little treats. We also loved their Chocabas Amandas, which are shaped like almonds but are actually small discs of hard candy and crushed almonds covered in chocolate and dusted cocoa.
We were most impressed with the perfection of the Japanese stand, where chocolatiers were dipping each bonbon using chopsticks and managing to avoid any unsightly drizzles.
For lunch we tried the foie gras and chocolate sauce sandwich, a rare combination that maybe we should have forgone. Also not a success: a small bonbon filled with a too tangy fromage de brebis. But what is the point of going to the Salon without trying the unexpected, right?
We look forward to returning, even if it means eating chocolate and sheep’s milk cheese all over again.
It’s not been easy. We didn’t wake up one morning, decided to open a business and, voilá, it was done. It’s taken its own swell time.
First, we had a beautiful concept, very clean and modern. This was four years ago, when we both still lived in Caracas, Venezuela. Back then, our bonbons were called “Latitud 10”, making a playful reference to the fact that the cacao bean is a tropical harvest and Venezuela is in the perfect spot on earth for it to grow. It was a way of engaging our clients in some small talk, perhaps learning something, and definitely remembering us afterwards. We developed lovely recipes, including my two sisters’ classic crunchy honeycomb – a home run confection, if there ever was one.
We were on our way. We were working with some of the best chocolate available in the market worldwide, Chocolate El Rey, we had a small workshop, some help and lots of enthusiasm. But it has been a while since things in Caracas worked out as smoothly as a just tempered batch of carenero superior. After a major security scare, my older sister had to pack up her troops and leave for Miami. I kept the business afloat, doing mostly events like weddings and christenings, and going to pop-up gourmet markets.
Then, about two years later, it was time to make my own move. Susana had already started to develop a new concept, something more suitable to her new area. She came up with the idea of chocolate as an art form, every single bonbon a handcrafted tiny piece of edible art. She called it Cacao Art. When I arrived, I took over the day to day business and she remained as founder and inspiration.
I am now in the very unglamorous part of getting health permits, looking into renting a commercial kitchen, wrangling with legal issues and, just plain getting ready to start selling chocolates to the public at large.
So, if you are near Miami (or even just have an internet connection, really), be ready to start tasting and loving our gorgeous bonbons very soon.
Cacao Art’s ultimate goal is to open an itty bitty chocolaterie, full of all the good stuff we make and the good vibrations we want to put out there. But that is another blogpost altogether.