[Photo courtesy of Taina Lance, who is a much better photographer than I am.]
As soon as we arrived at Jean-Charles Rochoux's establishment and began our usual mouth-watering examination of the shop window, it became very clear that we had come across a different approach to chocolate than in the first two. Whimsical is one word which comes to mind. Little Anne Geddes-like babies, tumbling over footballs or grinning up from cabbage leaves. (In France, the mythical origin of babies is not the stork, but the cabbage patch.) A placid cow and a big green frog. Paris landmarks and chubby teddy bears. At times, the cute factor seems to stray into kitsch it must be admitted. But as we learned in our visit, it takes a lot of talent and hard work to turn out such delicate perfect little chocolates.
In his shop just off the rue de Rennes in the 6th arrondisement, Jean-Charles Rochoux produces the chocolates from his basement laboratory. The molds he uses for the great variety of chocolate whimsies are of his own creation and are beautifully crafted. We had the great privilege to be allowed into his laboratory and question him on the machines, the method, the chocolate.
Here is the industrial mixer that M. Rochoux uses to concoct his chocolate and ganaches. Mixer speed is extremely important in the making of chocolates, he explained to us. Too fast, and you will mix air into the chocolate, creating tiny bubbles in the finished product. So slow and steady for a long period is better than hurrying things along.
Once the ganache is mixed, it is spread out on the marble counter. Long wooden blocks hold the ganache in place while it cools. (In this photo, they have already been removed.) M. Rochoux explained that his filled chocolates take a full three days to make. The first day, the ganache is made and takes 24 hours to cool and set. The second day, he spreads a thin layer of chocolate over the ganache and allows it to set 24 hours. And on the third day, he cuts the chocolates and puts them through the chocolate enrobing machine.
Here you see M. Rochoux cutting a slab of ganache in two, before sliding it onto a tray to put in a refrigerator. Next, he slid out a tray with ganache prepared the day before, to show us the next step in action.
The chocolate, once mixed, is kept in a warm oven at exactly the right temperature to keep it glossy and liquid. Don't you just want to dive into the bowl?
M. Rochoux spread the melted chocolate over the ganache so quickly that it was hard to do justice to the process. I took half a dozen photos without capturing what I wanted to show: the glossiness of the chocolate as he applied it to the matte ganache. It cooled so quickly that the process seemed magical. Luckily for me, my friend Taina was quicker and more successful than I in capturing the moment whent the melted chocolate was still glossy against the ganache.
One of the more interesting items M. Rochoux showed us was a failed experiment. He created a cast of his own arm for an exhibit which was meant to show a chocolate hand caressing a body. However, as you can see in this photo, the end result was a bit macabre to say the least. We all agreed it would be a fantastic prop for a Halloween display.
When you see the sheer variety and detail of sculpted chocolates that M. Rochoux produces, you might be tempted to think that he pays more attention to the visual effect than the taste of his chocolates. And you would be wrong. With all due respect to the other two chocolate shops I've reviewed, the first box of chocolates to be finished was the box of truffles that M. Rochoux generously offered us at the end of the visit. In fact, the Critic and I had to bring our weekend guest to the shop the next Saturday, so that he could pick up a couple of boxes for his daughters back in England. The truffles were absolutely exquisite little chocolate bombs, thick and rich with a light dusting of bitter cocoa. The box comes with a tiny carved toothpick for picking up each truffle; so rich are they that they would melt in your fingers on the way to your mouth.
16 r Assas 75006 PARIS
01 42 84 29 45