When I moved to Paris at age 21, I arrived with an imperfect and shamefully limited palate and pedestrian tastes. I was acutely aware of how much I would have to learn about food to feel connected to my new home. To my husband, it was as if I had been living out only a portion of life. How could I not intrinsically appreciate the diversity in cheese, produce, meat and fish? How could I have subsisted on two-to-three-max ingredient dishes for so long? I didn’t have very good answers at the time, except to say that I was finicky to a fault (and damnit, my parents didn’t push me hard enough!), but I was eager to let my adopted city, with its culinary legacy and population of erudite eaters, impart its many lessons on me.
If there is a taste I developed and honed quickly, it was, unsurprisingly, for chocolate. Reared on Hershey’s, Reese’s (which still hold a nostalgic place in my heart) and all manner of artificial chocolate bar, it was a veritable sensory awakening when I was given my first piece of artisanal chocolate. I experienced earthy, red fruit and peppery notes that I didn’t think were possible to taste from one single carré de chocolat.
From there, I began paying close attention to the nuances in the chocolate I was gradually amassing from the city’s top chocolatiers (and from elsewhere in Europe – chocolate became my go-to souvenir everywhere from Switzerland to Sweden). I ran my own personal taste tests, comparing styles, cacao provenance and balance between chocolatiers, taking note of my favorites and realizing as I went along that chocolate wasn’t merely a pleasure but a lens through which to better understand French savoir-faire and how that extends to all kinds of confections.
On the rare occasion I have American candy, I find it difficult to summon any enjoyment, not even out of nostalgia. And with quality chocolate, the definition of craft or artisanal chocolate isn’t so easily defined so it bears paying attention and asking questions of chocolate makers and producers to truly grasp what I’m eating. Nicolas Cloiseau, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France and the Creative Director of La Maison du Chocolat, whom you will read about in my book, has been a tremendous source of knowledge throughout my journey through chocolate. He talked to me about the tasting experience, the merits of certain ingredients and the role he plays in the process. He speaks with such mesmerizing passion and demonstrates mastery with every new collection (even the most experimental) that my chocolate curiosity deepens with every discussion.
Proud of the ways I’ve evolved my palate, I was honored to be asked to be one of the 40 voices in La Maison du Chocolat’s new book “Chocolat, So Chic!” to share my personal connection with chocolate, alongside Nicolas and other figures like Pierre Hermé, Inès de la Fressange, and even actress Mélanie Laurent.
The book is available in French and English which means I have two copies to offer up to readers! May it inspire you or help further your own experiments with chocolate.
GIVEAWAY: CHOCOLAT, SO CHIC! BOOK (1 English and 1 French copy available!)
To enter, please leave a comment below sharing your first memory with chocolate (of any kind!)!
-Leave a second comment sharing your favorite chocolate from La Maison du Chocolat (or if you have not yet tried it, your favorite chocolate).
– Follow La Maison du Chocolat on and me (@LostNCheeseland) on Instagram and leave a 3rd comment saying you’ve followed!
Entries close July 24th, good luck!