One of the hardest things about writing about food is coming up with that killer opening sentence. It should start with something that grabs your attention right away, tickles your curiosity, then encourages the reader (which would be you) to follow the writer (which, or course, would be me) deeper into the story. Thankfully when writing about chocolate, I can include pictures to help me get going, so most of the work is already done.
The other difficult thing when writing about chocolate is that there’s only so many superlatives you can use to describe it, and words like: dark, unctuous, bittersweet, delicious, seductive, etc…don’t really seem to pinpoint that feeling that you get when you walk into a pristine chocolate shop and are completely overwhelmed by the heady experience, inhaling that sweet, unmistakable scent of chocolate that permeates the air and overtakes you. There’s that quiet moment, when you step into a special place full of chocolate, where you briefly forget all that’s going on outside.
I’m fortunate to live a city where there’s an unusually large amount of very good chocolate shops, and all-too-often one needs a refuge from the fast-pace of the streets and sprawling avenues. Here in Paris, I have my favorites, and one of them is John-Charles Rochoux. His petit shop is located just off the bustling rue de Rennes. It’s not just a refuge from one of Paris’ busy boulevards, but a step back to another era. In his shop, chocolate is both an edible obsession and an object of sculptural craftsmanship, and you’ll find many intricate, precious little chocolate sculptures, as well as a rather serious selection of bonbons from one of Paris’ top chocolatiers.
Although there’s several chocolate shops across the city that are terrific, at Jean-Charles Rochoux you’ll find lots of little wonders here to keep you enchanted, including the amazing chocolate sculptures that M. Rochoux creates in his small, pristine workshop just beneath the tidy boutique. This kind of craftsmanship is rarely found anymore, even in a chocolate-obsessed city like Paris.
I was fortunate enough to take some time from my busy schedule to pose for Monsieur Rochoux, so he could create one of the most iconic pieces in the shop: Le torse.
Sculpted of pure chocolat noir, it certainly looks good enough to do whatever you want to it. Or with it. In case you’re wondering what caused me to strip down and pose for this erotic edible, I wanted to show-off my ‘tablets of chocolate’ for all the world to see.
As you probably guessed, it’s not really me. Well, maybe around 20 years ago it could have been. In France, they don’t say ‘six-pack abs’, although I hear they do indeed exist under all the sweaters and overcoats, but instead they use the more David-friendly phrase ‘tablets of chocolate’. So next time someone criticizes your mid-section, tell ‘em you’ve got ‘Tablets of Chocolate’…like David does.
When I asked M. Rochoux how he got his assistants to make such perfect sculptures, without any flaws, he told me, “I beat them.”
While I’m sure the mild-mannered monsieur would never do such a thing, I challenge anyone to find a scratch, bubble, or smudge on any one of them. And since each is made of solid chocolate, they last for quite a while, and his tiny monuments of Paris surely find their way into many a gift boxes headed towards far-away lands.
Although there are lots of intricate, whimsical sculptures here, the real prize waiting for me are his dipped chocolates. And there’s certainly nothing funny about how good they taste. Les truffles, for example, are tiny squares of pure ganache, that silky blend of chocolate and French cream, melted and formed into little cubes that are so delicate they’re presented with a toothpick to make them easier to pop in your mouth…a task which actually is not at all difficult.
Since they’re so fresh, they last just 10 days (like..as if…) and need to be kept refrigerated to preserve their fresh-cream flavor.
I’m also a big fan of his gianduja-enrobed almonds. Each toasted almond is coated with glistening, crackly caramel. Once cool, they’re hand-dipped individually in thick gianduja, that classic melange of Torinese hazelnut paste and cacao-rich dark milk chocolate. They come packed up in little sacks, as well as larger boxes, but the little baggies I find are easier for rifling through and snitching a couple out of on the métro ride home.
And I can’t leave you without talking about his chocolates, or les bonbons, the true test of a chocolatiers mettle. Each generous box is filled with…whoa…what the hel….??
For my birthday last month, Monsieur Rochoux gave me a nice, bountiful box of his chocolates. Of course, I had every intention of returning home and sharing them with you (and perhaps a few non-virtual friends), but avarice got the best of me, and most were gone within a few hours of yanking open the satiny ribbon.
But really, can you blame me? And it was, after all, my birthday. And since I can’t get my twenty-year old abs back, at least I can have my tablets of chocolate.
16, rue d’Assas (6th)
Tél: 01 42 84 29 45
Métro: St. Sulpice or Rennes