La Manufacture de chocolat Alain Ducasse

pralines to dip

I don’t think there’s anyone happier than I am now that we now have our very own bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Paris. I remember when the movement started in America, and small chocolate manufacturers started popping up in the most unlikeliest of places by people curious about roasting and sourcing their own beans, then grinding them into smooth tablets of chocolate. I was impressed, but skeptical when it all started. But am thrilled the movement has taken off in so many ways and directions.

roasting cocoa beans for chocolate

For the past five years, Alain Ducasse has been nurturing the same vision in Paris, along with pastry chef Nicolas Berger, who is now running La Manufacture de chocolat, their chocolate atelier not far from the center of the city.

chocolate moldscaramel mousse-filled chocolates
Le Chocolat, Paris - bean-to-bar chocolatesLe Chocolat, Paris

Interestingly, for a language that has a lot of specific words around gastronomy, there is no precise word for chocolate maker. There are chocolatiers (or fondeurs, people who melt chocolate to make filled chocolates) but when I met Nicolas, one of the first questions I asked him what his métier (craft) was called, in French.

panning machine

He paused for a moment, and said, “Maybe artisan?” Perhaps, but I think that’s a too all-encompassing word, since what he is doing is incredibly specific – and pretty wonderful, if you ask me. So either we need to go with that, or come up with something better. Perhaps torréfacteur (grinder)? Or monsieur des nos rêves (man of our dreams)?

chocolatier Nicolas cocoa nibs

It’s an enormous undertaking in a tight city with certain restrictions on space and usage, and the team needed to find a place big enough for all the heavy equipment, like roasters and winnowers (the machine that blows the papery skins off the roasted beans), as well as somewhere that had adequate ventilation for the roasters because, believe it or not, not everyone wants to live with the smell of roasting chocolate! Plus the space needed to allow for a truck to drive up the front door, for unloading the hefty burlap sacks of cocoa beans coming from all over the world.

making chocolate in pariswooden mallettesting cocoa beansDucasse chocolate

It’s very hard to make chocolate on a small-scale and, like I said, I was skeptical when friends launched the first of those businesses way-back-when in America, which has become very successful. (So if you ever want business advice, I’m probably not the one to ask.) The big companies can buy most of their equipment right from a manufacturer’s catalog. But here at Le manufacture de chocolat, they roast and grind beans in 150 to 200kg (330 to 440 pounds) batches at a time in their small machine, most of them modified as they go along, to make them do what they do properly for such small batches of chocolate.

roasting chocolate

Nicolas starts by using a coffee roaster to roast the cacao, which stirs the beans for about thirty minutes. However the motor on their particular machine needed to be recalibrated to move slower that it moved for coffee because the cocoa beans were getting crushed. Nicolas explained that coffee beans are round so they roll around easily, but oval beans tend to move slower and in less-predictable patterns. It’s all a learning process at the beginning, and since beans change depending on where they’re grown and how they’re fermented, it’s the chocolate-makers challenge to get each batch just right.

french scale

Nicolas has a lot more courage than me and confessed a love for the BHV department store basement, which is a giant, rambling maze of a hardware store. (We had a laugh about how if you head toward an employee to ask a question, they will instinctively move away from you.) But because of the nature of his job, which at present involves tinkering with machinery as well as pouring out slabs of chocolate, he’s there every day and picked up this wooden hammer. I initially asked him if it was to control the stagiaires (interns) and he laughed at that. He seems like a genuinely nice guy, but speaking from personal experience, when I was a temperamental pastry chef, I should have kept a mallet like that handy myself…

chef Nicolas

People often get flipped out about cooking from recipes. Baking times can vary, ingredients differ, and results aren’t always the same because each carrot, piece of fish, knob of ginger, or strain of wheat milled for flour, might be different. And that’s the same with chocolate, so the staff is spending a lot of time figuring out how these various cocoa beans react when roasted, crushed, winnowed, and conched.

pralines to dip

Years ago I did a demonstration on tempering chocolate in California and was using a new chocolate which refused to temper (in front of 200+ people – where was my mallet?) When I called the scientist at the company the next day, she said – “You know, these chocolates are all new. We’re still learning how they’re going to react.”

cocoa beans

But like cities, people, baguettes, bloggers, and so forth, I like flaws in things. Anything too-perfect, to me, is suspect. I want to see that someone made something. I like the irregular crags in baguettes. I want to taste the character of the beans in each chocolate bar. I don’t expect each bar to be the same and like how things change and develop. So it was interesting to watch the small staff working on previews, and experimenting. Which, of course, required some tasting.

Paris chocolategrinding cocoa beans for paris chocolate
chocolate molds in pariscaramelized hazelnuts

As the chocolates came out of the enrober, each was individually scanned and finished. They were trying out some of the chocolates that were destined to be part of their permanent line-up. And as an aside, since someone accused me recently of taking pictures of other pictures and posting them online, I thought I’d come clean and show you a picture of the caramelized hazelnuts that they were using for their praline bars. (However I will confess to taking all the other pictures myself.)

Le Chocolat, Paris

A few tablets of single-origin chocolate had been produced and I tried bars from Peru and Ecuador, as well as a dark milk chocolate made with beans from Java, which had a pleasant milky taste with none of the smoky overtones that chocolate from Java often has. The chocolate from Ecuador, which was organic, had a dry snap to it (because it’s high-percentage chocolate, with 75% cacao content) with an intense flavor that was a tad sauvage, and direct.

The Peruvian chocolate was a complete turn-around, with a wine-like flavor, a mild astringency, and incredibly boldness. In fact, it’d be interesting to taste these chocolates with French folks because, in my experience, most of the chocolates that are available tend to lean towards flavors that are more moderated and singular. And that’s about to change!

Le Chocolat, Paris

They were dipping a few of the chocolates, and before I left, I got to test a few of their dipped chocolates – right out of the machine – including bars of housemade praline enrobed in their own, housemade chocolate as coating.

chocolate bars

After I went plucked out a salted pistachio praline made with Sicilian pistachios. There are no artificial colors or additives, because the pistachios are ground up here (not purchased as a paste), so you can taste the pure, nutty flavor of pistachios, rather than a lot of sugar or other nut flavors that often get mixed in. It was incredible.

A coffee-flavored chocolate was made by grinding Ethiopian coffee and cocoa beans together into a dark slab (and I am certain bars of that will be available from the forty varieties of chocolate bars they plan to produce). And even though I’d had my morning coffee before my visit, it gave me a nice hit of caffeine to power me through the rest of the tasting. (And I didn’t want to leave any behind, especially with that wooden mallet looming in the background.)

peanut-filled chocolate

And hoo-boy, I loved the peanut praline, which was an audacious choice (Nicolas lived and worked in New York for a few years) and it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out amongst the French, who normally aren’t fond of peanut butter. (More for me?) But anyone who doesn’t swoon over the caramel mousse enrobed in chocolate is a knucklehead. Or as we say – Mon dieu!/Oh my God!

Le Chocolat, Paris - chocolate bars

They plan to produce a variety of chocolates and bonbons seasoned with spicy piment d’Espelette (Basque dried red pepper), pine nuts, prunes marinated in Armagnac, passion fruit-coconut, and lime. Slabs of baking chocolate will also be sold by the kilo. Future interns will be happy to know that Nicolas found a use for that wooden mallet…and I didn’t require any motivation to finish off all the chocolates that I had to taste. And I’m looking forward to going back and trying more.


La Manufacture de chocolat Alain Ducasse
40, rue de la Roquette (11th)
Métro: Bastille
Tél: 01 48 05 82 86

A second boutique, on the Left Bank, is at 26 rue Saint-Bênoit in the 6th. However the chocolate and confections are all made in the Bastille location.

(Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 7pm)



Le Chocolat, Paris - lamps

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64 comments

  • David, this is precious!!!! And believe it or not, I know a Frenchman who loves peanut butter and peanut butter and chocolate & things peanut butter! I am definitely sending him here! & me too, when I am in Paris! :)

    • I know a few French folks who like peanut butter (most have lived in the US at some point) but I asked another chocolatier in Paris who was making peanut-filled chocolates how popular they were and he said that it was mostly foreigners who bought them. His reasoning was that people thought of peanuts as “bar” food, or a snack. But I know a number of folks just have an aversion to the taste of peanut butter.

  • Ah, and once again I wish my computer was equipped with smell and taste-o-vision! How delightful! Such beautiful chocolates and the pictures and the way you describe them, I can almost taste them.

    What is that machine with the large round what appears to be copper bell?

    • I was going to write about that but the post was getting out of hand : )

      That’s called a panning machine and is used to make round or oval candies and chocolates (and things like jelly beans.) Things tumble in there, like nuts and other candies, and it makes them rounded but you can also add ingredients to coat them. Michael Recchiuti uses one to make his Asphalt Jungle Mix.

      (I’ve seen some for home use that attach to stand mixers and I’ve always wanted one, but they’re kind of pricey and I heard they don’t work so well. Maybe I can bring some centers to Chef Nicolas and he’ll let me use his?)

  • Very exciting and interesting post — thank you. I have Alain Ducasse’s Nature cookbook and love cooking from it. Haha about the wooden mallet too. Wish I had thought to get one when I worked… My SIL was an attorney for a large corporation and put scary Mexican ceremonial masks (that stared down at you) up on her office wall so people wouldn’t stay long when they came in to talk with her.

  • I wonder if they designed and made the little fish chocolate molds so they would be unique to their product? One of the fish looks like a shrimp? Couldn’t tell what the others were.

  • A panning machine? Fascinating! Thank you.

  • For some reason I find melted chocolate to be one of the most beautiful substances in cooking. Its so rich and luscious. Thank you for a wonderful post. Made me a lot hungrier for breakfast today. Although I’m out of chocolate. Must fix that.

  • torrefier is, i believe, to roast (as in coffee beans). torrefaction for roasting.

  • Bonjour David. Très intéressant… We have at least one “fabricant de chocolat,” here in Seattle, Theo is hugely popular and I always enjoy visiting the small factory where they pass out generous samples of their latest creations…

    On another note, as a former Paris-resident, I had to smile at your comment on the BHV’s hardware department. I remember staying away from that store – and their staff – as they were so désagréables to most customers. It seems your new friend Nicolas does not mind (or does not have a choice since he needs parts for his machines!) I am happy to see some things don’t change… A bientôt. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  • I wish to marry Alain Ducasse and live in his bean to bar chocolate factory for the rest of my life.

  • Thanks, this is great to know – I’m within walking distance. I know what I’m doing on the 20th of February.

  • Thanks for the heads-up. I alerted the readers of my blog, http://www.culinary-colorado.com, about this too. Of course, I linked to this wonderful blog as well.

  • This looks incredible, and like many of the others wishing for taste and smell facilities through the web. What I’d really love are some of those incredible looking little moulds in one of the photos. Well, I’m assuming they’re moulds otherwise it’s the whitest white chocolate I’ve ever seen!

  • OMG! Perfect stuff! Can’t wait to get back to Paris!

  • wow, stunningly beautiful pictures

  • Helen T and Sissy: Those white molds (the seafood shapes) are made from metal molds. The chef was going to do something with them, but I didn’t ask what. Perhaps for April Fool’s Day, which in France, involves friture – whimsical fish-shaped candies and chocolates.

    FrenchGirl: I was at Theo a number and years ago and had a lot of fun. Am so thrilled that we’re at last getting our own bean-to-bar chocolate shop in Paris!

  • I, for one, don’t care if a chocolate tastes somewhat different from bar to bar but I guess pralines needs to be consistent as to not mess with it too much. I buy Valrhonas (if any other chocolaterier has something similar I’ll happy take a tip!) annual selection and always enjoy their differences. .

  • Two chocolate words come to mind: Chocolate Bliss and Heaven. For chocolate travelers like myself, this Paris bean-to-bar chocolate shop would be a must-see city destination.

  • I’m curious about the building he found to house this chocolate heaven.

  • When going on a wine tasting, there is usually something tasted to “clear” the palate between the different wines. What do you do with chocolate, so you can taste the fine nuances of the different varietals?

  • He’s pretty dreamy even without the chocolate. Just sayin’ ;-)

  • That’s awesome!! You must be so excited!

  • Oh my. I might have to come to Paris just for the chocolate. My sister-in-law was in San Francisco last week and brought me some of that chocolate that you spoke of a week or so ago. Can’t wait to get it from her and taste. yum.

  • I don’t know if I should thank you for this post – this seems to be one more “must-visit” for my very short séjour in Paris in April. Also, I was going to suggest visiting Theo in Seattle, but then I saw that you’ve already been. The tour was interesting, but the samples were the best part, of course. Did you have a favorite Theo bar?

  • Wonderfully delicious pictures and descriptions. Mmmmm . . .

  • Chocolat de Beussent in the eponymous village up in Pas de Calais. You can have a tour with demonstrations or just buy the end product.
    They also have a few retail outlets.
    I’m only saying because I know you want a comprehensive insight into the world of chocolate.

  • oh, heaven! and yes to imperfections i.e., character and contrast.

  • Oh my gosh I want to go here so badly! This will be at the top of my list for food stops when I finally get to visit Paris. That pistachio bar sounds unbelievable. In the meantime, since you said bean to bar shops started in America, are you aware of any in Southern California, or is it primarily an East coast venture?

  • sacre bleu!

    just when you think perfection has been defined for all times-someone comes along and goes up a notch.

    as always, your photographs start me drooling like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

    Also prompt me to start planning my next trip.

    Merci David.

  • *Drool* Might have to take time to visit during my next trip to Paris! But those shrimp moulds look horribly like the so-called “Belgian” chocolates (they are horrid – far too sweet) you get here and are so disappointing.

  • Wonderful post & accompanying photos! Wish I was there to try the salted pistachio praline. Oh, and I vote for “monsieur des nos rêves!”

  • Now that cacao is such a big deal, I’m sorry I divorced my Mexican husband. His mother owned a cacao plantation in Tabasco and I heard that he inherited it when she passed away.

  • I’m fascinated by the design of the bars…very unusual IMHO
    Very much looking forward to visiting.
    merci carolg

  • I wonder how their peanut praline bar compares to Pierre Herme’s Absolument Praline. That is one of my all time favourites what with the roasted salted corn blended within the almond praline offering an intriuging counterpoint to the sweet milk and dark chocolate coatings. I always thought of it as a rich man’s (or woman’s) version of the Hershey’s / Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and I wonder whether or not this one tops it.

  • Wish all this was available in Paris when I lived there in the 70’s! Great enthusiasm and pics David. Had to laugh when you said you liked things “imperfect” I agree but …. I draw the line with my hairdresser, wish he was more consistent.

  • This is one of the reasons I came back from France with hips! Between the pâtisserie next door and the chocolatier down the street, I was completely smitten. And much as any smitten person, I did not always use good sense–lunch…or more chocolate?

  • What a fantastic post, I’ve always wondered what goes on behind the scenes with chocolate making. Thanks for sharing!

  • Could almost smell the deliciousness of these chocolates. You are so lucky as living in Shanghai good chocolate is hard to come by. There are Lindt and a few other brands all horrendously expensive, and to my mind seem to have been hanging around too long, or not properly stored. They often have a “bloom” when I open them’ but nothing as good as these. Parcels welcome lol.

  • How about “Chef de (or is it “du”) Chocolat” ?

  • So that’s what chocolatier actually means! I’ve always called the people who make the chocolate that, not just he ones who melt it. I love the way chocolatier is often pronounced in the US as “chocolateer”. It reminds me of “privateer” and I always imagine people conching with peg legs and parrots on their shoulders:).

  • Oh wow! These look absolutely delicious!!! *drools at computer screen*

  • gorgeous! how could anyone not want to live near the smell of roasting chocolate? i don’t believe it.

  • Love peanuts. Hate peanut butter.

    This is fascinating, many thanks David.

  • What a wonderful mini-lesson in the process of making chocolate–thank you. A comment about ‘odors’, even something wonderful can be too intense and pervasive over time. I live in an agricultural area with mint fields and oil distilleries, onions and various processors, hop vines with their dryers and the list goes on; a bit of aroma is one thing but when the scent invades my home, hair and clothing it is too much. I imagine even roasting chocolate and coffee beans would lose that appealing mouth watering aroma and just become a ‘smell’ with daily immersion.

  • wow! my mouth is watering already!! Will have to check this place out when it opens. Thanks for sharing!

  • pls sir want to learn how to manufacture cacolate pls show me way thank s

  • good product you do pls show me the way to start my own

  • My sister (who lives in Paris) just shared this post with me, which was rather cruel considering my vacation in Paris ended three days before the opening! Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to go back :)

  • Yes! I thought that copper drum reminded of the rows of drums they had at the Jelly Belly Factory. Did you ever visit there when you were living in San Francisco? Whenever we go to California see my sister (who is a school teacher in Oakland and does an annual class trip there), we always take the fantastic factory tour. They even have a jelly bean tasting bar.

    Basically, Napa/adults = Jelly Belly Factory/kids {small and big}

    And I totally agree with the commenter who wishes for a smell/taste-o-vision. Beautiful, mouth-watering photos and post.

  • You take these wonderful photos with a smart phone? Amazing resolution. I always enjoy your photos as well as your writing, especially the joke photos like the photo of a photo in this post or the cats waiting for the fishing boat. Your sense of humor in text and visual keeps me reading your blog as much as the food you describe–and of course Paris.

  • I’m very excited to check this out when I’m next in Paris over spring.
    How about with Dried cherries? One of my favourite flavour combinations but rare in Europe.

  • This post is simply beautiful. The picture of the iphone should surely be on the next Apple advert.
    Admire your writing so much.

  • Such an interesting post! The chocolate looks amazing.

  • Beauty. Thank you for sharing. And I love the word ‘enrober’.

  • Words cannot describe what I’d give to get back to Paris right now. Thanks for making tonight’s after dinner chocolate seem totally inferior! Great post!

  • Looks from the pictures that Mr. Nicolas Berger is using thermocouple probes to read the temperatures in the roasting drum. He should take a look at the Open Source software, by coincidence called Artisan, at http://code.google.com/p/artisan/ that got quite popular among Artisan coffee roasters to log temperatures and control the roasting of coffee beans. I use it on my old Probat roaster also to control also the speed of the roasting drum via a frequency drive dynamically. Should also be useful to develop chocolate roast profiles.

  • Hello David, this is so beautiful that I immediately would like to do my own chocolate at home. Won’t happen due to missing equipment and knowledge, but this article is very inspiring, bringing back to conscience that cocolate making is a true art. I’m happy about having discovered your beautiful blog along with this article as well.
    Best, Claudia

  • So David, I take it chocolatiers like Patrick Roger do not qualify as bean-to-bar because their single origin bars were not made completely from scratch?
    Thanks!
    Eddy

  • How timeous! Will be in Paris next month for a couple of weeks. That will allow us to visit on a number of occasions – thanks for recommending the caramel mousse which sounds utterly divine. Peanut butter is eaten daily in our household so that will be another definite. Thanks for posting.

  • very descriptive article and very inspiring to go for chocolates at home…

  • The very best of all the blog posts I read with regards to A.Ducasse’s new enterprise.
    Agree with the readers talking about nearly being able to smell the goodness coming out of their screens – I had to get a morsel of Swiss chocolate and an additional Espresso while reading :)
    Sadly I cannot afford to spend the required money for this chocolate so I shall continue to enjoy my Swiss chocs… Having said this, I cannot guarantee for my willpower should I happen to walk past his shop – and I know I will!

  • I used to start out every morning by eating some Lindt 70% Intense Dark chocolate.
    I was heartbroken when they changed the formula to a new “Smooth Dark”. It is awful in and I have been searching everywhere for a new chocolate. My problem is, I don’t want to eat genetically modified food, and virtually Every Chocolate bar out there, (even many labeled “organic” contain Soy Lecithin. I just don’t understand why this is so ubiquitous. They say it’s an emusifier. But wouldn’t cocoa butter itself be an emusifier?? Most of the chocolate out there today, even the expensive stuff tastes mostly fatty, and very little of chocolate. Even the eleven pound blocks have the soy lecithin. How I miss my old favorite! I used it for baking, sauces, enrobing, hot chocolate, everything!! Now I am in chocolate limbo. Or, I should say Hell. Phooey!!!