Adventures with Chocolate

I’m not quite sure where I found the barefaced cheek, and in Claridges of all places.   But, my lunchbox turned chocolate box at the launch of the new Valrhona Cooking with Chocolate cookbook.   Yes, reader, this is no joke.  I’m afraid it’s true.   I was listening to Frédéric Bau’s address to the assembled audience, the room was absolutely packed, and the overspill area had some of the best examples of chocolate work I’ve ever tasted.  What I’m trying to say is I’m a girl who loves chocolate, so it was natural to get a little carried away. Who’d miss a handful of the Bittersweet Chocolate Bars containing Salted Butter Caramel, topped off with Crystallised Almonds anyway?  Plus, the skill level was a whopping three stars, I could recreate the recipe but would they really turn out as beautiful as this?

The idea behind the grand chocolate theft was to share them with my work colleagues but I’m afraid they didn’t even make it to the bus.   However, that’s quite enough chit chat about my deviant behaviour.   I’m a good girl turned bad on a sniff of a glass of good champagne and the Laurent Perrier at Claridges never, ever lets me down.

Valrhona needs no introduction for those in the know.  The Pâtissiers and Chefs Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse, Anne-Sophie Pic, Christophe Michalak, John-Paul Hevin all use Valrhona chocolate in their kitchens.  Valrhona have a taste wheel for the discerning chocolate lover and a wheel for the professionsals.  This basically describes flavours and once you have that science under your belt it’s up to you how you take it in the kitchen in bar, disc, or brick form.

But back to the reason why I was there – the book.Pierre Hermé put the M into the word Macaron.  Heir to four generations of Alsatian bakers and pastry-makers he began his career at 14.  Yes, not a typo, 14, and as an apprentice to Gaston Lenôtre (Patriarch of French Patisserie).  Vogue have dubbed Monsieur Herme the “Picasso of Pastry” and now I see why there are literally scores of people queuing up to talk to him, brush past him, shake his hand or whip out a cook book to have him sign it.  Now, famous in France, Japan and the United States, he’s the man that Vogue dubbed “the Picasso of Pastry” he’s basically revolutionised the art of pastry making.  His Paris shop has locals queuing round the block for macarons.  Two collections a year, not a croissant in sight, we’re talking haute couture patisserie.   He is the pastry god of the 21st century. Who better then to contribute to the book in the form of the foreword.

You may know of Monsieur Bau, you may not.  He edited the book, and many great names from the world of French Gastronomy have contributed.  He’s been a director of Valrhona’s Ecole du Grand Chocolat for the past twenty years and so he’s sharing a whole heap of experience and more importantly knowledge. We had a very nice chat about his involvement with the book and his English is a whole lot better than my French.  Frédéric worked under Monsieur Hermé in Fauchon as his “décors” or decorator.  He made it clear that he didn’t want this to be another chocolate book and believe you me, it isn’t.

This tome comes with a DVD that serves as a practical guide to making the works of art inside.  He was very clear that the technique had to be as clear as the arty pictures.  To give you an idea of just how technical it is, he hopes that it will be adopted by trained chefs but used as a reference for students here in the UK.  No surprise then that the book is already being used in French catering colleges.  It’s incredibly comprehensive with 100 step-by-step techniques from chocolate basics to baker’s secrets.  Each recipe has been given a three star rating so you know what you’re getting yourself into.  But don’t be put off by the technical aspect, even the college students have to get melted chocolate all over their work surfaces and walls at some point!  If you think you know everything there is to know about chocolate, this book will tell you otherwise.  It’s got some very useful tips for conserving chocolate and explains why the cocoa content is so very important.  I’m getting this book to drool over the pictures, and I’ll attempt to replicate the chocolates I stole and I absolutely will have a go at the decoration baskets that look amazing and I think for relatively little effort.

It’s safe to say that it’s not just the French who are fans of Valrohna.  Lending their support to the book launch were Murano head chef, Angela Hartnett, the Patissier and Chocolatier William Curley and a man who knows a thing or two about Chocolate Cook books (his Adventures with Chocolate, has recently been award Best Chocolate Book in the World by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards) the Chocolatier, Paul A Young.

Andre Dang organised a super event and I thank him for inviting me and introducing me to a bunch of amazing and very skilled people.  Thank you too for the hosts and also to the chefs who prepared the chocolate banquet.  Especially you Chef.

What a brilliant start to Chocolate Week – http://www.chocolateweek.co.uk/

Valrhona Cooking with Chocolate, English version available November