Alain and the Chocolate Factory.
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Alain and the Chocolate Factory

Stephanie Curtis / July 2013

Paris—Tucked away in a courtyard near the Place de la Bastille, a sleek glass and steel “manufacture” was vibrating with action on a recent visit. The heady scent of roasted cacao beans and a fountain of velvety chocolate at the end of the line seemed right out of a sweet dream.

No, this is not a sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This is Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse–Manufacture à Paris, the most recent tour de force of French chef/entrepreneur Alain Ducasse. This beans-to-bar concept, unique in Paris, includes a glassed-in production area next to an industrial-chic style boutique decorated with steel shelves and iron gates recycled from a Banque de France branch in a nearby suburb: What more appropriate fittings for displaying precious “bars” of a different sort?

Over three years in the making, the project is the realization of a long-held dream and the collaboration of two chefs with a passion for chocolate. “For 30 years,” relates the preopening press release, “Alain Ducasse has dreamed of telling a story… the story of chocolate, his chocolate!”

In 1975, a young commis named Alain Ducasse discovered the magic of chocolate under the orders of Michel Chaudun, chef chocolatier for the prestigious Lenôtre pastry group. Ducasse’s career path led him to the savory side of the kitchen, but his passion for chocolate continued, a passion shared by Nicolas Berger, chocolatier-torréfacteur, and former executive pastry chef of the Ducasse group, director of the Manufacture.

“Our difference here will be the depth and not the width of the product line,” explains Berger. An artisanal approach, aspiring to top quality through control of all the steps of chocolate production, from the choice of the beans (sourced from Venezuela, Trinidad, Ecuador, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, and Peru), to the roasting, separating, grinding, kneading, regrinding, conching, tempering, and finally the molding of chocolate bonbons and bars weighing from 75 grams (2 1/2 ounces) to 3 1/2 kilos (7 3/4 pounds).

An important element for the success of the new venture was the search, acquisition, and renovation of more than a half dozen rare machines, many of them antiques, necessary for mastering these steps. “We found this one, circa 1945, in Italy,” explains Berger, for the tarère (machine for separating nibs from shells). Two other machines for grinding the precious substance into finer and finer microns came, respectively, from the Netherlands and Switzerland, two countries with their own place in the history of fine chocolate.

The finesse of a silky, dark chocolate/pistachio/praline bonbon right out of the enrobeuse would certainly have seduced both Charlie and Willy Wonka.