Article and photos by Paris Pastry correspondent Tara Oakes.
Over the next few days your addiction will not only become socially acceptable, but wholeheartedly encouraged as the 18th edition of the Salon du Chocolat melts the hardest of hearts at the Porte de Versailles. Chocolatiers from Paris and far beyond have been brought together to offer up their most delicious morsels under the theme “The New Worlds of Chocolate”, loosely tying chocolate production to the ominous Mayan predictions of the end of the world in December 2012. If time is that short, let the tastings begin…
There are certainly plenty of them, with every form of chocolate imaginable available. Indeed, the brief seems to stretch from traditional truffles to chocolate-shaped laptop cases and at-home chocolate waxing kits. ‘Salon’ might give the impression of a cosy and intimate affair, but don’t be fooled – in Paris, nothing but an enormous exhibition hall will do to celebrate such an important product. The downside to this is that you do at times feel you are literally experiencing the end of the world: crowds pushing and shoving, hands grasping for free samples with grim determination usually reserved for a last supper. A Mayan chocolate creation looks on impassively as we embrace the chaos.
Perhaps the Mayan predictions were right – worldwide, headlines aren’t looking too peachy. However, the Salon du Chocolat isn’t just a space where you can give up and drift off into a cocoa-saturated oblivion, but shows the chocolate industry keen to express itself as a success story in terms of both economic growth and increased sustainability. Side-by-side are stalls offering appetizing and outlandish creations, with information on major chocolate producing nations and projects for development in the industry. Given this is France, the intellectual side of these issues is also explored in lectures and discussions. Furthermore, the “New Worlds” theme invites attendees to sample chocolates infused with flavours from growing markets, including some brilliant green tea treats from Japan (where chocolate consumption is increasing by 25% a year on average).
Between the scrambles for snacks, what the Salon du Chocolat is showing us is an industry where globalisation is increasing the popularity of chocolate while adapting traditional methods to suit an international clientele. Hubert Masse from Paris Pastry favourite Le Cacaotier explains his experience of different tastes: “The Australians have a much more trained sense of taste than our compatriots. In other countries such as Belgium, they are keen on creamy chocolates (to my mind an aberration in terms of taste), while the English enjoy chocolates filled with alcohol and the epicurean Americans like everything.” While you might not agree with his conclusions, they reflect the growing international presence of chocolate and the importance of regional awareness for the future of the product. At the Salon, the international flavour of the event is embraced not only in the foodstuffs but also in the costumes on display for the “Chocolate Fashion Show”, with different designs reflecting all corners of the world as producers and consumers of the treat.
The question is where this leaves Paris, capital of chocolate. The enduring popularity of French chocolatiers is evident at the Salon itself, where the big names of the French industry have beautifully slick stalls in the centre of the hall surrounded by eager queues. But in a space with new challengers so evident, the traditionalists can’t afford to rest on their laurels. Makato Ishii, general director of Henri Le Roux, agrees that the recognition of Paris as global centre of chocolate cannot be taken as a given. Masse points out on top of this French tastes are changing too, citing the preference nowadays for dark chocolate over milk and an increased taste for originality among French consumers.
Thankfully for fans of Paris Pastry, the chocolatiers themselves seem conscious of the challenges ahead and are taking steps to meet them. Ishii describes one of Henri Le Roux’s creations made expressly for the Salon – a Japanese white sesame praline covered in dark chocolate with a touch of Guérande salt, neatly encapsulating the themes of the event and the brand’s values as a Breton chocolaterie. For Masse, innovation is more a matter of doing something new with the ‘old’, as he explains: “I enjoy working with flavours that aren’t necessarily exotic – flavours that [chocolate lovers] think they know and which are familiar to them, and surprise them by a subtle creative game, such as a praline with a mix of organic essential oils, a fruit paste with a tarte tatin flavour, a quince ganache”.
The responses give an indication as to the direction French chocolaterie might go in to appeal to a wider public while still embracing local and national traditions. If you can push through the crowds at the Salon du Chocolat to see them, the results are, unsurprisingly, delicious.
The Salon du Chocolat is on in Paris until Sunday 4th October.