Choc Around the Clock in Paris at the Salon du Chocolat

Choc Around the Clock in Paris

The annual chocolate feast, fete and orgy known here in Paris as the Salon du Chocolat takes over the city this year from October 20 to 24. If you’re not in Paris already, get here fast. There might not be any chocolate left if you arrive on the last day.

It has been remarked (by yours truly) that if you toss out a euro these days it will probably land on a Paris chocolate shop or pâtisserie with a celebrated chef bent on titillating his customers’ taste buds while dazzling their eyes and lightening their wallets.

No other city, not even Brussels, has as much fine chocolate as Paris. Paris is the chocolate capital of the world.

While the Swiss and Belgians weren’t looking, Paris stole their milk cows and became the swaggering global capital of chic chocolate.

All challengers to this claim please take one of our chocolate tours and then decide whether to proceed with the duel.

Take note, Hershey, honest French chocolatiers (and other honest chocolate makers the world round) just don’t use trans-fats and soy lechethin and whatever else it is that industrial chocolate makers everywhere now use to save money, increase margins, and render their chocolate so mediocre, so cheap and so utterly undesirable.

Health concerns apart the expensive, handcrafted excellent chocolates of Paris are actually good for you, when eaten in moderation. That’s the rub…

Ready, set… I’m expecting lots of nasty comments from the usual thugs and brutes who pretend to be non-professional slam-artists of the Internet, and who blast anyone who tries to decry the lousiness of industrial chocolate. Go for it, guys. You certainly gave me a run for my money last time I wrote about chocolate!

Now for the good stuff on Paris beyond the Salon du Chocolat…

“The fine arts number five,” wrote Marie-Antoine Carême in the late 18th century, “painting, sculpture, poetry, music and architecture, the principal branch of which is pastry.”

Were he alive today, Carême would’ve melded “chocolate” into the art of pastry. The two cannot be dissociated.

Ephemeral, edible pastry-and-chocolate architecture has been part of the French repertoire for centuries. Like many edible arts the foundations of early French pastry-making are Italian: the word “pastry” (pâtisserie) comes from the Latin “pasta”. The ancient Romans filled giant pastry shells with live birds and much else, anything for a lark in the days of imperial decadence. No, they didn’t have chocolate. If they’d had it, the history of the world would be utterly different. Nero might’ve been a nice guy, for one thing. He would’ve gobbled a chocolate bar instead of burning Rome. And he would’ve smiled.

Everyone knows Theobroma cacao – in particular the unadulterated dark variety with at least 60 percent cocoa – is great for the health, libido, mind, morale and much else. It makes people happy, fills them with energy, lifts them out of depression, and cures everything from rabies and rashes to the common cold, without weight gain. There’s plenty of impressive if unproven scientific “evidence” of the above, and more.

The most extravagant expressions of the pastry art may go back to the pyramidal pyramous pastries described by Callimachus over 2,000 years ago. Ladurée continues the tradition today with pyramids of macaroons…

Admittedly in Paris I haven’t seen many chef-pâtissiers or chocolatiers building fifteen-foot chocolate-pastry sculptures or pyramids, not even for the Salon du Chocolat, though several of the city’s top practitioners do consider themselves artistes. They sculpt and mold and mount and pour chocolate the way Rodin worked with wax, plaster and bronze.

Dotted and daubed across the city are stunning delicacies of pastry and chocolate beckoning from the windows of celebrity maestros or maisons the likes of Jean-Paul Hevin, Pierre Hermé, Christian Constant, Patrick Roger, Michel Chaudun, Guy Mulot, Peltier, Kaiser, Lenôtre, Fauchon, Hédiard, Sucré Cacao, Laurent Duchêne, Lahrer, Pierre Marcolini (a Belgian infiltrator) and a dozen others.

Visual and gustatory artistry meet marketing and promotional mastery in the person of Pierre Hermé. His talent in this is hard to beat. Under the spotlights of his chic boutique on Rue Bonaparte you quickly learn the meaning of dazzle.

Hermé was dubbed the “Picasso of Pastry,” but luckily he hasn’t concentrated on Cubist pralines and pâtisseries—not yet anyway. Whether you see him at the Salon or not, his shop is a must, Cacao Mecca in Paris.

Among the artistes several stand out: Patrick Roger and Michel Chaudun ought to display their wares at Paris’ Museum of Contemporary Art.

Or maybe they should be in the Fashion Museum? As I’ve noted elsewhere, the nexus of food and fashion may well be driving Paris’ booming chocolate craze. Haute couture and chocolate meet and make love – metaphorically – on fashion runways, where artiste-chocolatiers daub super-models with gooey chocolate. Boutiques now sell chocolate lingerie.

Who knows what surprises this year’s Salon du Chocolat hold for acolytes? Delicious suspense…

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