Maison’s art of chocolate

For Nicolas Cloiseau, chef of La Maison du Chocolat, chocolate is all about aesthetic expression.

For Nicolas Cloiseau, chocolate is an art.

Working alongside his chef-uncle on weekends from an early age, he discovered that the sweet, creamy stuff was an entrée to aesthetic expression.

And that the best chocolate needn’t be a sweet, creamy cliché. Enter Robert Linxe, founder of La Maison du Chocolat. Cloiseau joined the company 20 years ago and is now its chef.

“It’s about love, art and technical skill,” says Cloiseau, who was awarded the title Meilleur Ouvrier de France Chocolatier in 2007.

WAG had the opportunity to visit the chocolatier’s Rockefeller Center location recently and was delighted to find busy New Yorkers taking time in the middle of the workweek to sip some hot chocolate on an unseasonably warm fall afternoon or to sample a milk chocolate hazelnut praline (heavenly).

It’s part of what Cloiseau calls the French “art-de-vivre,” as you’ll see in our interview: 

I stopped in at your 49th Street shop in Manhattan recently and couldn’t resist buying some hazelnut praline squares — scrumptious. Without giving away any secrets, what is the essence of the art of chocolate for La Maison du Chocolat?

Nicolas Cloiseau, chef of La Maison du Chocolat. Courtesy La Maison du Chocolat.

“One of (founder) Robert Linxe’s secrets was to do what nobody else was doing, to invite clients of La Maison du Chocolat to discover another face of chocolate — less sweet, less snacky, more adult, liberated from an excess of sugar and cream. At La Maison du Chocolat, our motto has always been ‘the only limit is the taste.’ 

“I was very lucky to work with Robert Linxe early in my career and to share the same atelier for 10 years. During that time, I was continually enriched by his style of mixing flavors, a style which greatly influences my creations today. For me, Robert Linxe was a great master of chocolate and certainly the pillar of chocolate-making at the end of the 20th century. Today La Maison du Chocolat continues to perfect his techniques…and his philosophy of taste and the mixing and balancing of flavors.” 

With the holidays fast approaching, what confections have you created to celebrate this year?

“This year for Christmas I wanted to explore fruit and citrus flavors. Our Christmas gift box collection ‘Starlit Night’ includes a chocolate whose flavors of strawberry are imbued with orange blossom water, a citrus duo of kumquat/kalamansi paired side by side with candied zest, a chocolate almond paste, a classic crunchy French mendiant (chocolate discs dotted with fruits or nuts) and a dark Brazilian chocolate ganache that unveils a chocolate side ripe with passionfruit. 

“We are also unveiling an advent calendar garnished with our chocolates, rochers and chocolate-coated hazelnuts and almonds. The exceptional Grand Star piece (right) completes the collection. I’m really proud of it. It’s a large decorative piece made entirely of dark chocolate, combining 12 perforated stars with chocolate beads and gold leaf.”

Maison’s Manhattan shops bustle, even in the middle of the workweek. What do you think accounts for that and are you opening more in New York?

“We’re privileged to have many loyal clients in New York. I think that people are really looking for a little bit of Paris, of the French art de vivre. They’re happy to be in the boutique, to speak a few words of French with the vendors and to enjoy a little bit of gourmandizing. We don’t have any imminent plans to open a new boutique in New York, but we’re always on the lookout for new opportunities.”    

How did your own love affair with chocolate begin?

“I chose to become a chocolatier very early in my life and the decision seemed very natural and evident even at the time. From a young age, I spent every weekend in the kitchen of my uncle, who was a chef, and so my orientation towards the sweet side of cooking was formed very early. I discovered in chocolate an astounding outlet to express and develop my artistic side.” 

What is your favorite chocolate creation?

“A creation that is close to my heart is the noir de cassis — dark chocolate and blackcurrant. I’m especially proud of this chocolate because for many years, Mr. Linxe attempted to marry the flavors of chocolate and blackcurrant and I was able to take up where he left off, incorporating the blackcurrant buds as well as the pulp itself — which has the effect of making the taste last much longer. 

“I especially love the taste of pure chocolate that you find in our natural ganaches for all the typical tastes they can express. My favorites are the Quito, the Caracas, the Extreme and the Akosombo and, in milk chocolate, the Boheme and the Sylvia.”

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