After 13 years working together, Nicolas Berger and Alain Ducasse are achieving a childhood dream: inventing a chocolate factory which is synonymous with creativity and expertise! This magical place was created in 2013 in Paris, Rue de la Roquette.
Nurtured from an Early Age
Coming from a family of pâtissiers, Nicolas Berger was born near to Lyon, among the sophisticated smells of sugar, chocolate and other sweets.
"Pastry cooking came naturally to me, I was breathing it in everyday!" But very quickly, chocolate would become essential. A purist, Nicolas Berger loves to work with the product from its roots, from the source to the finished product. "Everything goes too fast nowadays! In pastry cooking, we no longer have time to make almond paste.”
He remembers the Bernachon chocolate factory in Lyon "which made everything!" and that inspired him... He therefore studied under the great names, from Hévin at the late Peltier and at Ladurée. "When I started, Lenôtre was the leader in new pastry cooking. I loved working for the little Peltier family business." Then he went abroad to Genoa then New York, where he met Alain Ducasse in 2000. He joined the great establishment as a pastry chef in the restaurant of Essex House in New York for 2 years then returned to Paris to the Plaza Athénée where he became Executive Pastry Chef in 2004.
The Chocolate Factory: A Childhood Dream
In 2006, Nicolas Berger went for it: he spoke to Alain Ducasse about his chocolate factory project. The idea? Understanding the origin of each cocoa bean, knowing who grows it and following the entire production process up to the finished product. Close to Alain Ducasse's philosophy, the idea appealed to the great chef straight away. "We were in agreement in 30 seconds! We have a real mutual trust.”
The demanding chefs would take a few years to realise this ambitious project as it was not easy to find the right machines and, above all, a premises prepared to accommodate them in the middle of Paris. "The machines were bargain-hunted in Europe. They weighed between 3 and 5 tonnes. They needed solid ground, without a cellar below, to support such a weight!”
Finally, they laid hands on this former garage in Bastille with a large yard which was able to store the cocoa bean pallets. The process was underway, the team wanted to control everything, from the careful selection of the beans to the fermentation, from drying to roasting and from the crushing to the refining: no stage was left to chance! They just needed to get creating...
Close Your Eyes and Taste
It cannot be stressed often enough: the unique nature of chocolate depends on its origin and not its percentage of cocoa solids! Simply by studying the variety of bars created by Alain Ducasse, you already have the impression of having been round the world three times: Ecuador, Mexico, Cameroon, etc., they each have their character, their uniqueness! "Although the Madagascan bean is more acidic, the Peruvian one is more fruity and delicate, where as the one from Java is smoky!" For a touch of fantasy, go for the mendiants (chocolate disks with dried fruits or home-made muesli) or for the bars filled with almond paste, praline, pistachio, caramel mousse or ones flavoured with passion fruit and coconut.
"I love fine flavours, which are simple and direct. What's important is the strength of the product!" Nicolas Berger does not seek out unlikely flavour combinations at any cost, in order to stand out. First and foremost he designs excellent products, a concept dear to the Alain Ducasse philosophy. "For chocolate sweets, we create praline with a fine flavour, gourmet ganaches with vanilla, coffee, caramel, etc. The flavours are traditional, but the right ones.”
For end of year festivities, there's no point in getting caught up in the latest gimmicks either: the Christmas tree to put up yourself is smart, fun and irresistible just like the chocolate tree garnished with hazelnut, almond and pistachio mendiants, Roc' and chocolate candied oranges pieces. "We sell edible products and not packaging!" Whatever the occasion, the chocolates that leave this wonderful factory in the 11th arrondissement in Paris have only one purpose, to be enjoyed!
Your chocolates in 3 words or adjectives? "Simplicity, boldness, and unpretentiousness."
A chocolate to give to friends? "Praline sweets and the mendiant bars!"
A chocolate for children? "The spread and the 12g tasting bars, great for spreading on pain au lait or a slice of baguette!”
A chocolate to impress? "An orange-based crunchy and melting product!”
A chocolate for a wedding? "The Roc', a blend of dried fruit, cereals, and maize, coated in dark or milk chocolate!”
My Places in Paris
A gourmet restaurant? Le Plaza Athénée - 25 avenue Montaigne, 75008 Paris - +33 1 53 67 66 65
My bistros? L’Assiette - 181 rue du Château, 75014 Paris - +33 1 43 22 64 86
Le Café Truc - 8 rue Froment, 75011 Paris - +33 1 48 05 62 38
Le Quincy - 28 avenue Ledru-Rollin, 75012 Paris - +33 1 46 28 46 76
Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse Manufacture à Paris – 40 rue de la Roquette, 75011 Paris – +33 1 48 05 82 86