One-on-One with Nicolas Cloiseau, chef of La Maison du Chocolat
Leader of famed Parisian chocolate house discusses force behind success.
In celebration of its 40th anniversary, La Maison du Chocolat, the famed Parisian chocolate company launched “Icons in XXL,” fan favorites spanning 40 years of chocolate making from the masters of ganache. Nestled individually within custom-metallic boxes, the ‘Grands Carrés’ collection features three classic and three more contemporary bouchées. Now headed by Nicolas Cloiseau, the hand-picked successor of founder Robert Linxe, the Meilleur Ouvrier de France chocolatier discusses the driving force behind the company’s four decades of success.
CI: When Candy Industry last visited La Maison du Chocolat in 2004, the company was doing all production in a 1,500-sq.-meter facility in Nanterre, near Paris, employing about 60 people in production, about 20 in packing. Has the company expanded its operations since then?
NC: The company headquarters is still located at the same facilities in Nanterre. There are currently 58 chocolatiers employed in the atelier, so the production process is still quite the same.
CI. During the visit, it was clear much attention was given to the hand-crafted process. At the same time, there were several pieces of equipment introduced to further automate certain processes. Is that still the case today? And what kind of new technology, if any, are you using to maintain quality while increasing output?
NC: In 2015 we invested in an ultrasonic slicing machine, which facilitates an augmentation of the production and output, especially during periods of high activity such as just before the winter holidays. Personally, I have nothing against mechanization as long as there is no detriment to the quality of our chocolates.
CI: Sourcing of chocolate is critical for La Maison du Chocolat. Does the company still work with Valrhona in having special blends produced? Has the philosophy changed regarding single-origin chocolate?
NC: We still work very closely with Valrhona and collaborate to source our cocoa beans directly from the producers. This unique and close relationship with the company means that we can have a higher quality selection of our materials, acquiring cocoa beans that are more or less “sur mesure” or “tailor-made” to create quality, single-origin chocolates.
CI: How did the selection of the Icons come about? Is there some history behind each creation?
NC: It’s really our clientele who choose our iconic chocolates. There are certain recipes that over the years have become a real part of our heritage such as the Quito, Salvador, or Boheme. These earlier chocolates were often inspired by Robert Linxe’s trips to plantations or by classical music – he was a great opera lover. Today, I am very inspired by meetings with certain small producers of high quality. These people are putting all their love into a small production and the incredible taste of their products inspires my creativity.
CI: What culinary/food trends are having an impact at the company with regards to new product creations?
NC: I tend to be someone who looks seldom at current trends. I’m not going to make chocolates with caramel one season just because everyone else is making them. I try to not look too much around me but always look forward in the search of creations that are original and surprising.
CI: Several years ago, you said, “I am heir to the perfection of balances of Robert Linxe. I make chocolates as he would have made them today. I feel responsible for what he has created, his philosophy of taste, assemblages and his balances.” Is maintaining that philosophy difficult? What would you consider are your contributions to La Maison du Chocolat’s and Robert Linxe’s legacy?
NC: I spent ten years learning from Linxe and during that time he truly developed my senses for the balance between tastes and flavors. I would say that certain tastes have evolved over the generations but Linxe’s philosophy has remained intact.
CI: What other projects, promotions are on the schedule to celebrate La Maison du Chocolat’s 40th anniversary?
NC: We have celebrated this important year with collaborations with the notable street artist Nasty as well as a partnership with Mugler on a collection of chocolates inspired by the perfume Angel. We’re also releasing a limited edition collection of our classic chocolates in XL. Called, Les Grands Carrés, this collection celebrates our most beloved recipes in a new format. To finish the year, in October we’ll be throwing a large anniversary party at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris for clients and friends.
CI: Are you planning to open any other retail shops?
NC: We’ve recently had boutique openings in Asia and now for the moment we’ll be focusing on perfecting our stores worldwide.
CI: Do you believe there’s a better appreciation of fine chocolate in America, in the world?
NC: There’s certainly been a lot of improvement across the world that’s been surprising in some countries. Japan, in particular, has a growing clientele who are extremely cultivated in their tasting methods. The global consumer is more demanding in terms of quality — she appreciates more subtle flavors and chocolates that contain less sugar and fats. The palate of the client is more refined and receptive towards new products such as single-origin chocolates that can be appreciated like fine wines.