MONTREAL, QUE.: OCTOBER 18, 2011--Chloe Germain-Fredette runs Les Chocolats de Chloe, she is pictures with her brownies and samples of her chocolate goods, in Montreal, October 18, 2011. (Allen McInnis/THE GAZETTE)
Reduce text size Increase text size
Reduce text size

The art of chocolate

by Lesley Chesterman

Is Montreal a city of chocolate lovers? Judging by the small number of chocolate shops compared to say bakeries or restaurants, one would think not. You’ve got your standard Belgian bonbon emporiums that specialize primarily in milk chocolate candies filled with praline or perfumy creams. Then you have your French pâtisseries that offer a chocolate counter laden with predictable Cointreau ganache, coffee pavés, and cocoa-coated truffles. Sure they hit the spot when you’re craving something sweet and special, but their equivalent in a restaurant dish would be pâté or onion soup. Yawn.

There are, however, a few chocolate makers whipping up haute-cuisine style chocolates that are making Montrealers swoon. Two of the best are women: Chloé Germain-Fredette of Les Chocolats de Chloé, and Geneviève Grandbois of Chocolats Geneviève Grandbois. Though very different, their chocolates are modern, as in made with out-of-the-ordinary flavours such as olive oil, piment d’espelette, and fig with Banyuls. Interestingly enough, both of their top-selling chocolates contain salt, or more specifically, the pricey French fleur de sel: Germain- Fredette’s is a milk chocolate ganache with fleur de sel, and Grandbois’s is a caramel au fleur de sel.

Despite their mutual penchant for funky flavours, their approaches to chocolate making couldn’t be more different.

Originally trained as an actress, Grandbois sees chocolate as a means for creative expression. “I’m an artist,” she says, “I need to create. I’m not an artisan who is happy repeating the same thing over and again. I prefer to invent, influenced by the poetry, the refinement of chocolate.” Grandbois discovered early on that chocolate making also provided the sort of positive feedback lacking in her previous career. “As an actress I was used to the rejection,” she says, “always hearing ‛no.’ But suddenly with my chocolates, everyone was saying ‛yes!’“

Grandbois’s chocolates are as renowned for their edgy flavour profile as their beautiful packaging. Her signature tin box of nine moulded chocolates includes dark chocolate bonbons made with olive oil, saffron, maple and chai. This isn’t candy meant to be shovelled back while watching a movie, but gourmet chocolate that’s best sliced, shared and savoured at the end of a dinner party. Her other products include cubes of chocolate filled with nougat, marshmallow, cherry and coconut, as well as “Les Carrés,” thin slabs of chocolate flavoured with fleur de sel or piment d’espelette. And her pot of caramel sauce (also seasoned with fleur de sel) is scrumptious enough to eat straight from the jar.

In sharp contrast, Germain-Fredette’s background is in pastry and for her, chocolate-making was an extension of those baking skills. “I consider my work that of an artisan,” she says. “I like working with my hands. I prefer to see humans work than machines. I like repeating the gestures, it’s meditative for me. We make between 1,000 and 1,300 hand-dipped chocolates a day in high season, and when we’re done, I look at all that work we did and it makes me happy.”