The world of chocolate definitely has its stars, and Pierre Marcolini is one of them.
When the tall, blond Belgian chocolatier made a showing at Seoul’s first Salon du Chocolat last week, he was instantly engulfed by a throng of phone camera-wielding visitors.
While signing autographs goes hand in hand with participating in the world’s largest chocolate show, Marcolini was also intent on spreading news about one of the hottest cacao trends to date.
“I am very happy more people are following the trend of going from bean to bar,” the 48-year-old chocolatier said during an interview with The Korea Herald on Friday.
|Chocolatier Pierre Marcolini talks about the future of chocolate and the bean-to-bar movement at a seminar held at the Salon du Chocolat Seoul 2013 last Friday in COEX, Samseong-dong, Seoul. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)|
An advocate of the bean-to-bar movement, Marcolini travels to farms where cacao beans (the primary ingredient in chocolate) are raised, and sources his own beans to make chocolate from scratch.
Making chocolate from scratch involves roasting the cacao beans, milling them, kneading the resulting mixture and then heating and cooling the resulting chocolate to solid perfection.
This entire process is called bean-to-bar, and it is meant to differentiate its devotees from those who use couverture chocolate.
Couverture chocolate, essentially, is high-quality chocolate that has already made the transition from bean-to-bar and is sold as tablets or solid coin-shaped circles.
Couverture chocolate is used by professionals to create filled, molded or other types of chocolates. That means professionals who use couverture chocolate do not need to make chocolate from scratch.
Working with couverture is not easy in itself, especially when one tempers and blends couverture chocolate to suit one’s exact specifications.
When Marcolini opened his first boutique in 1995, he, too, made his confections with couverture chocolate. Then in 2000, he started to make bean-to-bar chocolate.
“I wanted to make my own chocolate,” Marcolini explained on why he went for a bean-to-bar approach during a seminar he held at Seoul’s Salon du Chocolat on Friday.
Marcolini felt that the market was becoming increasingly homogenized by large-scale chocolate manufacturers whose couverture was being used by professionals in the industry.
“I wanted to know if I could make something different,” he told his audience.
At first it was tough. The quality of the beans was not good enough to produce good chocolate. At one time, Marcolini even paid for some beans but never received the shipment. He did not give up.
About four years ago, Marcolini amassed enough know-how to really commit himself to the bean-to-bar movement, and despite the fact that he has grown his business to over 17 stores in far-flung locales like Tokyo and, most recently, Taipei, Marcolini still travels to farms and roasts his beans in an antique, decade-old Probat roaster.
“Roasting beans is the soul of the chocolatier,” Marcolini explained. “Roasting determines how it will taste.”
Marcolini is very attached to his Probat roaster, which was one of the first machines he purchased.
“There is a relationship between a chocolatier and his roaster,” he said.
As for why he travels to bean-growing regions, he said, “It seems totally unthinkable to make tablets of chocolate without understanding the soil and the terroir.”
Marcolini’s love affair with chocolate and its beans (he practically glows when he describes a single-origin tablet crafted from Peruvian beans) is evident in his creations.
Juicy, fragrant orange peel and pulp are heightened by a thin robe of dark Peruvian chocolate, creating an impeccable balance of bitter, opulent cacao and sweet citrus.
A tablet made from a variety of cacao bean called Trinitario sourced from Cuba gives off endnotes of honeysuckle and lily-of-the-valley before wrapping the tongue in a final, clean note of bitterness.
While Marcolini seems to revel in his craft, he also does not mince praise for fellow bean-to-bar artisans, in particular for the Brooklyn-based Mast Brothers, whose beautifully packaged bean-to-bar chocolates have gained a huge following.
Marcolini was also pleased to note that he encountered several bean-to-bar chocolatiers at Seoul’s Salon du Chocolat, one of whom is the prominent French chocolatier Philippe Bernachon.
Bernachon also makes bean-to-bar chocolate, and at the event he told The Korea Herald, “I do bean-to-bar to be able to decide, to choose the cacao beans and create a mixture that is unique.
“It is hard but it helps me be unique,” Bernachon said.
Hard is right. Mastering the art of roasting and kneading (called “conching” in chocolate speak) to professional perfection is not easy and it can be more expensive as well, considering one needs to buy beans and then make it all from scratch.
South Korean chocolate brand Attirer co-owner Park Hwa-jung, who has attended bean-to-bar seminars here, sees potential for bean-to-bar chocolate in South Korea but said relative costliness and lack of awareness of the bean-to-bar movement could be obstacles to seeing the movement take root here.
That might change in the near future considering that Marcolini is open to launching his brand in South Korea.
“I have been here for three days,” Marcolini said. “Korea is probably the best step.”
By Jean Oh (email@example.com