Before opening Gourmet Boutique, Anya Zelfond’s love for chocolate began at a young age with a fascination that put it above all other sweets. As she grew up, she began exploring the different personalities of chocolate, drawn in by its complexities, for example, how two chocolates that can appear to be identical could taste so different with a slight change to the production. With her vision to capture chocolate’s versatility and diversity in one place, Anya started Gourmet Boutique shortly before the craft, bean to bar chocolate movement exploded in the US. One may call the last decade a US - Chocolate Revolution of sorts. Having spent more than a decade learning about the world of chocolate and how to taste really taste chocolate we can trust Anya’s opinion on what’s really good on the market. Recently, Anya has picked out four of her favourite bars to share in a tasting: Chocolat Bonnat’s Porcelana, François Pralus’s Madagascar, Friis Holm’s Chuno, and Amedei’s Chuao. In my post, I wanted to explore how these chocolate maker’s lives brought them to the industry and then to Gourmet Boutique’s shelves.
We can start with the Porcelana bar. Created in 1883 by Felix Bonnat, the company dates back to when chocolate making first hit the European scene. Chocolat Bonnat is influential in the industry by being pioneers in origin-based, or Gran Crus approach to chocolate making. This means that they source their cacao for one bar from one geographic location. Gran Crus now dominate the craft chocolate industry, the approach to fine chocolate making that pays attention to where the beans are grown, the surrounding vegetation, the climate will all contribute to the final flavor. This allows the individual cacao personality to shine by capturing the essential flavors of course if done by the hands of a master chocolate maker. Chocolat Bonnat now offers a range of Gran Crus chocolate bars, to allow both experienced tasters and novices alike to explore the world of chocolate. Sending the taster around the chocolate world one bar at a time So it makes sense that Chocolat Bonnat is highlighted in the global experience that is Gourmet Boutique, as it supports the wonder-lust feeling of the store. Chocolat Bonnat is lead by Stéphane Bonnat. Similar to Anya, he is dedicated to exploring the world to find the best chocolate. He also travels to search for rare species of cacao and preserving endangered cacao strands. He is committed to the bean-to-bar process, seeing the importance in every step with sustainable agricultural practices and fair trade relationships with his sourcing. He begins by collaborating with his farmers to formulate the best practice for beansafter harvest while making sure he has extra Chocolat Bonnat on hand to show the farmers what their product will become. The Bonnat factory is located in Voiron, France and is over a century old, but still produces 2,000 pounds of chocolate per day! Many of the processing machines are still the originals from 1883. In the end, they are left with a chocolate so fine that Jackie Kennedy would make sure she had an assortment every Christmas. Early in Anya’s chocolate journey, it was love at first bite with Bonnat. She tried it for the first time while travelling and was hooked on the incredible texture and flavor. Needless to say, she brought several bars home for her shelves. She loves to give it as a gift and recommend it to her customers, as Bonnat is still one of her favorites. The bar that Anya raves about is the Porcelana bar, named after the porcelain color beans from the rare strain of cacao tree from which it's made. Porcelana is a very fine subcategory of criollo which is the rarest of the three main types of cacao trees as it creates only 5% of chocolate around the world. Anya has dubbed this bar the “Chocolate Butter Bar” for its rich and creamy nature, something any level of chocolate lover would enjoy. This bar is also noted for its nutty, caramel, and slightly spicy finish, something that customers always come back for.
Anya’s next favorite uses Bonnat’s help for his own chocolate. Mikkel Friis-Holm has created a chocolate that is supported by sustainability and direct trade. He focuses on finding the possibilities of chocolate by truly understanding the complexities of what he’s selling. He even goes deeper to have single varietal chocolate, not just single origin. This chocolate company is very experimental, as they’re the masterminds behind Anya’s excitement of two bars that are exactly the same, except one was fermented one more time than the other, changing the taste and personality of the bar. Friis-Holm started by being a professional chef and dedicated traveler, working with many important food figures in Europe. He started with a partnership with the founders of the famous Scharffen Berger chocolates as their wholesale producer in Scandinavia. Doing this, he met people in the chocolate industry in Central America that led him to do a project in Nicaragua searching for DNA strands of native cacao that were overshadowed by the rise of the coffee industry. Discovering this native cacao inspired Friis-Holm to make his own chocolate. His company is now based out of Denmark while the chocolate is made in Voiron, France under the watch of Stéphanne Bonnat. Bonnat’s attention to detail with Holm’s spark for experimentation creates a thrilling partnership. Holm is looking to become a true bean to bar maker soon, as he desires to expose how important the climate, soil and terrain, or terrior, is for cacao, just like it is for wine. Friis-Holm was sent to Anya by a chocolate broker. It piqued her interest not only because of its unusual flavor (that is always the first requirement) but also because of the collaboration with Bonnat. Anya was also intrigued by the methods of production as it showed a new direction for
chocolate experimentation. She was also excited to offer her customers the first bar in the store made of beans sourced from Nicaragua and using unusual methods of manufacturing. The bar that Anya hand-picked from Friis-Holm was the Chuno bar. This is a 70% dark chocolate that is triple-turned single bean from a Criollo/Trinitario variety in Nicaragua. The triple turned bean during fermentation creates a more mild and creamy note to the bar, making it seem like it would be lighter on the dark chocolate scale.
Up next in Anya’s favorites is Francois Pralus, a travel-oriented, bean to bar company that wants to sweep you around the world with their single origin bars. Each bar specifies not only where the beans are from but also which variety of cacao is used. The cacao beans are from Indonesia, South America, and their own plantation in Madagascar, to name a few. Pralus is dedicated to the art of fine cacao chocolate making with much attention paid to variety of cacao beans used, where the beans are sourced from and how they are processed to ensure the flawless final indulgence that is Francois Pralus Chocolate. Francois Pralus’s journey began with his father’s pastry shop in Roanne, France, where he invented the Praluline, a buttery Brioche with praline pieces. With the shop now in the hands of Francois, he has expanded the family business to chocolate making after training with the well-known Bernachon chocolate makers. While visiting Provence, France, Anya found some Pralus on her pillowcase at her bed and breakfast after her host discovered her obsession with chocolate. It was Anya’s first time being able to taste different origins and varieties in one collection. Thanks to that lovely host, Anya saved her wrappers to find some Pralus for her shelves. His Madagascar bar, with the beans coming from Pralus’s own sustainable plantation, is at the top of Anya’s list. Made with Criollo beans, it has subtle flavors of blackcurrant, passionfruit, and raspberry with a finishing note of sweet vanilla. This bar is also made with simple ingredients of cocoa beans, cocoa butter, sugar and non-GMO emulsifier for a smooth finish.
Lastly, Amedei. This is a bean-to-bar chocolate that has strived for excellence right from the beginning when Cecilia Tessieri searched for the world’s best cocoa bean from the best plantations to perfectly manufacture the world’s best chocolate. Amedei started in 1990, starting by just making pralines with one employee while exploring cacao sourcing channels and the necessary equipment to make chocolate. During this time, Tessieri became the first woman to become a maître chocolatier by apprenticing in France, Belgium, and Germany. Finally, in 1998,the first Amedei bar was sold.
Anya first tasted this bar while visiting a balsamic vinegar maker in Modena when it was featured in a tasting. She was blown away by the fantastic chocolate she had read about, but not yet tasted. She immediately found a small exporter to get Amedei onto her shelves. In 2015, Anya even toured her factory in Tuscany and saw Tessieri’s attention to detail in practice.They keep up this practice of perfection by hiring experts to constantly ensure the chocolate is being produced to the to the utmost quality. Tesseri works with local agricultural experts in particular cacao growing regions from which she sources to ensure the process is up to her standards. Anya learned while visiting Amedei, that Tessieri has a sample of every harvest sent to her so she can examine if they are worthy enough to become her wonderful chocolate.The bar of perfection that Anya picked is the Chuao bar. It is a wonderful 70% dark chocolate with a strawberry dipped in honey flavor profile and an afternote of vanilla. The beans from this bar come from the prestigious region in Venezuela, where Amedei had an exclusivity contract that allowed her to dominate this area for a while. This is a bar Anya can’t help but recommend to customers. Knowing the stories behind Anya’s favorite bars makes a trip through Gourmet Boutique all the more interesting. These four bars sit with many others on the shelf allowing those who pick them up to hold the journeys of all the people who poured their passion into the art of fine chocolate making. Come in and try them yourself or check out our Taster’s Collection gift set here.