The Meandering Epicurist
Montreal: Ville de Chocolat
I remember the day I discovered that chocolate isn’t one of the food groups—it was a great disappointment. Fortunately, Montreal didn’t get that memo. And what better way to spend a long weekend than to discover some of the leading chocolatiers and patisseries that have sprung up in the city.
At the Sofitel Montreal Golden Mile I meet Head Pastry Chef Roland Del Monte, a recipient of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France for his pastry skills and the gold medal of the “Ordre de l’Artisanat.” He has cooked for four French presidents. Chef Del Monte agrees to show me behind the scenes and share his recipe for a decadent chocolate mousse—rich and with a luxurious mouth feel, but not overly sweet. Seemingly simple to prepare, the avuncular, white-haired chef still admonishes me in stern tones: “Don’t depart from the recipe by so much as a gram—it won’t be the same.” Clearly, this chocolate business is serious!
The Chocolate Academy is a place where two historic names in chocolate—Cacao Barry, founded in France in 1842, and Callebaut, founded in Belgium in 1911—have come together. Our instructor and head of the academy is Philippe Vancayseele. He’s a natural; at once humorous and engaging, but demanding. He walks us through cocoa-bean taste profiles, and describes how the beans are roasted and processed. I’m mesmerized as he stirs a giant vat of chocolate with the dexterity of a magician. Without a single speck ending up on his pristine white chef’s jacket, he consigns huge viscous flows of glossy chocolate to delicate moulds with a couple of flicks of a spatula. Duplicating this is not going to be easy. Indeed, I end up with chocolate everywhere. It seems to want to escape and multiply. Eventually I get it under control, and then it’s on to fill the now chocolate-lined moulds and form the underside of the chocolate. If you want to see how well a handmade chocolate has been made then look at the underside, confides Chef Vancayseele.
In 1940, Madeleine Daigneault (whose granddaughter Stéphanie Saint-Denis is the current owner) and her sister Juliette Farand opened an artisanal chocolate shop specializing in hand- made chocolates. The house and equipment are now practically a museum, stuck in a charming time warp. The people who took their sugar rations to the shop during World War II and had them turned into chocolate would find virtually nothing has changed. And the dexterity of those still hand-dipping and -signing chocolates is astonishing—matched only by the taste.
Here, co-owner Ludovic Fresse tells me that the artisans at Chocolats Privilege were some of the first chocolatiers to produce, in-house, finished chocolate from raw beans. Although this is now only a small percentage of the shop’s output, I can particularly recommend the filled dark-chocolate with a tangy lemon lime basil filling. Classes are held every Saturday.
La Fabrique Arhoma
La Fabrique Arhoma is a wonderful combination of bakery and chocolate shop. Julien Guillegault shows me not only the artistic chocolate creations of Sabrina Ailleire, but also an astonishing range of bread, including cranberry, pecan with maple syrup and raisin fennel, developed by head baker Jérôme Couture. If there is fragrance in heaven, I’m certain it will be Guillegault’s wondrous aroma of fresh-baked bread and chocolate.
Suite 88 Chocolatier
Likened by some to a jewellery box, this stylish store has an astonishing range of the most elegant confections in glass-topped showcases, displayed like the gems they are. I’m particularly taken with the cone-shaped chocolate shooters. Chef Ashley Mosaca, graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa, suggests I try the Belgian waffles. I settle down at the back of the store in the comfortable red tub chairs and sip on a spicy hot chocolate spiked with cayenne pepper. Then the waffle arrives. It is, of course, outstanding. A delicate crispy outer shell gives way to a soft cakey interior, set off by a creamy chocolate topping. It seems entirely appropriate that the retro music playing in the background is “A Taste of Honey.”
Maison Christian Faure
The climax of my visit is a specially arranged dinner presided over by Chef Christian Faure (awarded the title of “Best Pastry Chef of the World” by The American Academy for Hospitality Sciences) in his stunning pastry shop and teaching academy. A plate appears with what, at first glance, looks like the traditional meat and two veg. But on the beef medallion and over the potatoes is—chocolate! The accompaniment—mustard ice cream—appears to represent perhaps the final extreme boundary of food combinations. A taste dispels that notion. It’s a sublimely inspired combination. Rich and piquant at the same time. It pairs nicely with a glass of Côtes du Rhône. Watch for Maison Christian Faure opening on Bloor Street this summer. It’s a step closer to the self-styled ville de chocolat, Montreal. Vive la difference!
Juliette & Chocolat
Juliette & Chocolat is an elegantly decorated, casual restaurant group in the city. It’s a wonderful place to unwind, as many are doing when I visit, catching up on e-mail or social media. The chocolate tasting flight consists of the restaurant’s most popular “grandma’s style” extra-thick drinks—semi-sweet, milk chocolate and white. Served with homemade marshmallows, a mountain of whipped cream and crunchy chocolate pearls, this is an experience not to be missed.
Homefront’s man about town is suave, debonair, charming and, best of all, extremely curious. He hunts, sleuths, discovers, explores and tells all.