Chocolate is proof that happiness can be bought and there has never been a better time to be a chocolate lover. As the gourmet chocolate market continues to grow, the emphasis on what makes a particular chocolatier’s creations haute vary. For some companies, the focus is on varietals and cacao content, and for others the addition of natural flavor materials is equally important to pedigree and strength. For those who love perfume, some of the most interesting creations available today come from Michel Richart, a chocolatier who incorporates floral fragrance materials in his chocolates…
Richart’s Les Floraux collection consists of six distinct flavors: Neroli Ganache, Wildflower Ganache, Alpine Flower Ganache, Ylang Ylang Ganache, “Rosae” Geranium Ganache, Lavender Ganache and Exotic Flower Coulis. The flavors blossom in the mouth with a perfect balance of floralcy, the kind that gently coaxes the taste buds and provides an experience that mixes the familiar with the exotic. Eating Richart’s chocolates is an experience that elicits curiosity and exercises the intellect—which is what the pleasure of connoisseurship is all about. Working with floral ingredients in chocolate, however, is no easy task as chocolate has an assertive character of its own. In addition, there is the matter of educating the appetite with regard to edible fragrance materials.
The average person recoils at the concept of edible floral materials. American palates are used to jasmine and bergamot in their teas and those with adventurous appetites know the pleasures of distilled rose and orange flower waters in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes. Those with a penchant for Chinese gastronomy are cognizant of the fact that osmanthus and chrysanthemum hold a dear place in the hearts of many Chinese, so why the recoil? The answer is simple—human instinct. Not every bloom in the flower kingdom is edible and so, there is a feeling of caution that comes over the uninitiated. In addition, there is discomfort around the notion of repurposing a fragrance material into something edible, however many edible floral ingredients have a history of being used in food and one only need look at the history of Persian cooking for proof. Victorian gardeners lovingly tended edible flowers and the pages of What’s Cooking America thoughtfully reveals the favorites of modern gardeners and cooks.
So how is Richart able to achieve the perfect melding of flavor and fragrance? Though he won’t reveal the name of the flavor and fragrance company he works with (“it is one of the top three,” is all he will understandably say) he has access to some of the finest raw materials. Because Richart is working with a distinguished oil house, he is educated in GRAS (generally recognized as safe) materials in perfumery that have the potential to delight the taste buds.
Education is very important to Richart and he delights in sharing his knowledge on the company’s website. If one clicks on the “shop by flavor” tab, the professional passions of a second generation chocolatier, born in a chocolate factory, are evident. Seven flavor families, which reflect particular chocolate collections, are arranged with vivid images and vocabulary. The influence of perfume family categorization on the collection (balsamic, roasted, fruity, citrus, herbal, floral and spiced) is, according to Richart, deliberate. Richart sets expectations by defining flavor categories, but he does not force the experience upon the customer, the latter a style made popular by zealous food television hosts. Richart encourages personal discovery in his customers and that quality of humility shines through at his tasting classes.
There are other chocolatiers doing delicious work with fragrance materials and they will be discussed in future Flavor & Fragrance columns on Bois de Jasmin. Until then, you can visit Richart boutiques in Boston, New York, Puerto Rico and San Francisco and discover the world of fragrant chocolate pleasures for yourself. Locations are listed on Richart website.
Photo from Richart website.