Why did you start cooking with chocolate?
I began to cook with chocolate more than 17 years ago. I wanted to be a chef and I began training as a chef but I lost my father and decided to go back home and finally I changed the way and became a pâtissier. But I think I always had a small savoury part in my brain which is perhaps why I opened a restaurant and not a bakery.
I always wanted to cook with chocolate. Of course cooking with chocolate is not new. It is very common in France to use a bit of chocolate to create a sauce for venison or monkfish. Mexican cuisine also uses chocolate. But what I wanted to do was use chocolate not only to make a sauce but as the protagonist ingredient. I was dreaming about the chocolate as the first or second actor in the dish.
How do you create recipes with chocolate?
When I cook with chocolate, it is not about mixing the chocolate with something I feel good about. It is more about thinking ‘I love this chocolate, and I think this chocolate would be nice with veal, or langoustine, or smoked pork’. I don’t think about a dish already done where I think some chocolate could be nice, I work in the reverse way.
When I began to write my book Chocolate Fusion I created the recipes as if I was writing a book on peanut cuisine. Actually with peanut cuisine it is different because there is only one kind of peanut and many types of chocolate. But the peanut is not shy in Asian cuisine. If you are talking about peanut chicken it is PEANUT chicken. It is the same with sesame and cashews.
Why does chocolate work so well in savoury food?
For me the chocolate is not as sweet as we sometimes think of it. When we are speaking about 65/70/75 cocoa the power of the sugar is so low that if you are adding some acidity with a wine reduction and you are adding some salt, you are directly killing the power of the sweetness.
I think chocolate is full and rich of so many flavours, like wine, which is why it works so well and gives so many ideas. There is bitter dark chocolate, there is acidic dark chocolate, there is bitter milk chocolate and sweet milk chocolate, there are so many types of chocolate.
Does seafood and chocolate really mix?
One of my biggest discoveries was the wonderful combination between iodine and chocolate. Depending on where the iodine is coming from - mussels, crayfish, lobster or langoustine – it is impossible to use the same chocolate.
Crayfish with dark chocolate is horrible. I love crayfish and I finally created a sauce with milk chocolate and cognac which works amazingly. I make my langoustine dish with pure carob chocolate, it is very rich in cocoa bean but it is not very bitter.
There are few things we can’t do with chocolate. One dish I cannot reach is something very elegant and balanced with oyster and chocolate. I do oyster with chocolate water, I infuse the water with chocolate and it is very nice but it is not really chocolate, chocolate.
Do you think chefs are adventurous enough with chocolate?
I have had the opportunity to taste dishes from a few chefs who proposed something with chocolate. Mostly it was done with cocoa powder, no chocolate to see. I hate cocoa powder because it isn’t chocolate. I always say perhaps I was a very wrong chef but if I took seven years to create the recipes for my book I think it is because it is not easy to cook something with chocolate that is interesting, with great balance, with good complexity.
I think chefs are perhaps too shy about cooking with chocolate. They are not taking enough risk. In my restaurant I am doing chocolate dinners and every time it is booked up. I don’t mean we can make a chocolate restaurant - although maybe in Paris or London – but to propose one or two chocolate dishes on the menu for a few months of the year would be possible.
I would say don’t be so shy about trying. The chefs could enjoy themselves and have some fun.