EDITOR'S NOTE: Just in time for Valnetine's Day, A new Jacques Torres chocolate shop will be opening this week on 57th Street between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, as part of the string of Jacques Torres shops scheduled to open this year, including one in Grand Central Station. This expansion of Jacques Torres' chocolate empire joins the brand-new factory that opened this past summer in Brooklyn. The shop will be open this week, and will feature an assortment of chocolate boxes and gifts, including a chocolate diamond necklace piece. and of course, the world-famous Jacques Torres hot chocolate will be available at this new location.
Jacques Torres has earned the nickname “Mr. Chocolate” around the world, even though all of his stores are in New York City. From his beginning in France, where he was the youngest chef to ever earn the prestigious M.O.F. medal, it was clear Torres was going to focus on hand-crafted, artisan chocolates.
The depth of Torres’ dedication never wavered and he recently opened a new chocolate factory in Brooklyn, which will eventually be open for the public to explore. Torres took time out from his schedule during this busy season to talk about how chocolate has become somewhat of a luxury item.
The Daily Meal: What is your favorite chocolate?
Jacques Torres: It is a question a lot of customers ask me, thinking I know better and I don’t. I don’t really other than a quality chocolate with a bit more flavor. Or else, it’s a question of time of the day. In the afternoon, I would like maybe a milk chocolate with nuts, as a pick me up at 4:00 pm, but if I had chocolate at home it would be in the evening and a dark chocolate, you know, something with a high percent of cocoa content.
What are some of the trends you have seen in chocolate lately?
Definitely you see more and more making chocolate today. More and more people start from the cacao bean so more real chocolate makers. It’s called ‘from bean to bar,’ or ‘from tree to bar.’ Some people partner with plantations so they can put from ‘tree to bar’ and that way they can market directly from the grower. That is one trend.
Are you doing that?
I’m doing that. I’m making chocolate and I’m investing into the plantation. In Mexico, actually.
What else changing in chocolate production?
In my opinion, trend will change in the future. That’s because of the rise in the price of cocoa, which is enormous, 22% since last year. When you make a chocolate bar, there are a few things you can do. You can substitute some of the cacao butter, which is very expensive, with other fat. That’s something a maker like us would never do, but we might be forced to put a little bit more inclusion of something that’s lower than the cost of the chocolate because it’s so high. For example, you might be able to put some almonds in the chocolate bar, or fillings and different things so you can use a little less of the chocolate.
I think we’re going to see a lot more of that because the chocolate bar is going to cost so much money. It’s becoming a little bit of a luxury, and it’s not because the chocolate has become richer, the margin is tricky because we are trying to absorb some of the rising price of the cocoa, but we just cannot function like that so we have to find another way or just put a high price. With high price, then it’s tough to the market.
So, chocolate has become a luxury item?
It’s due to a few things. The Indian market is become big, China is becoming big, Russia, also. In those countries there are more and more middle class. One thing about the Europeans and the Americans – they eat!
Even the habits are changing. More people and the market is bigger and more people making chocolate and more people eating the chocolate. So the demand in raw cocoa is becoming more and more.
It seems that in six to seven years it might change as we plant more cacao beans.
Do you think people are looking more at the labels of chocolate now?
Definitely. I think the customer is way more educated than 20 years. Twenty years ago there was no information on the web where you could type, ‘what is chocolate?’ Or, what chocolate means, what is the origin of chocolate, what should I eat or what kind of chocolate should I eat.
You can get so much information. Sometimes I have customers that think they are professionals (laughter). They spend a couple of hours on the web and they educate themselves or have a passion for chocolate. They know about origin, they know about labels.
Chocolate is like wine, it’s not just the sum of the product, the cacao bean may have gone through a different plan during that process to bring an array of flavor. So, when you eat the chocolate, you have all of those notes to look for. You can eat the chocolate and say it is good, or you can try to analyze it like a glass of wine. More and more people are doing tastings at home, pairing chocolates with wine. They buy different types of chocolates and have parties like that.
What’s the most important thing to you when it comes to chocolate?
My motto is ‘real.’ In Europe, it used to be chocolate could only be called pure chocolate if the fat was 100% cocoa butter. Now, they allow 5% of other fats. In the U.S. too. That was a law that was passed that no one really knows much about. Now you can substitute some of your cocoa butter with other fat.
So, in Europe a lot will say 100% chocolate and that will be something people sees, what’s real. Real is a big thing for me because in this world not many things are real any more.
Do you have anything new this Valentine’s Day?
We always do a lot of different things. You can see them on my website. The Love Bar… I was walking on Sixth Avenue and I saw that sculpture. With LOVE, ‘LO’ on the top and ‘VE’ on the bottom. We took a picture and then we changed enough to not get sued by the artist, and then put ‘inspired by.’ It’s just a beautiful L-O-V-E put on top of each other.
I also did a bustier, just the neck and the shell of a lady, and I put the necklace with white chocolate. And, of course, when you do the neck in chocolate, you don’t have any head. Where the head would be, I put a big chocolate diamond. We’re going to put a funny line, like ‘by diamonds for your loved one.’ We have a diamond on top which is shiny chocolate. We always try to put a little bit of humor with a little bit of romance and if we can spice it up, we do. Last year we did a ‘Spanker,’ a big lollipop which we called a spanker.
We always try to spice it up. We do a box of chocolates called ‘The Kissing Game.’ Every time you pull a chocolate, under the insert you will see a place to kiss, which is very proper.
We always try to make the romance and the edge of sex and, of course, the quality will never change.
Additional Reporting by: Joanna Fantozzi