Parisian of the Month, May 2010
If Paris had to elect its own Willy Wonka, Patrick Roger would fit the bill-- minus the giant factory and industrial approach to cocoa, of course. Named best chocolatier of France (Meilleur Ouvrier
) in 2000 at only 32 years old, Roger has carved out a top spot for himself in the artisanal chocolate industry, setting himself apart with his insistence on fresh, palate-opening flavors like lime and lemongrass and with his whimsical, often provocative sculptures in both chocolate and bronze. I visited him recently at his workshop south of Paris in the town of Sceaux, where I watched artisans roll and cut chocolate by hand and fill a new variety of ganache (read more below), observed monstrous works-in-progress of chocolate polar bears and elephants, tasted fresh thyme from the garden out back, and learned all about Roger's ideas on what makes chocolate good. Below are excerpts from our conversation.
How did you start out in chocolate? Were you a sculptor before becoming a chocolatier?
I didn’t even walk into a museum before I was 25-- I barely knew they existed! (I started out) doing an apprenticeship in pastry, and after two years I moved to Paris. Pastry-making didn’t interest me, but a post in the same company opened up for a chocolatier...and I had a revelation. I understood right away that I’d be able to construct anything with this medium, including my own life...that it was a passport to the world.
So you discovered that chocolate was an exciting medium, that it gave a lot of flexibility in terms of creativity?
It’s more that chocolate discovered me! I started out at 18, doing mostly artistic work-- lots of sculptures for events in Paris-- I created sculptures for (French fashion designer) Jean Paul Gaultier and (singer) Yannick Noah, and for others. At that time, event planning was huge.
NEXT: On Surprising the Palate...