Grind-Lick-Snort: A Belgian Chocolate Tour
While New York City is cinching and tucking its way through another Fashion Week, I’m reveling in my inner addict with leftovers from a recent trip to Belgium. Antwerp is considered by many to be northern Europe’s fashion capital, but I spent the majority of my time seeking out the definitive expression of the cacao bean. What first began as a concentrated study of flavor, texture and technique quickly melted into a bacchanalian whirlwind of pralines and bon bons. Chocolate is a big business in Belgium and each of the following artisans make their mark with unique interpretations from classic to camp:
Del Rey’s quaint shop was my first discovery upon arriving in Antwerp. Founded in the late 1940’s, the outpost specialize in pralines. The details of my tasting are blurry, as I ate my entire purchase before returning to my hotel. The store recently added ice cream cakes and other confections to their line-up, and while it’s certainly a far cry from the Baskin-Robbins freezer-burned cakes from my youth, there’s something to be said for a chocolatier sticking to chocolate.
La Maison des Chocolatiers is one of Belgium’s newest chocolate shops, uniting ten master chocolate-makers in a modern boutique that resides on the Grand Place in the heart of Brussels. They’re onto something good, having picked up the international award at the “Janus 2010 du Commerce,” which is more about retail design than chocolate-making, but hey, who doesn’t like a pretty box? Also noteworthy are the shop’s recreational discovery workshops and Belgian Academy of Handmade Chocolate launching in 2011.
Wittamer is the grand dame of chocolates. Led by Myriam Wittamer, who runs in circles with the likes of Diane von Furstenberg and other fashionistas, this chocolate collection is as fanciful and elegant as the woman at the helm. I managed to stumble upon Ms. Wittamer when I was visiting the shop and she was as classy and timeless as the chocolate hat in the store window. She even offered me a free sample of one of her latest creations—a liquor-filled praline, which I managed to dribble down the front of my shirt and shamelessly lick once I stepped outside.
The Chocolate Line is chocolatier Dominique Persoone’s dreamlike answer to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. His creations run the gamut from a bubbly cola praline and bitter ganache with Japanese wasabi to chocolate lipstick and “the chocolate shooter”—a cocoa-snorting lucite contraption that he created specially for a Rolling Stones birthday party… go figure. Persoone loves to be in front of the crowds, showing off his sweet creations or promoting his latest venture. He’s the consummate entertainer and entrepreneur, but ultimately a phenomenal chocolatier who is pushing the boundaries in the world of chocolate-making.