“I am a chocolate maker. I started in 2001 and now I have a shop and workshop together, working more like a restaurant,” says Laurent Gerbaud, introducing himself at his chic, central Brussels base.
“We produce here, behind the window, and then we sell the product directly in the shop, so it’s always fresh, made daily from really good ingredients,” says the Belgian before making a surprising revelation.
Is it real Belgian chocolate?
“Actually, it’s not Belgian chocolate,” he says laughing. “I work with Domori, a very small manufacturer in Italy that produces 400, 500 tonnes of chocolate per year, which is really small, but it’s the best quality you can find. It’s made from Criollo and Trinitario cacao beans, which give you a very aromatic chocolate with a long-lasting taste; very fruity and spicy. Once you are used to this it’s like good wine, you cannot go back.”
Gerbaud has a reputation for making products without added sugar.
“It’s thanks to a big trip I did to China a bit more than 10 years ago…I learned how to diminish or delete the sugar from the ingredients. Step by step I got used to using no fat, alcohol or preservatives, going back to the simple taste of chocolate and the ingredients added. There’s no secret in what I do here. I have very nice nuts with very nice chocolate and spice and good balance,” he explains in matter of fact manner in his lilting accent.
Belgian chocolate addiction shocker
“Most of the time, after a few times here, people get addicted to this kind of taste and find everything else too sweet, too sugary. I do a lot of tastings and private classes. People can book a tasting class. It’s arranged like a wine tasting; you start with cheap wine, then good wine, then you go to extravagant wines.”
The tastings can be run in English for groups or individuals and often provide participants with surprising new insights and appreciation of the depth and flavours of chocolate.
“After our chocolate they have to go back to the normal one. Because their taste has been changed in 20 minutes suddenly they discover all the bad tastes. They are really surprised because it wasn’t there in the first tasting,” says Gerbaud.
New Belgian chocolate products
Inevitably, I’m keen to know how he comes up with ideas for new products.
“I work by families of tastes. I have assorted nuts, acidity – with cranberry, pear, apricot and physalis – the citrus family too and peppery tastes with black pepper, ginger and chili. It’s only when I find a new ingredient that I make a new product; I don’t come out with an Easter, spring and summer collection. Most of the time it’s chance; in Italy I found a fantastic cumin from a small producer of slow food in Morocco,” says Gerbaud.
Sampling his cumin chocolate I’m impressed by the intensity and depth of flavour, and purchase a 100g bag as a souvenir of my trip to Brussels.
Laurent Gerbaud’s chocolate shop and tea room is at 2D, Rue Ravenstein, 1000 Brussels.
Learn more about the Belgian capital’s attractions on the Visit Brussels website.
Railbookers (tel. +44 (0) 20 3327 3551) offers rail tickets and tailor made rail holidays in Belgium and beyond.
Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.
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