Far From Perfect: Michel Roux Jr’s Chocolate Perfection

Posted by in Features on July 23 2014 | Leave A Comment

Chocolate Perfection

I’m always intrigued by the way television covers the chocolate industry. It will usually take one of two angles; Either it will reminisce about the long lost British chocolate industry with archive footage of the Cadbury, Rowntree or Fry’s factories, or it will extol the virtues of some European country; usually either France, Belgium or Switzerland.

I had high hopes when I heard Michel Roux Jr was tackling the subject with his BBC programme Chocolate Perfection. If anyone can open up the exciting world of chocolate makers and chocolatiers, it’s him. He’s knowledgable, charming, and from what I hear, a very nice man.

As I sat down to watch with my cup of tea, my enthusiasm was brought to a crashing halt with the words “You won’t be surprised that in the search for my best, I won’t be touring the UK” spoken over archive ’70s footage of Cadbury’s Bournville factory.

Well actually, yes, I am surprised.

Roux chose to base the entire programme in France, which is fair enough, but the throw away statement as to why the UK – and the rest of the world – were being skipped entirely was both shocking and poorly judged.

Now you might think that I’m just miffed that us Brits were left out, and that French chocolate really is the home of Chocolate Perfection, but that’s really not the case. There does seem to be a perception amongst some in the food industry that French chocolate leads the world, but that’s an outdated point of view and frankly, one that is just plain wrong.

Don’t take my word for it though; The International Chocolate Awards represent the very pinnacle of achievement for chocolate makers and chocolatiers. Out of 59 medals given at last year’s World Final, only one went to a French company (a sliver medal for Bonnat’s – Juliana bar). Italy led the way with fifteen awards, followed the the US with ten and the UK with a respectable nine.

In my chocolate travels, I’ve been lucky enough to visit France on many occasions. Indeed, for the last three years, I’ve attended the world’s biggest chocolate show, Salon Du Chocolat in Paris. The show is awash with French chocolatiers from all over the country and most of them are pretty good. But when you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that many are using the same Valrhona chocolate. In many cases, chocolatiers will simply re-mould existing Valrhona bars and put their own labels on them – complete with the original Valrhona product name.

Chocolate Perfection

The baseline for quality chocolate in France is certainly higher than in the UK. A bar or simple praline made with Valrhona chocolate is clearly better than our mass produced KitKat or Dairy Milk. The French have a tradition of quality chocolate and simply don’t eat cheap confectionery bars in the quantities we do.

But with that tradition has come a level of complacency. For me, there has been little in the way of innovation to see in Paris over the last few years. And when it does appear, it’s usually from Japanese chocolatiers. The likes of Es Koyama who have started with a traditional French style and taken it in exciting new directions.

French tastes are so entwined with tradition that it’s very difficult for a chocolatier to try something truly innovative. Weird and wonderful flavour combinations don’t tend to sell, and as a consequence chocolatiers stick with what they know.

Here in the UK, we might seem a little more reserved than the French, but we have an adventurous streak! Chocolatiers like Paul A Young experiment with everything from Marmite to cigar leaves in their products in their quest to tantalise the tastebuds. Down in Dorset, Chococo use delicious local and fresh ingredients for their range of beautiful and brightly coloured chocolates. Shelly Preston’s Boutique Aromatique in Nottinghamshire produces a wonderful range inspired by fragrant florals and essential oils. And up in Edinburgh, The Chocolate Tree produce an entire range of bars, truffles and confections with chocolate they make from the bean themselves.

There’s still only a handful of companies in the UK producing chocolate from the bean, but it’s an industry that’s growing too. Only this week, York Cocoa House are embarking on their own journey, bringing back small batch chocolate making to the spiritual home of British chocolate.

There is so much excitement and innovation in the British chocolate industry at the moment and it was a real shame to see it dismissed in a single sentence at the start of Chocolate Perfection. And there was simply no mention at all of the explosion of small-batch bean-to-bar makers in the United States that are taking the world by storm. I enjoyed the programme for what it was, a interesting look at the French chocolate industry, but that’s all it was.

I only hope the BBC will consider commissioning a follow-up, looking at some of the inspirational and innovative chocolatiers and chocolate makers we have here in the UK.

For another viewpoint on the programme, take a look at Steven Pierce’s excellent post “Why Michel Roux Jr Is Wrong About Chocolate“.


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Comments On This Post

  1. Fantastic post! You’re a great champion for UK chocolatiers.

  2. Elisa Montiel

    Interesting article. Just wanted to correct some information you have on it. Bonnat Chocolatier won more than one medal in the International chocolate awards, it won silver medal with Juliana, but also gold in French category, gold for European, gold for best chocolate maker and gold for directed traded. The last two gold medals being, in my point of view, the most important.
    What is true is that chocolate making is developing around the world and France is not the only protagonist.

    • Dom (Chocablog Staff)

      Hi Elisa – thanks for pointing that out. To clarify, I was specifically referring to the World Finals, not the national heats.

  3. manuela

    Exactly Dom.
    Imho Paul Young is by far and away the best chocolatier in the UK, have to disagree about chococo though who while ok are not in the same class. Bored with Valrhona too and as for Monsieur Roux on the creating-his-own-chocolate-with-callebaut, perleaze, must make people like Duffy want to tear their hair out!

  4. Here is a recipe that is a big hit in our Salon de thé in Fontevraud l’abbaye where I live with my family and run a tea room/petit restaurant/ B & B next door to the magnificent Abbaye Royale. Since 2006 we have been offering our customers and guests flavours from Angleterre that are often inspired by traditional French recipes and patisserie. Being a chocoholic myself and a passionate baker, our dishes and recipes often feature chocolate, such as Mexican Chocolate Chili and our Chocolat au Fondant. My version of the latter was actually inspired by reading The Elusive Truffle: Travels In Search Of The Legendary Food Of France by Mirabel Osler, a book I would highly recommend to lovers of France, provincial cookery and travel. Not that many chocolate recipes feature in this book, but even so the fondant cake that I make was inspired by reading it and my version is now a huge hit with our regulars and visitors from overseas who describe it as Gourmet….It is also incredibly quick and easy to make.

    You will need:

    5 large free-range eggs (separated)
    2 x 200g of best quality dark chocolate of at least 70%*.
    200g butter
    200g sugar
    pinch of salt
    1 tablespoon plain flour or for gluten free add two tablespoons of ground almonds


    Melt the chocolate, butter and sugar in the microwave until melted and glossy
    Separate the eggs and whisk the whites until stiff then add them to the cooled chocolate mixture along with the beaten yolks
    Fold in the flour or the almonds and add the salt

    Pour into a deep round 20cm non stick tin

    Bake for around 40 minutes at 180c. Bake for around 40 minutes.

    Remove from the oven. It will still look like chocolate liquid, but once it cools it will sufficiently harden. What you are aiming for, at least what I aim for is a hard top and a gooey center.

    Serve with fresh raspberries and Crème fraîche.

    Alternatively you can pour the mixture into buttered ramekins that you then coat with a dusting of cocoa and bake in the oven for around 12 minutes. These are great served piping hot from the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

    For a variations on this theme you can add

    a hint of chili or
    a splash of dark, smokey coffee or a
    hint of your favourite liqueur such as Amaretto, or a rich chocolate or berry liqueur

    The Queen Victoria Sandwich is also popular with our customers including a chocolate version that I sandwich with chocolate butter cream or crème fraîche laced with chocolate liqueur and filled with blueberries. Simply scrummy…

    A note on the chocolate debate:-

    * Depending on what I have in my store cupboard, for our chocolate cakes and dishes I might use Lindt Excellence dark chocolate or Chocolat Menier Pâtissier – personally though and relating to the current chocolate debate as triggered by Michael Roux’s recent programme on the BBC, I think that proper French chocolate from a reputable chocolatier is fabulous if a little expensive for cooking, but I am also partial to Swiss, Belgium and Dutch chocolate. A bar of Cadbury’s Bournville would also work well in a chocolat au fondant and Droste chocolate pastilles are a firm favourite in our family.

  5. Fathima

    Different strokes for different folks & all that jazz, but really I don’t get the attraction in French chocoltes! Even the much revered Valrhona though it is marginally better than some highly priced pralines which is clearly a fav among em French choco makers and eaters. French milk chocolates almost always lack any profound chocolate notes and often appear more sugar and cream. The darker chocolates fair better in retrospect.
    That said to me, and I know this is subjective a POV, American and British fine n organic chocolates far beat French chocolates. Of cos Cadburys and Hershey’s are far from either fine or organic, but brands like Theo, Green and Black, etc produce awesome everyday chocolates for eating and cooking that I’d prefer over any French praline any day!

  6. Hi

    I was really interested to read your post. I’m from County Durham have just started my own small confectionery business & as a fan of Michel Roux Jr. I was really looking forward to his programme howerever I too felt a bit miffed about his comment about Blighty. Even with my limited experience I know there are some fantastic British Chocolatiers around , some of them up North ie.Gareth James & Kenspeckle confectionery. Thanks for your post I agree with Larelle you are a great advocate for UK chocolatiers.

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