Listen to the rainforest rustling, smell the scent of hot chocolate, munch a melting square—at Bayonne's "L'Atelier du Chocolat," all the senses wake up for a single trip behind the scenes of an ancestral craft. From the bean to the final bite, follow the fabulous epic of the transformation of cocoa into its most unusual variants, step by step, like with the iconic "Bouquet de Chocolat," a symbol of the intersection between food and art, and of the inventiveness of this historic artisan in France's chocolate capital!
What is the connection between the Nouveau Réalisme sculptor César and chocolate? Bayonne's "L’Atelier du Chocolat"! Inspired by the artist's compressed works of fantastical organic shapes, Serge Andrieu (then in charge of this historic house founded by his parents in 1951) had the idea of molding thin chocolate leaves in the shape of crumpled metal, breaking them, and then assembling them back together in a decorated cone. Thus, the iconic "Bouquet de Chocolat" of Bayonne's "L’Atelier du Chocolat" was born!
Today, 25 years later, you can see this art come to life in every store of the chocolate factory, where chocolate leaves containing 100% cocoa butter are created. These very thin wafers—3-millimeters (1/10 of an inch) thick—but which pack an immediate, intense flavor are available in about thirty flavors.
With hazelnuts, sesame or nougatine; full-bodied dark chocolate or simply sweet white chocolate, you can arrange your bouquet as you like and give it the intensity you want in this gourmet experience.
A nod to the chocolate tradition of Bayonne
For special occasions, Bayonne's "L'Atelier du Chocolat" even offers squares with messages, to thank or congratulate the receiver, or to declare your passion while peeling the chocolate. It's a nod to tradition: in the 17th century, the city used to offer chocolates to prestigious guests that were passing through, like Marshal Vauban, who, according to the chronicle, was honored with 16 pounds of the gift when he came to town!
Between Bayonne and chocolate there is a long love story, as intense as a bite of 70% dark chocolate. To know everything about the epic birth of the ancestral craft, head to the main chocolate shop of Bayonne's "L'Atelier du Chocolat" for a one-and-a-half-hour tour behind the scenes of the art of processing cocoa.
Maiden voyage into the mysteries of chocolate making
Birds chirp and mottled-green lights evoke the atmosphere of tropical forests where cocoa trees thrive; a short film traces the path of the cocoa bean from its harvest to the final bite; and we see a collection of machines and chocolate tools of yesteryear, the beginnings of this chocolate covered love story in the Pays Basque.
The visit is a true journey through the history of what was first an Aztec and Mayan drink before reaching Europe via the Spanish conquistadors on a maiden voyage into the mysteries of chocolate making.
Ganaches, pralines and other soft toppings
All week long, from Monday to Friday, through the windows of the workshops, enjoy watching chocolate artisans prepare ganaches, pralines and other soft toppings in a true goldsmith work in the tradition of the first chocolate makers in Bayonne. These were Spanish and Portuguese Jews, who fled to Bayonne to avoid persecution, importing the secrets of the transformation of the cocoa bean to France in the 17th century.
At the time, chocolate was a popular luxury product among kings and queens, starting with Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain, who introduced it to the Court after her marriage with Louis XIV in Saint-Jean-de-Luz in 1660. Soon, it made the city famous: in 1809, the chocolate of Bayonne appeared on the first gastronomic menu of France!
An academy for traditional chocolate
Today, if most chocolatiers have merged with industrialization, Bayonne's "L'Atelier du Chocolat," like the companies that form Bayonne's Academy of Chocolate, carries on the tradition of hand-crafted chocolate.
Want to dip your fingers in the chocolate pot after this mouthwatering visit? Young gourmets (4-12) are welcomed to get hands-on in a fun workshop: decorating a goodie or painting a fish.
Bayonne's "L'Atelier du Chocolat" opens the doors of its tasting area to all visitors. Here, learn to recognize the grand crus that the chocolatier puts together as an oenologist, like the homemade "kiretsa" (70% cocoa, a unique blend of beans from Ecuador, Sao Tome and the Ivory Coast) and the "extra kiretsa" (97% cocoa, or chocolate from Madagascar).
Espelette pepper and new flavors
You can also taste new flavor specialties, like dark chocolate spiced up with Basque Espelette pepper, or white chocolate with vanilla, almonds and cranberries.
Meanwhile, here is the latest invention planned for early 2020: a new criollo-based tablet, the rarest variety of cocoa in the world, which Bayonne's "L'Atelier du Chocolat" cultivates in Mexico, thus participating in its preservation. Come along and get a taste of Bayonne's fabulous chocolate!
For more information:
• The treats of Bayonne's "L'Atelier du Chocolat " can be found in some thirty shops in France, including the historic Bayonne store.
• Prepare your trip to the Basque Country
• Also read: 7 Basque specialties to slip in your suitcase