In one month, chef Nicolas Cloiseau consumes the same amount of chocolate the average French citizen eats in one year: about 16 pounds—just part of his job as the mastermind behind La Maison du Chocolat’s confections. He travels the world tasting samples from key single-origin sources, such as the one from São Tomé, just off the coast of Africa. For Cloiseau, the delight in working with chocolate is in the variety of both the raw material and the final product, from ganache to pastry to artistic pieces.
Cloiseau creates original sculptures for La Maison twice a year—for Easter and for the December holidays—that can sell for several thousand dollars, but he also crafts them on commission. For Saint Laurent last Halloween, he created a series of chocolate skulls, one of which he keeps in his office. His most complex (and expensive) confection to date was a chocolate necklace in the shape of a snake for jeweler Boucheron that took 200 hours to complete. The snake’s head and hissing tongue supported a 20-carat yellow diamond. It sold for a delicious $1 million.
Cloiseau’s signature technique is perforation, and with it he achieved the coveted distinction of Meilleur Ouvrier de France, awarded to the country’s finest craftsman. He never forgot that one of the jurors once said that if someone was able to use perforation to create chocolate lace, that person would probably deserve the Meilleur award. “I kept that in mind and continued to fine-tune the technique,” he says. “It brings light and air to the design of a medium as solid and dark as chocolate.”