by Femke Vandevelde
on July 28, 2015

Inside the Chocolate Lab of Dominique Persoone

Dominique Persoone is a busy man. If he isn’t writing books on the origins of chocolate, studying the effect of cocoa on the brain or giving a keynote speech at culinary festivals, Dominique is creating his new “chocolate line". Together with a team of hand-picked youngsters, Dominique is researching the balance of flavours in his lab in Bruges or in his plantation in Mexico.

Dominique, The shock-latier

The first time I met Dominique Persoone, he was showcasing his company ‘The Chocolate Line’ with the help of his friend and Michelin star chef Alex Atala. At ‘The Flemish Primitives’ they made the audience taste a variety of chocolates; one of the chocolates contained lidocaine and the audience were instructed to rub the piece over their lips. The numbing sensation of the licodaine not only pleased the crowd but also made for a fun topic of conversation. In other words, it was an incredible presentation. An example of how Dominique can win over just about anyone is what he made for Rolling Stone star Mick Jagger's birthday. His 'chocolate shooter' was adored by the musician; this delicious invention is chocolate powder that has to be snorted through the nose rather than eaten, a new way of allowing the intoxicating aromas to be absorbed. It became such a sensation that a chocolate shooter set was quickly known that year as the best gift you could buy for someone. No wonder some call Mr. Persoone the shock-latier.

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Developing new chocolate flavours

Dominique Persoone uses the Foodpairing Tool in order to create new ingredient combinations. Dominique's words on our product:

"A very long time ago, I can not exactly remember what year it was, I was introduced to Bernard Lahousse. He told me I was the perfect ambassador for the new scientific site he was working on: www.foodpairing.com. I remember myself taking a look and realizing “fuck yeah – this could mean a great deal in the creation of my brand new chocolate line”. I used to combine flavours based on my generic knowledge of pairing food."

"Whenever I used tomato, I came up with basil and olives, but those intuitive (and rather obvious) combinations failed to excite me. Now, whenever I have an idea – as crazy as it might sound, like combining chocolate with cauliflower or cucumber, I check Foodpairing."

Take a look in one of Dominique’s shops (in Bruges or Antwerp) during different seasons of the year. During spring time Dominique creates wonderful chocolates with asparagus. Summer is usually the season to work with a variety of delicious fruits. In autumn he draws his inspiration from earthly flavors, resulting in wonderful chocolates with wild mushrooms and octopus. The seasonality filter in the Foodpairing Tool allows to easily find seasonal combinations.

Around the world in 9 chocolates

A taste of Europe

When asked about his favorite chocolate flavors, Dominique immediately points out that his preferences are always temporary. He is very proud of the ‘Piemonte’, a chocolate made of premium hazelnuts from Piëmonte, the region famous for Barolo’s and truffles. Another European instant hit was the ‘Cabernet-Sauvignon’; the chocolate is a combination of caramel with the Cabarnet-Sauvignon vinegar and pinenut praliné. ‘Espelette’, a more daring product, is named after the chili pepper that is the corner stone of Basque cuisine nowadays. In this praline he slightly smoked the espelette pepper to enhance the flavors.

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From Marrakech to Japan

To jump out of his comfort zone and to find new tastes, Dominique travelled outside Europe. In Africa he explored the rich herb-based cuisine. If you've ever been to Morocco, you know the pleasure of drinking green tea with mint and ample amounts of sugar after dinner, or really, just about anytime in the day. Dominique took the fresh mint leaves home with him and used them for his creation ‘Marrakech’. When investigating the eastern part of the world, one of the most frequently used herbs in Japanese kitchens turns out to be shiso. In his ‘Madam Butterfly’ Dominique paired white chocolate ganache with Japanese shiso. Japanese wasabi is definitely an acquired taste, but Dominique managed to pair Japanese wasabi with bitter ganache and marzipan. Curious? Try the ‘Green Tokyo’!

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Sweets sins of North and Latin America

Having travelled to Europe, Africa and Asia, Dominique looked towards Northern and Latin America for new ‘sweet sins’. Since the U.S.A. is the home of Coca-Cola, Dominique was intrigued by their overall sweet flavor profile. Naturally, he created ‘Atlanta’, a chocolate with Coca-Cola ganache and popping candy as key ingredients. A little more southbound Dominique familiarized himself with the great cigars and rum of Cuba. His ‘Havana’ creation is made up of ganache and a distillate of Havana leaves. His journey around the Americas ended in in ‘Brazil’; with a refreshing filling of cachaça rum, chilli pepper, cilantro and lime his Brazil inspired chocolate won over millions. Although he’s back for now, there is no telling where he will go next!

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When Dominique speaks of the world of chocolate, you absorb his words as easy as a delicious piece of chocolate melts on your tongue. His creative thinking in the precisely measured domain of patisserie, one of the most meticulous areas of the kitchen is what makes Dominique Persoone one of the leaders in his field. We end with one of Dominique quintessential quotes:

‘I’m so passionate about chocolate that I want to try all possible combinations with it!’

We sure hope you do, Dominique!

Photo Credit: Piet De Kersgieter & Jurgen De Witte

TEDx: Dominique Persoone & The Chemistry of Chocolate

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