Pools of darkness that reflect our sensual desiresHandmade chocolates used to be a special treat, reserved for guests at Korea’s top luxury hotels, like the Grand Hyatt and Shilla. But a chocolate revolution is happening, led by a group who profess, as did the German chemist, Baron Justus von Liebig, that “chocolate is the perfect food.”
One of these chocolate soldiers is Kim Seong-mi, who started a chocolate school this summer and will launch her company, Pas de deux, on-line next month. On a recent Wednesday, three young women are taking notes in a converted studio in Jamwon-dong as Ms. Kim explains how to make a star box adorned with chocolate roses. During a break, Kang Min-jeong, 25, a desert cafe manager, talks about the edible chocolates they made in the preceding weeks. “After all that work, it hurt my heart to have to eat them,” she says. Bae Hyun-hee, 32, a computer engineer, and Min Young-hee, 29, a pastry chef, laugh.
“But did you share the truffles?” Ms. Kim asks.
“Of course, with my family,” Ms. Kang says. Despite the fiercely protective attitude chocolatiers have for their recipes, not sharing the results is unthinkable. For Ms. Kim, sharing all the secrets of her craft is a necessity.
Since beginning to travel abroad, first to Japan in 1989 and then to England in 1992, Ms. Kim has wanted to open a chocolate boutique. In Europe, she sampled chocolates at small stores, falling in love with all the different bite-size pieces. “Chocolate is so ingrained in the European culture. It’s impossible to think of their culture without chocolate,” Ms. Kim says.
In Korea, she took pastry classes and quickly realized that chocolate did not have a wide audience here. “There was no chocolate culture here. Making chocolate requires imported ingredients, and it was impossible to find them. Even if I got someone to import the ingredients for me, it was going to be expensive and limited. If I taught classes, where were my students going to get ingredients? From me?”
She also realized there was so much more to learn. So she enrolled in Le Cordan Bleu in England. Once a week, she made pastries at the Ritz Carlton. On the weekends, she traveled to Paris to work at a chocolate shop. She had left her husband and daughter in Korea and thoughts of the expectations of her family and relatives upon her return consumed her. She consulted with people in the chocolate business in Europe and kept in touch with friends in Korea so that a month after returning to Korea, she was able to hold a chocolate event at Galleria Department Store in Apgujeong-dong.
Now that she teaches the chocolate craft, people ask why she gives away her hard-earned secrets. Ms. Kim says, “I can remember being in my 20s, but I don’t know the things that 20-year-olds know these days. I learn from them. All the recipes I learned in Europe I’ve changed. In the same way, my students learn and then change what they have learned from me.”
Even in a country like Belgium, famed for its chocolates, the food began as an import that culinary pioneers embraced. Columbus, returning to Spain from America, brought with him some brown beans. They attracted little attention. Like many things, the value of chocolate was made clear by conflict. Montezuma served Hernando Cortez and his troops, who were battling the Aztec Indians, golden goblets brimming with chocolatl, a cold drink made of cocoa. But Montezuma’s chocolatl was too bitter for the Spanish, who sweetened it with cane sugar.
On his return to Europe with his discovery, the aristocracy embraced the new drink. People experimented with chocolate, adding spices like cinnamon or vanilla, and someone eventually had the idea to warm the drink. In 1847, an English company introduced solid “eating chocolate.” Three decades later in Switzerland, Daniel Peter invented a way to add milk to chocolate, creating today’s milk chocolate. But even today, while the most famed chocolatiers are from Europe, the best beans are found in the southern hemisphere.
In Korea, the famed Neuhaus of Belgium opened a chocolate boutique in Cheongdam-dong last month. The sumptuous offerings are sold by the piece. The store also offers lollypops, espresso and hot chocolate, all made from chocolate pieces. The chocolates are made with 100 percent cocoa butter, and the designs are themselves a visual feasts.
The best chocolates are a mixture of unsweetened chocolate and cocoa butter. Vanilla or cream can be added as a sweetener, with glucose syrup used to soften the consistency.
Daniel’s, another chocolate store, also opened in Cheongdam-dong early this year. The owner used to frequent a chocolate store in Canada that was founded by a Belgium immigrant. She interned there one season to learn more about chocolates. Daniel’s offers about 40 varieties, from cherries dipped in chocolate to candied orange slivers in chocolate, both atypical of Belgium chocolate.
Park Boung-gun took classes at Le Cordon Bleu in France and helped open a bakery near Dosan Park in Sinsa-dong. When he opened Garu three years ago, it was the first cake shop in the neighborhood offering handmade gourmet chocolates. To Mr. Park, presentation is just as important as the rich ingredients from France. “I’m always making memos to myself,” says Mr. Park, who finds inspiration in everything from architecture to animals. He jots notes about shapes, colors and designs, then creates confections daily, using everything from slivers of almonds to vanilla extract and mocha.
Cho Sung-jun is a self-taught chocolatier who in March opened a small chocolate factory in Ilsan, a northern suburb of Seoul. “The first few I made weren’t pretty,” says the former educational book publisher. He now makes delicate truffles that are sold at Lotte Department store and novelty chocolates, like no smoking signs for fathers and CD chocolates for music lovers. But his sweetest dream is a five-point chocolate star: import chocolate ingredients, start a chocolate school, build a chocolate house, start a chocolate symposium and give his staff members opportunities to head the different sections. Meanwhile, he’s working on a chocolate book.
Others are trying to create chocolates that represent Korea. Ms. Kim and other chocolate entrepreneurs are experimenting with ingredients native to Korea. Ginseng, red pepper flakes and Jeju’s famed oranges have all been used in chocolates that can be found at the airport and in Insa-dong.
Ms. Kim has no worries about waiting to open a chocolate boutique in a market that has seen phenomenal growth. “It’s like clothing. Each designer has a distinct style. The best chocolates are an art form, and each chocolatier has a different style.”
Chocolate, chocolate: Shops celebrate one of life’s sweetest gifts
Telephone: (02) 512-4341
Neuhaus, established in 1857, is the oldest chocolate house in Belgium. Jean Neuhaus opened a pharmacy in Brussels, where he sold bitter chocolate, once lauded for its medicinal effect. He refined the chocolate and created sweets. His grandson, Jean, invented the “praline” in 1912 and the ballotin, the perfect box to hold chocolates, in 1915.
The truffles, pralines, caramels, giandujas, manons and snobinettes have exquisite details. Some of the chocolates are named after royalty, like the Elisabeth, made of butterscotch in milk chocolate, and the Albert, made of hazelnuts praline and roasted hazelnut in dark chocolate. The shop includes a cafe for espresso and hot chocolate.
Debauve & Gallais
Telephone: (02) 3446-3726
Location: Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul
Sulpice Debauve, one of the founders of this French chocolate house, was granted the title of King Charles X’s chocolate maker. In the early 1800s, Debauve joined with Antoine Gallais to create what would become an institute feted by Kings Louis XVIII, Charles X and Louis-Philippe.
Debauve & Gallais created the Incroyables, roasted Spanish almond grains cooked in caramelized sugar that is smooth on the tongue but has a bitter aftertaste from the chocolate coating. The chocolates here are twice as expensive as France’s other famed chocolate house, La Maison du Chocolat.
Telephone: (02) 512-5217
All the chocolates here are handmade in Canada. The founder of Daniel’s is a Belgium immigrant. The Seoul shop is the first in Asia, and the products are flown in every three weeks to ensure freshness. While the 40 to 50 types of chocolate are the centerpiece, the shop also carries items that match the chocolates, from ribbons to napkins.
Telephone: (02) 392-5689
Location: near Ewha Womans University
Of Coco Pinco’s 30 types of chocolates, the most popular are Heart Coco, a white chocolate heart with a raspberry filling, Snow Man, white chocolate with a rum and yogurt based filling, and Kirch Chocolate, which blends milk and white chocolates with liqueur.
Customers are also able to inscribe notes on larger chocolate pieces, like the pave, a flat wafer that Kim Yeon-gyeong makes out of dark chocolate, green tea chocolate or marbled chocolate.
Telephone: (02) 3444-0768
Location: Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul
Specializes in truffles in exquisite designs. Chocolates and cakes are made daily. Special orders are taken two to three weeks in advance. A box of 12 includes favorites like Ganache Vanilla, made with vanilla extract, Carrenoix, made of sliced almonds and almond extract, and Palais Cafe, made of coffee and milk chocolate.
Chocolates of Korea
Orange Jeju Chocolate
Available on www.whoevercoffee.com, omegi.com and www.orangejeju.com
Jeju’s famed oranges are the key ingredient in this chocolate. The chocolates are shaped like a sandwich. One bite yields different tastes.
Green Tea Chocolate
If you like green tea icecream, try green tea chocolate. It’s been available in Toykyo since 1950, and Korean chocolatiers are starting to try their hands with new recipes.
The emphasis is on packaging and ingredients. The chocolates include ginseng grown in Korea and come in traditional Korean pottery with a brown glaze.
Red Pepper Chocolate
Red pepper and chocolate might not sound appetizing, but spices and chocolate have long been mates. Korean gochu with chocolate is the latest offering.
Chocolate Castle Museum
Take a look at chocolates from all over the world. Located on western Jeju Island, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Compiled by Song Hee-jung
by Joe Yong-hee