Jacques Torres isn't the only big name French import making a splash in Brooklyn. Valrhona, the nearly 100-year-old chocolate company started in the French village of Tain l'Hermitage, has opened up L'École du Grand Chocolat in DUMBO, a school devoted to helping both professional and amateur pastry chefs develop their skills.
It's the first time the revered company has opened a school in the United States, and they chose a landmarked building—a former shoe factory at 222 Water Street—to set up. They moved the satellite office they've operated in the neighborhood since 2008 and combined it with state-of-the-art kitchens, chocolate rooms and other necessities for chocolate manipulation.
In those rooms, a cast of top-of-their-field pastry chefs—in addition to Valrhona's two USA-based corporate chefs—will hold intimate classes for culinary professionals on subjects including chocolate bonbons, ice cream and viennoiserie, breakfast pastries like croissant and brioche. The names on the docket may not be familiar to those of us outside the industry, but the end results are something everyone can get behind. I recently sampled an exquisite chocolate-hazelnut cake created by Sarah Kosikowski, their in-house pastry chef. Needless to say, that's a dangerous office to visit, let alone work in.
Though sold at a retail level around the world, Valrhona's primary customers are restaurants and other parties that produce chocolate-based items. Valrhona created this school concept so producers could "make better pastries and sell more," brand manager Marine Leman told me during a tour of the facility.
During the two-day immersive experience, chefs develop recipes, work on new techniques and network with other industry professionals. Think of it like a mini-summer camp for people who manipulate food.
While it's nice to know that diners will be on the receiving end of some of these creations as they trickle down onto our plates, the school has also kept amateur pastry chefs in mind. In a few or so they'll announce dates for classes for non-professionals, bringing in local talent like a sous chef from Francois Payard and the team from Liddabit Sweets. These less formal instructional seminars will be just a half day long, offering budding home chocolatiers the opportunity for hands-on experience with the pros.