Interview with the brilliant chocolatier Joël Durand

Joël Durand, the celebrated one-of-a-kind chocolate master artisan from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in Southern France, is a true artist in the art of taste. Acknowledged as one of France’s best and most creative chocolatiers, Joël Durand makes the most premium exceptional chocolate with unexpected taste. Driven by his passion for superior chocolate, Joël Durand has achieved the title of Master Craftsman and many other prestigious accolades, and is a supplier to most luxurious hotels and houses, such as the villa Habsbourg in Rome and the Italian embassy in Vienna, to name a few, and is also the author of books on the secrets of chocolate and the Provence cuisine.

Joël Durand’s handcrafted gourmet chocolate creations are well known throughout the world, with the buyers not only in France, but in Japan, the USA and Europe. This incredible chocolate is made from meticulously selected rare and superior quality ingredients.

When I myself tasted Joël Durand’s renowned alphabet-themed confectionaries, flavoured with fresh herbs, spices and blossoms, I realized that his creations are a true celebration of creativity and excellence. All of the 32 differently flavoured chocolates are majestic, and provide their own special and unforgettable experience.

Today I am delighted to have an opportunity to talk to Joël Durand and ask him about his passion for exceptional chocolate and the process of creating such an imaginative array of flavour.

Mr. Durand, how long have you been working with chocolate?

I have been working with chocolate for 25 years.

When did you first realize that you wanted to become a chocolatier? How did you get into making chocolate?

When I was a child, I had two dreams: becoming a pastrycook or a race car driver. My love for good food, the pleasure I had to prepare desserts, after-school snacks, cakes brought me to realize one of my dreams.

As a pastry chef, I created my first chocolates in 1991. It becomes then an exclusive passion and I decide to dedicate myself entirely to it.

Did you have any formal training in chocolate making?

I had a training as a pastrycook, confectioner, chocolatier and ice-cream maker but I built my know-how alone by creating my own combinations of flavours directly inspired by my own personality and also by the Provence natural and culinary heritage.

It’s always intriguing to see how someone’s hometown or homeland affects their style. How does Provence or French heritage shape who you are and what you do?

Breton Pastry chef established in Rennes, I created a surprise at the beginning of the 90s with my chocolates perfumed with lavender, thyme and rosemary, which were new flavours’ combinations at that time. In 1994 I was recognized as one of the ten best French chocolatiers by the «Guide Julliard des Croqueurs de Chocolat».

I became impregnated with Provence flavours during my childhood. I left Brittany and I settled in the heart of the Alpilles, where I opened my chocolaterie in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in 1996.

I want to make people discover Provencal plants and Provencal culinary heritage through my creations.

«I want to make people discover Provencal plants and Provencal culinary heritage through my creations»

Where do you get inspiration for the different flavours and for creating perfectly balanced flavour combinations?

Nature is my first laboratory. I always work with my olfactory memory. When I smell a plant, the main  goal I want to reach is to transpose exactly this smell in the chocolate.

In the same way I can also create flavours according to each country. For example, I have just created two chocolates for Turnberry Hotel in Scotland:

  • Dark chocolate, fresh wild fennel and whisky Ailsa Bay, coated with dark chocolate.
  • Milk chocolate, candied lemon and whisky The Girvan Patten Style n°4 APPS, coated with milk chocolate.

What types of chocolate do you currently offer?

Chocolates which look like no others, which differ by their designation: the 26 letters of the alphabet and six punctuations, but also which differ by the specificity of their ganaches, by their original flavours made without any preservative, without any addition of fat, without any addition of sugar.

What services do you provide for the overseas clients ? Do you have an online shop? What countries is your chocolate available in?

We send our products everywhere in the world, essentially in the USA.

We have an online shop: www.joeldurand-chocolatier.fr

We are also thinking about opening shops in the USA.

«I love its complexity, the eternal search of harmony between all the flavours I choose with fresh plants, aromatic herbs, fruits or spices»

What do you love most about working with chocolate?

I love its complexity, the eternal search of harmony between all the flavours I choose with fresh plants, aromatic herbs, fruits or spices.

I love this very strict and highly demanding job that requires the right balance between all the textures.

What new creations are you working on at the moment?

Creations that are working good at the moment are the following:

  • My two creations made for Turnberry Hotel I mentioned above.
  • Four creations directly inspired by Catalonia:

    — Chocolate «Music»: milk chocolate 38% of cocoa, muscat from Rivesaltes, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, figs and dried apricots.

    — Chocolate «Iberic»: dark chocolate and Iberian ham.

    — Chocolate «Tobacco»: dark chocolate 66% of cocoa and tobacco.

    — Chocolate «Boletus»: dark chocolate and cepes.

«I always have a lot of ideas and I am able to adapt my creations to the specificity of a region or a country»

What is the most challenging part of your work?

As I mentioned above, the most challenging part is to have the right balance between textures and flavours.

I must also tell you that another challenge would be for me to increase the presence of all my products in the world. I always have a lot of ideas and I am able to adapt my creations to the specificity of a region or a country.

Do you consider chocolate-making more of an art?

In 2016 my company was certified by the French state «Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant». That is a unique recognition of the excellence of the French know-how. This label is assigned to various corporate associations in the field of art, fashion, decoration, gastronomy. It is carried by prestigious houses like Chanel but also well-known chocolatiers.

Creation belongs to another dimension than the manual and technical know-how. Creation forces you to imagine and invent. With creation you escape norms, dogmas, fashions and you can express yourself without restriction.

Just like in the Haute Couture, I create custom-made collections.

«With creation you escape norms, dogmas, fashions and you can express yourself without restriction»

What guides your selection of couverture from the world’s renowned producers? How do cocoa beans vary depending on the place they come from?

Creating an exceptional chocolate means you choose an irreproachable supplier, but it also means you have a specific knowledge of raw materials and all the treatments these ones undergo.

Renowned chocolatiers create and sign their own couverture. This one is made of a custom-made chocolate produced by the craftsman’s know-how.

I choose different origins and different vintages of chocolate (Venezuela, Tanzania, Vietnam).

Do you offer any gluten-free chocolate options?

All my creations and productions are gluten-free.

What is your personal favourite flavour combination or product out of all the products you make and why?

I love all my creations. They are a part of me.

My favorite ones are: the «C» chocolate (milk chocolate 41% cocoa and caramel salted butter from Brittany), the «M» chocolate (white chocolate and fresh mint bouquet) and the «T» chocolate (tiramisu).

According to the different moments of the day, I appreciate the «?» chocolate (dark chocolate, honey vinegar and tarragon) for lunch or the «R» chocolate (dark chocolate and Provence fresh rosemary) with a cup of coffee.

«I love all my creations. They are a part of me»

What is your favourite food/drink to pair with chocolate?

I like very much drinking wine with chocolate, especially white and fruity wine or red wine Rioja, which is Catalan wine.

As for food to pair with chocolate, I think that my chocolates can be eaten just alone. But eating a bar of dark chocolate and Chinese Sichuan pepper with a home-made brioche could be delicious as well.

What, in your opinion, makes for great chocolate or is a secret of a great chocolate?

The secret of a great chocolate is its dedicacy, the balance between the chocolate and its flavours inside.

«The secret of a great chocolate is its dedicacy, the balance between the chocolate and its flavours inside»

Could you tell us about your family and how you spend your spare time? Talented and successful people usually complain on the lack of time. How do you manage your time? And what is your idea of happiness?

Effectively I have a lack of time to do all what I want.

But now, with Elisabeth, my wife, we go regularly to Catalonia where we love to spend time. It is a place where I can find new inspiration. I am for example thinking of  chocolate allied with the everlasting flower.

I have already created chocolate directly inspired by Catalonia: dark chocolate and Iberian ham.

I am now just happy because I realized my childhood’s dream and because I can go on realizing it with Elisabeth, my wife, and my two daughters. Another part of this dream would be now to export to the USA.

We would like to thank Joël Durand for this interesting and inspiring interview and for sharing his passion and thoughts with us!

Those of our readers who have not yet tasted Joël Durand’s marvelous chocolate, should definitely visit his shop in Provence or get the treasured chocolate box delivered to them anywhere in the world by ordering online at:

www.joeldurand-chocolatier.fr

Joël Durand

3, boulevard Victor Hugo

13210 Saint-Remy-de-Provence

France

Joël Durand’s shop in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Photos are provided by Joël Durand