« VINGT April Gig Guide | Main | Lac-Hong Vietnamese Restaurant »

Pralus Chocolate

03 Text: Boris Petrovic

Unlike many young and upcoming producers or artisans, struggling to obtain their place among the best, François Pralus has had a completely different agenda - namely, some very big shoes to fill. His father was a famous French chocolatier, Auguste Pralus, who, when it came to chocolate, won just about every prize and recognition out there.  So, for François, the challenge was maintaining an illustrious name than creating a new one.

If we look at the facts, he has every component necessary for a high class chocolate producer. Pralus is one of the three producers in France to go ‘from bean to bar’; he uses nothing but noble ingredients, only pure chocolate butter, no  preservatives, E’ numbers and aromas, not even vanilla. The only ‘slip’ in this aspect is the usage of soy lecithin (strictly non GM).  If it weren’t for that, he could boast being more strict than even Michel Cluizel himself and almost as fanatic as Domori. Still, seeing how lecithin is used to enhance texture and consistency, not taste and aroma, it should not be taken as a serious set-back. He presents a pallet - and an impressively large one - of ‘single origin’ bars, as well as a 100% bar and even a Chuao bar, all of them marks of a serious producer.

Another fact that sets him apart from his fellow chocolatiers is that he actually owns a plantation in Madagascar, where he grows and develops his own cacao beans. Scouting plantations in person, searching for a perfect bean for your chocolate (Cluizel, Domori, Amano, to mention some) is praise-worthy enough - actually growing your own cacao is taking your dedication to a completely different level. Another favorable mention is that Pralus is one of the producers who actively try to include as many organic beans as possible in his production. Seeing how organic beans are very difficult to master, and how most organic chocolates, even from some very good producers - are flops, this is a brave initiative, and a very welcome one.

So how do those facts translate to taste and chocolate-induced happiness? Very differently and unevenly. When it comes to making fine chocolate, films, graphic design, playing musical instruments and any art in general, there are but two options. One is to insist on your style and impose it upon the material you shape, thus maintaining your personal vision and expression. The other is to always seek variety, to adapt your approach to the material in question and try to develop it to its full potential, putting your skill to its service. Both paths have their advantages and setbacks: Pralus very definitely insists upon the first one. His style of chocolate making favors long fermentation and a very long roast. To a certain extent and with certain beans, especially with robust Forasteros, this approach gives very good results. Forastero is by nature a very simple, bitter and strong cacao bean, so it almost requires such (excessive) treatment. Hence his Forastero bean Sao Tomé and Tanzanie are exceptional, nearly flawless tablets. On the other hand, some gentler Trinitarios, like Colombia, not to mention Criollos, even some Forastero (like Ghana) can get nearly completely destroyed by this overdoing. And such is the case with certain chocolates.

Pralus is not, of course, ignorant of his technique and the impact it may have on a certain bean: going through his single origin pallet, we see that, for a high end producer, he has an unusually high number of not-so-appreciated Forastero tablets and a majority of Trinitarios. Furthermore, he tries to balance the result of long fermentation and roast with a generous use of chocolate butter. But again, sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. Butter abuse is Pralus’ major flaw. While he does succeed in mellowing out the notes of coffee (result of an overdone roast), texture and melt suffer considerably. Chocolate tablets melt too fast, come off as too soft, even Gianduja like: and we are talking about 75 percent cocoa. This flaw, unlike fermentation and roast that hurt some tablets while doing favor to others, mars all of them evenly, and it is that much more serious.     

So we come back to this producer’s major trait: unevenness and inconsistency. This characteristic is present in a single tablet as well as in a pallet of bars. While he flawlessly achieves the perfect balance between cocoa mass and sugar - perhaps the hardest feat of them all - he fails with the texture and consistency. His tablets range from such flops as characteristic, but unpleasant Ghana, over-burnt and suffocated Colombia, somewhat flawed but interesting Madagascar, a very successful and satisfying Sao Tomé and true masterpieces such as Brésil and 100%. This is confusing and somewhat frustrating for a reviewer : Pralus masters all the greatest challenges in the production of chocolate: Sao Tomé Forastero species, organic beans, 100% - all of them feats that some the greatest names in the industry don’t even dare to attempt - he champions the very difficult and always tricky harmony between sugar and cacao, especially in his series of single origin 75 percent bars: but flops at simpler and more routine tasks, such as fermenting and roasting beans, and using too much butter.     

Where he is good, he is second to none: his 100% is easily the best chocolate in this category in the entire market. It is, like most other tablets in his pallet, a surprise. Going for a 100%, you expect a thrill ride, a roller coaster, a strong and uncompromising bar. So, after taking a stand as if you’re going to a fight, expecting a kick in the palate, you are overcome with soft and creamy elegancy of a perfectly harmonious bar, without a trace of bitterness. Aforementioned generous use of butter certainly helps, but there is a lot more going on here than just that. Every aspect of this unique chocolate is in perfect relation to others, even melt and consistency: with a lot of self confidence, Pralus goes for the pure chocolateness of the taste, rather than pronouncing a certain flavor or a nuance. Treating a 100% bar in such a manner is a brave and risky manouvere, but in this case, it works, and pays off generously. Eating a Michel Cluizel 99% (a lesser percentage, with some sugar and vanilla) feels like taking a 12 gauge shot to your mouth: and that is a good thing, because it is what you expect from a high percentage bar, and that is where most producers go. Not Pralus though: he goes to show that even in a 100%, one can achieve more with elegance than with pure strength.    

On the other hand, where he’s bad, like with Ghana and Colombia, he’s just a tad above average, perhaps not even that. Which makes it that much harder to give a definite opinion on his overall work. Initiates in the world of fine chocolates should definitely become acquainted with his work: given the vast choice of single origin bars and especially his excellent 100%, a nearly ideal, if somewhat misleading introduction to a category of chocolate heavyweights. He is a more than qualified and without a doubt very talented producer, who has his place amongst the best: but by the same token, a very uneven and unstable one. There is certainly a lot of space for improvement here, and if that comes to pass, there is a truly small number of producers in the world who could stand in the same rank: for the moment, he is just announcing that great potential but remains something of a roughly cut diamond.         

Pralus Chocolate Boutique
35, Rue Rambuteau
75044 Paris

Bonapart Paris apartments


Post a comment

Search the site


Paris Resources

Picture 12     360fashionLOGO1
More sites to explore...

Site notices

  •  Subscribe in a reader

    Add to My AOL

    Subscribe in Bloglines

    Add to Google

    Copyright © Susie Hollands.

Follow vingtparis on Twitter