Monday, June 25, 2007
Like most people who have spent a large chunk of their lives in Paris, I'm a bit snooty about chocolate. I walked past Chocolaterie Galler in the boisterous market street rue d'Aligre many times before deigning to go inside, simply because it was a Belgian chain. I've long preferred the sober intensity of French ganache fillings to the nutty sweetness of Belgian praline, or so I thought until I met Yves Filleul, whose infectious enthusiasm - and surprising chocolates - quickly won me over.
Yves doesn't make the chocolates himself but you would think they were his babies, so lovingly does he present them. He is quick to explain that Jean Galler trained with legendary French pâtissier Gaston Lenôtre, with the result that his pralines are less sweet than those of his Belgian contemporaries (apart from Pierre Marcolini, who can compete with the best Paris chocolatiers). Galler loves to experiment with new fillings but his aim is always to please rather than to shock - as Yves put it, "when you taste one of his chocolates you should want another one."
Having been to this shop alone and with groups, I can confirm that a single chocolate here is definitely not enough. Yves likes to offer newcomers the curry-filled chocolate pictured above, which is the perfect example of how Galler achieves a balance of flavors. Twelve curry spices go into the praline filling, but Galler uses warm spices only so as not to bombard the palate with chilli or pepper. Because the curry filling is quite subtle you can really taste the Java milk chocolate coating.
At the moment Galler is also experimenting with different salts, which are all the rage in France this year. I tried a chocolate flavored with fleur de sel de Guérande, the pure white salt that rises to the top of the water on this island off the Atlantic coast. Combined with Breton butter, it creates a smooth filling with a surprising taste of the sea. If you're feeling really adventurous you can buy this chocolate as part of marine series that also includes chocolates made with black Hawaiian salt, wakame seaweed from Brittany and nori, the Japanese seaweed that's used for sushi.
I was also intrigued by the even more esoteric Kaori chocolates, which come in the shape of long, pen-like sticks for dipping into little "inkpots" of flavorings. Through a great stroke of luck (thank you, Sally), I received these as a gift recently. Philippe, Sam and I sat down for a serious tasting, dipping each of the seven filled chocolates (saffron, cardamom, yuzu, ginger, vanilla and coconut, and strawberry with balsamic vinegar) into the three pots (orange, matcha and poppy seed, and kalamansi, a type of lime). Not every combination was pure poetry but I was surprised by how good the ginger tasted with the green tea and poppy seed powder and I liked the kalamansi syrup with just about everything.
A house classic is the langue de chat (cat's tongue), a chocolate in the shape of a cat's head inspired by the Belgian political cartoonist Philippe Geluck. If you develop a cat's tongue addiction you'll be in famous company: according to Yves, Woody Allen indulges in one every day.
I still have a special fondness for the more austere French ganache-filled chocolates, if only because it's easier to stop at just one (or two). But I'll never walk down the rue d'Aligre again without dropping into Yves' shop and tearoom, where in colder weather you can taste one of the richest cups of hot chocolate in town.
You might be interested to know that Yves, like Jean Galler himself, recommends storing chocolates in the refrigerator in warm weather - it beats letting them melt into a puddle. Wrap the whole box in plastic to protect it from the humidity and take it out of the fridge 20 minutes before serving, if you have the willpower to wait so long.
13 rue d'Aligre, 12th, 01 43 40 34 45.