If you are looking for the quintessential Belgian chocolatier, Laurent Gerbaud is not your man. In fact, he is anything but that. You realise it the minute you enter a conversation with him, when he says, “Belgian chocolate has just too much sugar.” He then goes on to recount his stint in China, where he found the average palate less sugary and, yet, appetising.
“I made it more about fruits, spices and the flavour, you know,” he continues, just before laying a plate of ‘Indian chai ganache’ in front of you. You take a tiny bite of this creamy indulgence, and it is succulent beyond mention, but with just the right flavour of the all-too-familiar Indian tea. The sweetness is minimal, but necessary—like the bass in an orchestra.
It is quite evident that Laurent has the madness of an artist in love with his art. His casual attire and scruffy hairdo might not be the best giveaway, but his enthusiastic talk of his experiments with recipes (many of which border on the eclectic) definitely is. The need, he says, is to create a ‘signature flavour’ that people adore, retain in their memory and come back for. The means to achieve this, he reveals, is ‘to achieve the right combination of ingredients’, as well as their right proportions. “Is this a science, or is this an art?” you wonder. Like all good things, it is both.
The chocolate he presents next—the ‘olive ganache’, which is made from Ligurian olives—is a product of serendipity. It made Laurent win a chocolate-making competition when he could not procure the intended key ingredient. If you ever wondered how chocolate and olive taste together, it is similar to what the olive stick adds to a ‘dirty martini’—a welcome savoury, salty note.
Laurent, however, doesn’t only dabble in the quirky. A plate with pistachio, hazelnut, cranberry and raisin chocolates is next laid in front of you—a seemingly conventional fare. They are not meant to taste that way though. Cranberry, which is sweet compared to the rest, has a milder chocolate base, and it is visa-versa with the others. The chocolate-and-fruit ratio is always a perfect balance.
Laurent might even be obsessed with chocolate. Even while tasting the oddest of ingredients for the first time, he wonders, “what would it be like to make chocolate out of it?” There’s a bit of instinct and intuition involved in his work—not everything can be methodical, after all. So when the ‘curry Madras chocolate’ is served to you, you take a bite and pierce through the chocolate layer. Unexpectedly, you arrive at the curry-masala interior, and it is far more savoury that you had imagined. Who would have thought?
Laurent Gerbaud’s shop is open 10.30am to 8pm, seven days a week.
Address: 2D Rue Ravenstein Brussels, Belgium. Visit chocolatsgerbaud.be and facebook.com/laurentgerbaud.chocolatier