"Each one speaks to me," Marc Aumont, chocolatier and executive pastry chef at New York's Gabriel Kreuther, says.
He's talking about the confections in a glass case next to him. One example: the chocolate square flavored with honey and finished with a single thread of saffron, inspired by a story his mother used to tell about waking up early to pick saffron before the flower’s petals closed at dawn. Another specimen, a long, thin bar dusted in gold and pink, and filled with peanut butter, cassis gelée and bits of pretzel is an homage to the street vendors of New York.
The weeks-old Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate stands across from Bryant Park, next to Gabriel Kreuther, the Michelin-starred restaurant where Aumont is also the pastry chef. The shop is like a jewelry store for edibles crossed with a Willy Wonka factory, where chocolatiers work behind a glass case in the corner, carefully enrobing ganache squares with layers of chocolate, which snap lightly when you bite into them.
Though the flavors are new, visitors might recognize the panache of these chocolates. Aumont has been producing some of the city’s most ambitious confections since he joined chef Gabriel Kreuther at The Modern 12 years ago. It was this duo who debuted the restaurant’s legendary chocolate cart—a bar cart transformed into a chocolate display case with chocolate sculptures and sweets to be enjoyed at the end of a meal.
When the two left The Modern to start Kreuther's eponymous restaurant, a chocolate shop wasn’t part of the plan: Rather, Kreuther would run the savory side of the kitchen, while Aumont would oversee pastry. But a few months in, the space next door opened up, and the wheels began turning. "For many years, he always talked about opening a chocolate shop," Kreuther says, speaking about Aumont. With a space secured, they set out to open up shop.
Although it's Aumont's first location in NYC, he comes armed with a long history of experience. His father was a chocolatier near Mont Blanc in the Savoie region of France, where he trained Aumont as an apprentice while he attended culinary school. "That was not easy," Aumont recalls, smirking slightly. When his father passed shortly after, Aumont, just out of school, returned home to take over the shop, which he ran for 12 years. "When I have a question of flavor, I still think of what my father would have done," he says.
He also turns to Kreuther for not only inspiration but also ingredients, borrowing spices like Aleppo pepper and balsamic vinegar from the neighboring kitchen. “The mind of a cook is really different than the mind of a pastry chef, and that helps me to be much more creative,” Aumont says. “A shop is mostly production; it’s a routine. A restaurant is much more spontaneous."
Out of this partnership come chocolates filled with pear and balsamic vinegar, and apricot and bergamot tasting deeply of summer, and Concord grape gelée paired with a yogurt that is sweet but complex. "It's so simple, but it's a full dish," Aumont remarks.
While the flavors are sophisticated, much of the inspiration for the shop comes from varied childhoods. Having both grown up in Europe, the two will often ask their staff for their childhood taste memories. It's a balancing act between this kid-like love of chocolate and sense memories that is their hallmark. Their goal, as Aumont puts it, is not to "reinvent the chocolate, but to approach it in our way."
How to Add a Chocolate Course to Your Next Party
When serving chocolates, Aumont suggests adding a few petits fours into the mix, then passing a tray or two around the table, allowing people to help themselves.
And if petits fours don't fit the party, mix dark and milk chocolates along with "candied fruits, so you have colors," he adds.
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