Chef Bruno Chemel of Palo Alto’s Baume can be a bit of a mad scientist.
With his molecular gastronomy creations that foam, smoke, fizz and bubble savagely at the dining table, you’d think that any chocolates he would make would be equally jaw-dropping wild.
But instead, they are as timelessly elegant and chic as can be.
Chemel doesn’t make chocolates very often. No time. But on his rare days off from his nearly one- year-old restaurant, which just received a coveted one Michelin star, he likes to pull out molds, temper chocolate and stir ganache. Sometimes, he even enlists the help of his 6-year-old son, Antoine, who is a whiz at piping.
For Chemel, chocolate-making is relaxing — which, he jokes, his pastry chef thinks is preposterous.
Next year, Chemel hopes to find the time and a way to incorporate his chocolates into the restaurant. Let’s hope so, because recently, the chef allowed me to try some of the bonbons. They are exquisite.
Classic in shape, with delicate dark chocolate shells, including some flecked with gold, these hand-made confections are decidedly grown-up. With no preservatives, they’re made in small batches (24 to 30 at a time) and designed to be enjoyed within a week.
The fillings are incredibly intense and with the barest hint of sweetness. The bonbons are designed to really let the filings star: from a floral jasmine green tea that has the bitter edge of a fine cup of brewed tea to a beguiling ylang ylang with its burst of floral perfume and tart finish to a yuzu as bracing as a cold splash of water to the marron (chestnut) with its toasted crunch.
When I asked how he stared making chocolates, Chemel just chuckles. “I love doing pastry and cooking,” he says. “But chocolate was the last thing I ever wanted to do. I thought it was just too hard to do.”
That’s not to say he doesn’t love chocolate. He does. And has ever since he was a child. In fact, he grew up in Moulins, France, home of Les Palets D’Or, a chocolatier founded in 1835 and famous for its pioneering use of gold on chocolates. Chemel remembers sauntering down there regularly at age 7 to buy his fill of fine chocolates to nibble on.
A dozen years ago when Chemel was between restaurants in San Francisco and feeling pretty burnt out on cooking, he contacted Les Palets D’Or to see if he could import some of the chocolates to sell in California. But they turned out to be too expensive, too fragile and too perishable to do so.
“So, I decided to learn to make chocolates on my own,” he says. “I read books and experimented. I ended up loving it.”
For a time, he actually sold his chocolates at Whole Foods, Andronico’s and Dean & Deluca. But making a living at it was too challenging. So, Chemel returned to cooking. Still, his love of chocolate-making never disappeared.
“I like to work precisely and chocolate-making is like that, he says. “Chocolate really lets you express yourself. It’s like art you can admire.”
More: My Q&A with Bruno Chemel
More: My Dinner at Baume