An apple-a-day keeps the doctor away, but can a chocolate-a-day ease the morning commute? Luckily, for those of us dragging our feet across the Grand Central marble each morning, it won’t be too long until we find out!
In mid to late September, Jacques Torres, also known as “Mr. Chocolate,” will officially reopen his ninth location in Grand Central Terminal. Originally opened in early May as a pop-up, Jacques’ Grand Central location did astoundingly well in its trial run. Fortunately for commuters, Jacques and his team decided to make this location a permanent installment. With approximately one million commuters daily from Westchester and Connecticut, Jacques gladly agreed to come and showcase his talents at this year’s Southern Westchester Food and Wine Festival. In celebration of his nearly fifteen-years with Jacques Torres Chocolate and a rookie of SoWe, Jacques invited us to his Hudson Street storefront for a tasting.
At the corner of King Street and Hudson, I watched my own personal heaven materialize before my eyes. I stepped inside this modern-day Willy Wonka land and let my eyes, nose, and stomach enjoy the feast. Opened in 2004 after the success of the Dumbo location, the Hudson street store boasts floor-to-ceiling windows so those walking by can see in to what they’re missing. Inside, cut crystal drapes hang over the counter accenting the cement floors and columns, while the cocoa bean-themed color scheme of deep reds, oranges, yellows, and greens brings a homey and welcoming feeling to store. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when in the presence of so much artisanal, handmade chocolate, but the warm colors and welcoming staff urge you to feel comfortable in this downtown shop.
Stepping past a column painted by loyal customers’ handprints and complimentary comments, Jacques’ executive assistant, Marion, greeted me with a bubbly personality and charming French accent. I’d been advised to try the frozen hot chocolate and I got the pleasure of watching Marion, a self proclaimed chocoholic, skillfully craft a fresh one. The cold and strong chocolate taste, with just a hint of coffee bean, was perfect for the summer day and more than enough to keep me satisfied. I slowly sipped the drink, savoring every sip, while Marion filled me in on Jacques Torres Chocolate. “We love what we’re doing,” she smiled. “It’s a lot of work, a lot, but it’s amazing.” She told me how the staff at this location primarily serves “regulars”–and often knows their orders by heart.
After my frozen hot chocolate was (sadly) finished, Jacques met us with a boyish smile and an even stronger, but equally charming, French accent. Jacques’ effervescent humor and personality became immediately visible as he sat down to chat with me as if I were an old friend. He shared stories about growing up in the South of France on the water and invited Marion and me to join him on his fishing boat. Although his answers about chocolate and business had a more serious feeling to them, his joking and smiling was never too far. As he recounted his apprenticeship in a French pastry shop, he laughed about how his bosses yelled at him because he ate too many croissants. He eventually came to the United States and worked at Le Cirque and the Ritz Carlton before opening his own company almost fifteen years ago.
When Jacques excused himself to take a phone call from him wife, “Madame Chocolat,” of madame-chocolat.com, Marion told me how Jacques had left out one of his most prestigious accomplishments. In France, Meilleur Ouvrier de France, or MOF (literally translating to One of the Best Craftsmen of France), is held only every four years. The MOF can be achieved in virtually every category, including carpentry, photography, men’s and women’s hairstyling, and almost any other expertise you can imagine. Jacques Torres, at twenty-six years old, was the youngest person in history to ever receive the MOF.
When Jacques rejoined us, he instantaneously fell back into charming us and sharing stories about France, chocolate, and his life. When I asked him what he would eat if it were his last day on earth, he did not hesitate before answering in the style of a true Frenchman, “I would have food, then romance, and then food, then romance, on and on all day.” After his very true answer, Jacques told me a little bit about his favorite foods. “I like authentic food. If I want Italian, I don’t want American Italian. I love Mexican food, but what you would find in Cualicán. Food is two things: what you want every day, or what you want once in a while.”
Soon after, Jacques shared with us a little known fact: that he was a sharp shooter in France’s army, who won a frozen turkey on the side of a road in upstate New York by shooting a balloon. (And, yes, the story was just as funny and ridiculous as it sounds). We finished up the interview by talking about charitable organizations that Jacques Torres Chocolate supports. Jacques has worked with Make-A-Wish and had a child come to his factory to make chocolates with him. Jacques also supports Breast Cancer organizations because, in his own words, “I love breasts, I hate cancer.”
After we said our goodbyes and I headed for the door, Jacques insisted I couldn’t leave without some chocolate. “Some chocolate” turned out to be two bags full of chocolate chip cookies, boxed chocolates, chocolate covered marshmallows and cereals, and more. Each chocolate had a unique and rich flavor, my favorite being the chai latte and the lovebug chocolates. The cookies had a slight crunch on the outside but were perfectly baked and soft on the inside. The marshmallows were coated in a darker chocolate that complemented them amazingly. As I finished off two bags of handmade chocolates, I completely understood why they call Jacques “Mr. Chocolate.”