ROUSSEAU CHOCOLATIER - Chocolate lover's paradise on hollis street in the south end
Watching chocolate flow through the enrobing machine at Rousseau Chocolatier on Hollis Street is mesmerizing. Each bite-sized square of ganache travels about five feet while sitting atop a small metal grate conveyor belt. They clunk along, being showered by a velvety waterfall of tempered chocolate, then are sent underneath a warm breeze that pushes excess chocolate down and off the sides to smooth the coating. It’s like being inside the opening credits of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the original version, of course). The chocolatier then very carefully places his garnish of choice atop each perfectly covered square while the chocolate is still soft; today it’s a green toasted pumpkin seed. Late autumn flavours (think nutmeg, cinnamon) dance with chocolate in the creamy ganache filling that is enrobed in milk chocolate. Julien Rousseau-Dumarcet does this every day, all day.
Hailing from the south of France, Rousseau-Dumarcet started working with chocolate at the ripe age of 16 as a student in Toulon. He went on to begin a career in pastry and chocolate making in Europe. He met his life and business partner, Nathalie Morin, while working in Wakefield, Quebec, near Morin’s hometown of Ottawa, six years ago. From there they embarked on a chocolate-filled journey that would end in realizing a mutual dream of owning their own shop. Before settling in Halifax, they worked together at chocolateries in the French Alps and Scotland; Morin learning the ropes of the business in order to eventually run front-of-house operations at Rousseau Chocolatier.
“There’s something about [chocolate], the taste and the pheromones that it releases in your body,” says Morin. “It’s delicate, it’s unique.” It’s exciting. Grown men in business suits walk through the door “and it’s like kids in a candy store,” Morin says. The clean, modern-looking shop displays 15 to 20 types of artisanal chocolates, brownies and colourful macarons, contrasted against a pale interior. With the large bay window, customers or passers-by are drawn to what Rousseau-Dumarcet is creating in his open kitchen. “People are amazed when they see him.”
Rousseau Chocolatier’s artisanal products are born inside the kitchen and leave in customers’ hands, via Morin, from the adjacent shop. The creations are made with a premium line of Cacao Barry chocolate, which arrives in slabs shipped from where it is produced, outside Montreal. Rousseau-Dumarcet tempers this chocolate with 64 per cent cacao extra-bitter dark, 32.6 per cent cacao milk chocolate or the sweeter white chocolate and makes ganache, caramel or marzipan centres from scratch, incorporating complementary flavours; he leaves the chocolate coatings pure. For example, one of the best-selling chocolates is the white chocolate lemon ganache dipped in dark chocolate. The sharp citrus helps to balance the intense sweetness of creamy white chocolate in the centre, and the rich, roasted flavour of the extra-bitter dark chocolate brings it all together. Like any culinary endeavour, making chocolates is about balance, and a lot about mouth feel. The melt-in-your-mouth appeal of caramel centres, the satisfying snap of a bar made with high-quality cocoa butter—these are sure signs of well-made chocolate. You find that here at Rousseau Chocolatier.
Since opening in May 2014, the young couple have seen a tremendous reaction from Haligonians and tourists. The market for artisan chocolate seemed to be rife with opportunity in Halifax. For Mediterranean-born Rousseau-Dumarcet, European influences and proximity to the sea were among other deciding factors to set up shop here.
While chatting with Morin and Rousseau-Dumarcet at the chocolaterie, I was treated to a taste of their best-loved items, including the white chocolate lemon ganache and the feuelletine. The feuelletine, an individual chocolate, has a centre of whipped hazelnut praline with delicate layers of wafer. The ever-so-subtle crispy-crunchy mouth feel, rich hazelnut flavour and sweet caramel notes in the milk chocolate coating are exquisite. I also enjoyed a personal favourite, dark chocolate sea salt, made with a 64 per cent dark ganache centre, dark chocolate coating and Balinese fleur de sel sprinkled on top. However, none of these are the chocolate maker’s favourite. The orange-balsamic vinegar caramel takes that prize, and of this one, he is proud. “Visually, it’s nice. It’s really good, really different,” says Rousseau-Dumarcet. A painted milk chocolate dome houses gorgeous caramel infused with harmonious flavours of sweet orange citrus and balsamic vinegar. Very balanced, and perfect for the mandatory style of eating, as I was instructed by Rousseau-Dumarcet: “Place the entire chocolate-covered caramel in your mouth, and let it melt.”
Cut to those opening credits. Watching tempered chocolate is absolutely hypnotic. The act of chocolate making itself couldn’t be a better advertisement. I left the shop on a major sugar high (all of this happened before noon, latte in hand), thinking that with the experience and passion behind Rousseau Chocolatier, it seems like Morin and Rousseau-Dumarcet are in for many years of providing customers with the pleasure of chocolate.