HOT SHOP Chocolats Genevieve Grandbois

The Globe & Mail, February 12, 2005

Attention all Valentine’s Day shoppers. The bar on chocolate has been raised. Any man searching for a heart-shaped box of treats for his sweetie would be wise to step away from the candy display.

Move over Willy Wonka, Geneviève Grandbois will take it from here.

Grandbois, 30, is best described as the Armani of Montreal’s designer chocolatiers. Her delicious dark squares, filled with creamy smooth ganache blended with the likes of ginger, cayenne pepper and star anise, are the darlings of the city’s booming artisanal chocolate scene.

Her rise began a decade ago, when a part-time job at a bakery led her to a conference on chocolate.

“I fell crazy in love,” Grandbois says. “I was completely surprised and inspired by what I saw — the potential for creating new harmonious flavours.”

Nestled among the bagel shops and Italian cafés of the grungy-chic Mile End district, the contemporary storefront of Chocolats Geneviève Grandbois offers passersby a glimpse into its pristine workshop (frosted glass protects the wares from the sun). Thanks to its interior’s striking simplicity, the boutique was selected as one of the best-looking shops in the city’s annual design competition. For Grandbois, the image of the shop is a reflection of the quality of the chocolate.

Behind the scenes, Grandbois combines top-quality European chocolate with carefully selected sexy ingredients to create flirty flavours such as such as port with ginger, and passion fruit with coconut milk. “One of my personal favourites is a dark chocolate with fleur de sel,” Grandbois says.

These flavours, along with extra-virgin olive oil, chai and maple, are among the stars of the Classics collection. Shoppers can mix and match their favourites to take home in elegant tin boxes of various sizes. If plagued by indecision, the words “les classiques” will yield a spectacular set of nine.

Every few months, Grandbois introduces new delights inspired by the seasons. Summertime collections have included lavender and lime, while Montreal’s winter was the muse for a recent creation using tobacco leaves.

Grandbois is careful to ensure that balance trumps originality. “It’s all about flavours that are harmonious in the mouth.” A filling of pine jam, for example, failed to make the cut. “The flavour was too intense, too fragrant — and it caused my chocolate to separate.”

Staying true to Aztec tradition, Grandbois has infused chocolate ganache with three kinds of hot pepper. “It warms the back of the throat without ever overwhelming the taste of the chocolate.”

What Grandbois lives for are the surprises, like the pairing of an exclusive Venezuelan dark chocolate called Chuao with the ultimate gourmet ingredient, fresh black truffles. “It’s very sensual,” she says.

Eat your heart out, Cupid.

Chocolats Geneviève Grandbois , 162 rue Saint-Viateur Ouest, Montreal, 514-394-1000, http://www.chocolatsgg.com .