Jean Apostolou, one of Godiva’s most celebrated chocolate makers, on garlic-flavoured chocolate and adapting to bizarre trends
How did you set out on the chocolate path?
The first smell you get when you step out of the train station in Brussels is of a neighbouring chocolate factory: I lived nearby and the aroma of chocolate was always in my nose.
I graduated at the age of 17 in catering from Ceria in Brussels and began my career as a chocolatier-patissier at Patisserie Jacobs in Molenbeek in Belgium. It was here that I learnt the basics of the trade. After gathering more than three decades of experience working with several prestigious chocolate brands, I joined Godiva five years ago.
I’m still in Brussels, and am now involved in developing and overseeing new products, exploring the use of innovative ingredients and technologies for chocolate manufacture, and working with the raw material suppliers to ensure only the very best reach our manufacturing areas.
In a room full of 100 different chocolates would you be able to identify your own?
Oh yes, without a doubt. When I do a blind tasting I can always recognise those that I’ve created myself. I believe this is the case for most chocolatiers, because we all use certain flavour profiles and textures.
Is there a truly bizarre flavour combination that you personally love but the public isn’t ready for yet?
I’m very open-minded and for me nothing is bizarre. Examples are some chocolates that have black olive notes, or mushroom ones – they possess these flavours without adding any extra ingredients, all by themselves.
Where do you get your ideas for new creations?
I like the food-pairing trend, and I follow this to see which flavours might work together. But most of the time I make combinations instinctively.
When was the last time you tried something new and it tasted awful?
Chocolate and garlic – there is just no way to make it work.
What are some international trends in the industry now?
In Asia, for example, they don’t like sweetness so much. When I tasted ginseng for the first time it seemed very bitter and astringent to me, but you quickly realise that behind the ginseng there are some interesting flavour notes that combine very nicely with chocolate. Over the years chocolatiers have learned to adapt and everything becomes less and less bizarre.
What about here in the Middle East?
My understanding is that you have a relatively sweet tooth there. I did a Middle Eastern collection last year with almonds, rose water and pistachio. I selected white and milk chocolate because I know that they are popular in the region.
Is there a technique to storing chocolate?
Don’t keep chocolate in the fridge. It is cold and humid and the moisture creates a sticky surface that completely changes the flavour of the chocolate. If you can keep it at 18°C, that’s perfect.
What collection are you most proud of?
Réserve Privée – it’s the most prestigious collection we do and is created with very exclusive ingredients.
Take the Bronte pistachio. One of the best known varieties of pistachio is from Iran. Then there’s one from Turkey. A third fine variety is from Sicily – there is a small village called Bronte located at the foot of Mount Etna, the volcano, where the ground is rocky. It’s arid, which forces the trees’ roots to go very deep in search of water. In doing so they also capture the minerals that are present in this volcanic soil, and it gives the pistachios a very deep flavour combined with a natural salty essence. They are the most expensive pistachios in the world because there are so few of them produced.
Have there been any unusual trends in the world of chocolate recently?
Right now there’s one in which chocolate is made from raw cocoa beans. Normally, the chocolate process begins with the roasting of the cocoa beans – it’s a process that has been perfected gradually ever since the Mayans’ time, but some chocolatiers are now using raw cocoa beans to create something completely different. They say they are going back to chocolate’s roots, but I don’t like it because I strongly believe that it’s too far from what we know as chocolate.
Finally, if you were at an airport and needed a quick chocolate fix…
I am a great admirer of Belgian chocolate, perhaps because of those childhood memories of being so close to that chocolate factory, so I would wait until I could get my hands on something that I really loved from a little closer to home.
With tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, Godiva’s brand ambassador