A daunting new challenge for L’École Valrhona: a 1.7m chocolate sculpture depicting the spire of Sainte-Chapelle church!
True to its commitment to creative, ethical gastronomy, Valrhona is proud to support the Centre des Monuments Nationaux and its the exhibition: “Paris: The Capital of Gastronomy from the Middle Ages to the Present Day”. This new show is open to the public at the Conciergerie de Paris from April 13 to July 16, 2023.
For one of the exhibition’s spectacular showpieces, the chefs at L’École Valrhona have taken up the challenge of replicating the spire of Sainte-Chapelle church using chocolate.
© Antoine Pesch
What if we told you Paris is still the world’s leading gastronomic city?
Although challenged in recent times by London, New York and Tokyo, Paris retains its unique vitality in the global culinary scene. Many of its chefs have international reputations, apprentices from all over the world flock here to train, and connoisseurs of all nationalities regard the capital as a top culinary destination. Paris is a kitchen laboratory as well as a gastronomical heritage site. Its status as the world gastronomy capital was born out of a rich and fruitful history spanning several centuries.
In the heart of the Salle des Gens d’Armes (which served as a refectory in medieval times), the exhibition takes you a journey through the French capital’s legendary gastronomic story, from the Middle Ages to the present day.
Curated by the author and food journalist François-Régis Gaudry with the support of various specialists, “Paris: Capital of Gastronomy from the Middle Ages to the Present Day” is divided into five sections:
- Paris Is Receiving Visitors: This part of the exhibition explores the role that Paris the political capital has played in extending French gastronomy’s global reach
- The Belly of Paris: This section immerses visitors in the atmosphere of Paris’ food world, including its professions, its key figures, its slang, and, by extension, the food ecosystem on which Paris has built much of its gastronomic fame.
- The Restaurant, a Capital Invention: Visitors are invited to explore the story of how the restaurant was first invented, before it then expanded outwards from the Palais Royal to the Grand Boulevards and, finally, the rest of the capital.
- Bread & Pastry: Paris Center-Stage: From the millefeuille to the croissant via the macaron, Paris-Brest and baguette, Paris can claim to be the birthplace of a number of specialty products. This section dedicated to Paris’ role as the undisputed capital of desserts and baking combines engravings, decorations, paintings, photographs and audiovisual and culinary creations. It is here that visitors can discover the imposing chocolate sculpture created by L’École Valrhona. Pastry-making techniques are also honored in this section of the exhibition via an all-new video about the making of three iconic pastries by chefs Frédéric Bau (Valrhona’s experimental pastry chef), Nina Métayer and Yann Couvreur.
- Paris, a Land of Affluence & Influence: The journey concludes with a focus on Paris’ culinary scene as a place of dialog, cross-fertilization and creativity.
A chocolate sculpture marking the exhibition’s centenary
© Antoine Pesch
In amongst all the works of art, manuscripts, illuminations, original menus, paintings, photographs and more, the chefs from L’École Valrhona have taken up quite a challenge - making a 1.7m chocolate sculpture of the spire of Sainte-Chapelle church - to create one of the exhibition’s many spectacular pieces.
100 years ago, pastry chefs made the Sainte-Chapelle spire out of sugar for an exhibition at La Conciergerie retracing cooking's history since the Middle Ages. Cécile Rives wants to repeat this not inconsiderable feat to mark the exhibition’s centenary. There are several reasons why Valrhona is willing to tackle this major challenge (this time with chocolate) using the expertise of the school’s chefs. First, it is something that L’École has never done before, and therefore perfectly resonates with its constant ambition to innovate.
© Maya Communication
For Thierry Bridron, executive chef at L’École Valrhona in Paris, this is an opportunity to break out of the day-to-day “mold” (which is itself rather magical and extraordinary) and reflect as a team on this new challenge while keeping in mind our colleagues’ work 100 years ago! The task entails passing on passion and using expertise – two values dear to Valrhona – but it is actually quite different from our usual endeavors, since this is not an abstract work, but a reproduction designed to be as faithful as possible. It is also a great opportunity for Valrhona to celebrate a birthday of its own, namely the opening of L’École Valrhona in Paris almost a year ago.
Behind the scenes in the chocolate-sculpting workshop
The adventure started with a visit to the spire, which is as reassuring as it is perturbing, given that our version needs to be made out of chocolate! The whole team has been involved in the thinking process. Mounting a 1.7m sculpture on a disk with a diameter of approximately 40cm is a real feat. We had to reproduce the original carpenters’ ultra-precise work, skilfully overlaying all the parts so that the whole chocolate structure remains perfectly solid.
© Maya Communication
Different professions were involved in making this 35kg structure, including a model artist who digitized the Sainte-Chapelle using a 3D printer. From this 3D model, we used a molding technique to form hollow silicone pieces, then the delicate chocolates were removed from their molds and meticulously assembled, in an overlapping structure that interlocks almost to the millimeter! This extremely precise work harks back to the craftsmanship of stonemasons and sculptors, as well as carpenters. Valrhona does on a smaller scale what these craftsmen do in towering dimensions - with chocolate!
This experience shows just how much the food professions have developed, including pastry-making which, for a few decades now, has constantly experimented with new ways forward that have helped it to keep evolving.
Born of a simple challenge met in all humility, the sculpture required three people to work for four to five weeks, with help from various specialists whose know-how enabled us to achieve something extraordinary.
L’École Valrhona welcomes you to see this sculpture for yourself at the exhibition “Paris Capitale de la Gastronomie, du Moyen-Âge à Nos Jours”, which will be held from 13/04 to 16/07 in the Salle des Gens d’Armes de la Conciergerie, 2 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris.