Well, I couldn’t resist. I just wrote about that flavor we all love — chocolate — and then I had the pleasure of meeting a chocolatier. Contrary to what I believed, a chocolatier does not make chocolate. Chocolate makers create chocolate from cacao beans, and a chocolatier is a person who makes confectionary from chocolate.
Ghyslain Maurais, along with his wife Susan, owns Ghyslain Chocolatier Artisan Center in Union City, Indiana. Although the business encompasses a wide scope of delectables, it is best known for its artistic chocolates. Ghyslain smiles. “Everyone likes chocolate; we sell everywhere.”
Even so, I wondered why he located in a small town on the Indiana/Ohio border. Born in Quebec, it didn’t take him long to find his culinary passion while working in that field to fund his architectural education. He entered the Institute de Tourisme et d’Hotelerie du Quebec and has since worked in some of the finest hotels and restaurants in North America and Europe. He held the position of executive chef for the Quebec Delegation in New York and London.
So, how did all of that lead to this quiet town in the country? His smile broadened. “Because this is where I met my wife. She loves horses, and this is her home, and she wanted to stay.”
That was 20 years ago, when he took a chef’s position in Versailles, Ohio some 20 miles from here. A company there specialized in medical supplies and was basically French, and they wanted a good French restaurant in the area for when the executives came from France. However, not many other people in the rural area wanted fancy French cuisine, so it didn’t do very well. That is when Ghyslain switched paths and decided to develop a new dream: a chocolate boutique.
He is definitely an artist, and artists express themselves in different ways. His is chocolate. His signature creations feature vibrant, hand-brushed color that distinguishes them from most others. Only about a dozen companies nationwide specialize in hand-painted confections.
The designs are painted with cocoa butter. He has signature sculptures that he does, as well as custom designs. His chocolate comes to him by the palette-load. He then melts the chocolate to a certain temperature and pours it into molds. When the chocolate cools, it shrinks, and it can be removed easily from the molds and hand -painted. The day I visited, his artisans were working on miniature chocolate football helmets being painted for the Colts’ football game that weekend.
Naturally, holidays are his busiest times. Valentine’s Day is big, but Christmas is his busiest season. For Christmas he has 30 different sculptures, including Santa’s sleigh, Santa In the Chimney, the Eiffel Tower, and more. “Every year, people look for unique gifts, something out of the ordinary. We get a lot of repeat orders, because they can choose something different each time they order,” he explains.
Looking through his designs, I can’t imagine actually biting into one — although it is hard to resist. “They are just too pretty to eat!” I tell him. He agrees, but recommends that they are consumed within two weeks of purchase because of the fresh cream, fruit purees, and flavors that are used in them.
For his custom orders, one person does all the hand-painting. Lindsey Lea started working there to help put herself through school, and she liked it so well that she stayed. She free-hand paints all the chocolate creations for which he does not have molds. “She is a good artist, but more importantly, she is good with color. Being able to match colors is so important,” Ghyslain stresses.
I wondered, with all the diversity, if his customers had a favorite. “Hands down,” he laughs, “it is the hand-painted turtles. For some reason, all customers love these.” But, with twelve different varieties from which to choose, his turtles aren’t just turtles. Each is filled with his own butter caramel, painted with vibrantly colored cocoa butter, with each color representing a different toasted nut tucked under the turtle’s shell.
Is there a saying that goes, “Once a chef, always a chef?” For Ghyslain, this is so true. Not only does his establishment produce exquisite chocolates, but he also has a bread and pastry shop which produces baguettes, European pastries, traditional gelato, cakes, cheesecakes, and other items. Many of these go to his shops and bistros but are also available for sale at his facility, and he sells wholesale and does specialty orders. He has several bistros in Louisville, Kentucky.
It is a family affair. Susan is in charge of marketing, and altogether they have 60 employees between the Union City and Louisville locations. “We have people coming and going here at all different times,” he explains. “You can’t paint the chocolate until it is molded and cooled, you can’t package for shipping until are products are made, so employees work at different times according to what job they are doing.”
He has three delivery trucks on the road every week. However, with the delicate nature of the contents, each is only on the road for 5 hours for each run. This enables him to deliver as far north as Chicago, as far south as Nashville, as far east as Indianapolis and as far west as Pittsburg.
He offers tours through his facility so that people can see how fine chocolate is made. Folks on the tour are invited to see if they can taste the difference between commercial chocolate and fine gourmet chocolate. They can watch hand-painted cheesecakes being prepared and savor the bread and pastries straight from the oven.
They can even schedule a “make your own chocolate tour.” Now, this peeked my interest! What it consists of is making an edible chocolate tulip cup, filling it with chocolate mousse, decorating it, and devouring it. I especially like the devouring part!
Ghyslain laughs at that. “Most artists want their creations preserved for posterity. I hope mine is not; they wouldn’t taste very good!”
It is good to see someone pursue a life interest that they truly enjoy. Such is the case with Ghyslain. In his own words, “When you take time to stop and taste the chocolate, life is good!”