I could not live in Switzerland, and that has nothing to do with the wonderful landscape or the nice people. The reason lies in something much more banal: chocolate. The country has brought the art of chocolate to a level that would make it difficult for me to exercise discipline. I would simply eat far too much of the sweet stuff inside me, and I would be happy, but too soon to die.
While I – in vain – try to keep my distance from chocolate, the Frenchwoman Catherine Bréard has done exactly the opposite. She threw herself into the chocolate business. As a young wife and mother, she prepared chocolate mousse for her son Alix whenever she could, with a passion she had inherited from her own mum and grandma. He called her his ‘chocolate mama’. But like so often life came in between and her job at the employment office left her no time for frivolities like chocolate mousse. Until her son, now grown up and moved to Japan for professional reasons, asked his mama the following: “Promise me that one day you will live out your passion.”
This gave the small, lively Catherine, through whose thick glasses, fun-loving eyes shine, food for thought. She made a spontaneous decision, informed her boss that she wanted to change her career, as she was not long before retirement, quit her job and applied for a course at the famous Ecole Cordon-Bleu in Paris at 58. She was admitted and immediately enrolled in the pastry course. At seven o’clock in the morning she was the first in the cooking studio and at nine o’clock the last when she left. She had the fun of her life, it did not feel like work. Two years later and with a diploma in her hands, she entered a chocolate mousse competition in Paris – yes, no kidding, such a competition exists, and why is it only the French have such great competitions? – and she took first place among 50 candidates. In the chocolate mousse jury were the great Parisian confectioners Guillaume Gomez of the Palais de l’Elysée and Gilles Marchal, former chief confectioner at the Bristol and the Maison du Chocolat.
But at 61, when others are already on the verge of retirement, Catherine’s second career was to begin. Her Alix – as one might expect from the son of the chocolate mama – had done a study on chocolate mousse in Japan and had come to the conclusion that the Japanese need nothing more than chocolate mousse. He begged his mother and father to give up everything in France and move to Tokyo. And they did. They sold all their possessions in Paris, put all their savings into this adventure, and with sackcloth and baggage, but above all with the pots and kitchen utensils for the best mousse, they moved to their son in Tokyo and plunged into the unknown. Did the Japanese even have a taste for chocolate mousse?
This question was quickly answered in the affirmative. First, Catherine tested her recipe for the taste of the Japanese, who preferred a little less sugar in their mousse. In 2018 she rented a small stand in an elegant grocery store. The department store operators estimated that she would probably sell around 50 small cups of chocolate mousse per day. But to be on the safe side, the chocolate mum prepared 100 cups. After only three hours, they were all sold. This went on for a week. After a few weeks her sales were 300 to 400 cups per day and she could hardly keep up with the chocolate mousse production. Other delicatessen shops and luxury hotels showed interest in the sweet goods.
This success and the unusual story attracted TV stations and press from Japan and France, who all wanted to interview ‘Maman au chocolat’. She herself is working with her husband Philippe on opening her own chocolate mousse chain and expanding her range. Sixty is the new thirty.
Maybe I should not be so hard on myself after all and be defensive about chocolate. At least the last few days I have used an unexpected apricot harvest to bake it into apricot cake. Who knows, maybe blogging and writing books will become too boring for me at some point, and I will become a pastry chef myself.