Carnet de Voyage : a Ganache Too Far

Carnet de Voyage : a Ganache Too Far

Travel notes from the real France. Carnet de Voyage is a weekly personal travel story in France sent in by readers. If you’d like to write a story for Carnet de Voyage, head here for details on how to submit.

I am old enough to have watched the young comic Steve Martin on stage and riffing on the French. “Let me give you a warning,” he said, “chapeau means hat, œuf means egg; it’s like those French have a different word for everything.”  I didn’t realize at the time that this funny guy with a pretend arrow through his head was speaking directly to the future me.

When I signed us up for the Bernard Dufoux Chocolate School in the little village of La Clayette I knew it was a four hour, French-only class. I speak no French but I assured my wife that there was nothing to worry about, someone always speaks English. Well, as it turned out, on that day, nobody working at Les Chocolats Bernard Dufoux, Les Cours de Chocolat knew a word of my native tongue.  That’s OK, I had a Plan B. My spouse is a French speaker and she would translate for me. Even without that I figured I’d be fine. After all, I am fluent in the universal language of cooking and my thought was to watch the others and just follow along. 

Bernard Dufoux is a world famous chocolatier (winner of five Greatest Chocolatiers in France awards) and his facility was within reach of our home base, Villers-la-Faye, a tiny hameau outside of Beaune. The chocolate class would require an overnighter in Charolles, which was very close to the school. I really wanted this unique experience, so no matter the obstacle I was going to learn chocolate candy-making from the very best. 

Things went quite well in the first part of our training, a slide show presentation about the history and origins of chocolate. We were instructed in how to select the very best product (Venezuelan, apparently) and what qualities to look for. During that portion of the class our team leader, Alexandre, brought out bits of raw chocolate for us to sample. A small tray of broken pieces came around and, as planned, I watched the others and did what they did. Sometimes I would get an approving nod from my wife. My confidence grew. 

© Michael Harrelson

When the slide show and lecture portion of our class ended Alexandre gestured toward a door at the rear of the room. It was time for the seven of us to go downstairs to the kitchen. Besides my wife and me, there were four other home cooks and a very young chef-in-training sent there by his employer. The kitchen was impressive, with rows of stacked chocolate cylinders soon to be cast as expensive boxed confections and arrayed along the walls the over-sized equipment that would be used in that transformation. We were directed to work stations with tools, an apron and paper hat. It was time for me to become a great chocolatier.

Alexandre began by showing us how to make ganache and he passed around small dollops to be tasted. Next came fondant in two flavors, rolled into grape-sized balls and offered for sampling. Finally, dried citrus rind, soon to be drenched in velvety melted chocolate, was offered for tasting. Alexandre then proudly held up the pièce de résistance, a ceramic carafe filled with special cherries that had been soaking in kirsch for six months. He dipped several of the liquor-soaked fruit into fondant paste, placed them on a plate and headed straight towards me. My wife, sensing a photo opportunity coming, with camera in hand, backed away just a tad. When Alexandre, standing right in front of me, extended the plate full of special cherries he said something in French which, of course, I did not understand. Still, I knew what was expected of me. I quickly reached out, grabbed a cherry from the plate and popped it into my mouth.   

My first indication that I had gone a ganache too far was the pop-eyed look on Alexandre’s face which was quickly followed by an audible gasp from the young chef-to-be on my left (caught perfectly in the photo). The spontaneous laughter from my classmates pretty much convinced me that I had just eaten my way into a true faux pas. I quickly glanced at my wife. She whispered, “He said look but don’t eat”. How do you say “Whoops!” in French? 

Steve Martin’s intimations notwithstanding, I have always found French people to be exceptionally nice. Alexandre took my mistake in stride and was very forgiving. That awkward moment turned into the perfect ice breaker. From that point on the rest of the class adopted us and we were personally guided through the remaining three hours of kitchen training. We had a ball and enjoyed ourselves immensely. And for what it’s worth, since that time, my French vocabulary has increased to several hundred words – mostly food. 

Read our other Carnet de Voyage entries here.

Lead photo credit : © Michael Harrelson

Share to:  Facebook  Twitter   LinkedIn   Email

More in Carnet de Voyage, Chocolate, cooking class, French cooking, French food, travel memories

Previous Article Green France: Cycling in Normandy and Wooden Ski Passes
Next Article Dernier Mot: Fighting them on the Beaches

Related Articles

Michael Harrelson, 73, is retired and has chosen to dedicate his travels to primarily France and, always, Paris. Michael and his wife, Nancy, were both “orthophonistes” who worked in the public schools of San Diego, California. They have explored most of the regions of France and love the small village of Semur-en-Auxois; quiet, beautiful and the perfect place to contemplate the slow moving Armançon River and write.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  •  Marian Laughlin
    2024-03-28 12:56:03
    Marian Laughlin
    Keep learning more French. If you can learn the verb forms of be, have, make and go, with the nouns you know you can communicate. You may not understand what’s said back to you, but eventually you’ catch on.