With a dream of becoming Guyana’s own Willy Wonka, a French-born Guyanese chocolatier has opened the country’s first artisanal chocolate shop.
Located on the second floor of the City Mall on Camp Street, Georgetown, Maison François, which bears the name of its owner, officially opened its doors on August 2nd, with affordable yet savory options for chocolate lovers.
In an interview with Sunday Stabroek, François, 30, said that he was born in France to Guyanese parents and lived in Guyana for three years before returning home to France. He would eventually pursue studies in the culinary arts after switching from history.
Commenting on his culinary skills, François noted that he is versed in pastry making and would have had filled the position of Head Chef at several restaurants in Europe.
“I was Head Chef in a lot of places, like France, London and Dubai, so I have experience working in very classy places where one night there, a room would cost you £5,000. I eventually got into chocolate making and started making for the hotel in London then I made for Dubai,” the chocolatier shared.
According to François, he fell in love with chocolate and chocolate making about nine years ago after it was introduced to a class he was taking. “One day I was in class and the head chef decided to teach us chocolate that day and I was like okay. He said to us, ‘Let’s try green tea,’ the green tea we would usually drink, and when we finished making this thing it was so different, so fresh, because you could actually taste the green tea inside and from since then I fell in love with chocolate,” he related.
Several more years would pass before the young chocolatier considered opening a high end restaurant in Guyana. However, after further consideration, he decided that it would be a somewhat financially risky endeavour.
Having gone back to the drawing board, François decided to try something different with the introduction of the first artisanal chocolate shop in Guyana, which has taken an investment totalling $3.4 million.
“Chocolate is something that leaves a smile on everyone’s faces, so I decided why not try bring something new to Guyana… I always wanted to open my own business and so I decided to try Guyana… It’s working good, being the first chocolate shop in Guyana. I have so many bookings already for weddings, so it’s working well, I cannot complain. The response has been really good. It’s something new, the flavours are fresh and people are just loving it,” he shared.
“This will not be my only location, I hope to have many more locations in Guyana because I want to be the Willy Wonka of Guyana,” the entrepreneur added.
As if his idea to open a chocolate shop were not ambitious enough, François has taken the decision to specialise in dark chocolate, which can be eaten by anyone, including diabetics and those who are lactose intolerant.
“I do natural stuff. There are no chemicals or extra sugars added and all the chocolate is 70% dark chocolate,” he noted. “I am the first to arrive in Guyana with this quality of chocolate. You cannot find this in any other store because this isn’t industrial.
This is artisanal chocolate, just come down and taste for yourself,” the chocolatier added.
When this newspaper visited François’ shop last Monday, his display included a mix of lemon curd, orange marmalade, granola tablet, hazelnut, saffron truffles, peppermint, and even pieces of chocolate made with 18 carat edible gold, among countless others.
The art of producing these savory pieces of chocolate, however, is not an easy one and often results in the young man retiring to bed in the wee hours of the morning. “Every night I go home I create new stuff, so sometimes I go to bed at 3 in the morning. Chocolate is not something you can just snap your finger and it is there, it is a process.
Guyana is a very hot place and working here with chocolate on my very first try I thought it would be very difficult and it is but I still try my best to make my stuff at the quality just like I’m back home in France,” he explained. “I experiment a lot with flavor and taste and what imagination comes to my head and I say, ‘Okay, let’s try this and see how it goes,” François added.
A challenge to the chocolate making process has also presented itself in him not being able to readily locate ingredients he would usually use, thus resulting in him sourcing a lot of ingredients from Europe.
Notwithstanding this, François hopes that he will be able to overcome this challenge and use local ingredients to continue making his chocolates.
Going forward, the chocolatier has his eyes set on opening his own chocolate factory and school, where he can share his knowledge with Guyanese. “Everything will be right here, they won’t have to go anywhere else,” he said.