Monday, June 26, 2006

Belinda Ber: The Reason to Visit NYC's Michel Cluizel Boutique

Earlier this month, I stopped into New York's Michel Cluizel boutique. Located inside ABC Home (nestled in between the restaurants Lucy Latin Kitchen, Pipa, and Le Pain Quotidien), this outlet is the only Cluizel outfit outside of France. The Cluizels have been in the chocolate business for three generations, they purchase cacao beans and other ingredients directly from the source plantations, and they operate their Normandy factory like an old-fashioned workshop. Still, this old-money European chocolate business often comes across as simply snobbish, and I had previously concluded that the New York Cluizel effort was misguided.

That was before I met Belinda Ber. The Cluizel boutique's general manager (and the woman who spent months balancing the blend of couvertures to use in the shop's signature hot chocolate), Belinda is a straight-talking New York chef. She was formerly chef/owner of Long Island's Harvest Moon restaurant, and she's been the pots and pans behind several of the city's high-profile kitchens. Belinda--as she would tell you herself--gets it. She describes chocolate patriarch Michel Cluizel as a "groovy old guy" and can easily discuss how the concept of terroir applies to the range of Cluizel single-origin chocolates from Venezuela, Madagascar, New Guinea, and beyond. If you have the chance to catch her, she'll be happy to talk to you, fluently expounding on how the Cluizels' time-tested approach to sourcing the finest ingredients foreshadowed today's organic, sustainable, and fair-trade movements.

And if you don't see her, she's probably in the kitchen--overseeing orders from the ever-evolving list of desserts and cocktails. Test out her "champagne choctail," a delicate combination of flavors topped off with an ethereal layer of white-chocolate foam.