Wednesday 20 February 2013

French Foodies in Ireland: Benoit Lorge, Chocolatier in Bonane

Benoit Lorge is originally from Nancy in the Lorraine region of France. He’s a chocolatier, owning a chocolate shop in Bonane, co. Kerry.

What brought you to Ireland?
I love travelling. I’m originally a pastry chef and when I was younger I chose this occupation because I knew it would be easy to travel and to find a job anywhere.  I lived in Scotland for a year in the beautiful highlands: mountains, lakes, castle. I had a very good pastry chef job in Inverlochy Castle which is a beautiful place.  After that I worked in Corsica for a year but then I wanted to move to a similar place to Scotland so I moved to Ireland. First I lived for a year in Athlone, the central location was ideal to travel around Ireland in my camper van during my time off. I loved Ireland straight away and visited a lot of places around the country at that time. Then I moved back to France for a little while but I wanted to live again either in Scotland or in Ireland.  I was offered a good position in England but I didn’t want to take it and when I got a job offer offer from Sheenfalls Lodge in Kenmare, a 5 star hotel,  I decided to move back to Ireland. I didn’t know if I’d spend one or two years... I’ve been living in Kenmare 15 years now (laugh).

How did you decide to open a chocolate shop?
I’m originally a pastry chef and when I arrived in Kenmare I was pastry chef in a 5 star hotel for 6 years. I loved Kenmare but I thought that staying for 6 years in the same company was a bit long, I wanted to do something else. I wanted to make chocolate, I previously made chocolates for fundraising and I loved it. The beautiful thing about making chocolate is that it’s not a big financial investment like a pastry shop, you can start with not much. I wanted to make chocolates for hotels and shops only. I found this premise where I could rent a small part of a post office to make my chocolate. The rent was cheap and it was in the countryside, 10 km away from Kenmare. It went really well, it started becoming a bit too small tough. The post office closed and I moved my kitchen into their main area and I transformed my old kitchen into a chocolate shop open to public.  Thanks to word of mouth the shop became more popular and became my means of living and I wasn’t providing hotels with chocolates as much. I started spending more time in the shop and decided to create different activities around chocolate making. I do children workshops where I teach them how to make chocolate. We also organise 2 hour chocolate making workshops for hen parties (20-24 ladies per workshop). I also teach for professional purposes to 3-4 adults per weekend for chocolate making or pastry courses.

Where does your passion for chocolate come from?
I was originally a pastry chef because I’ve always loved sweet treats. I love working with chocolate, it’s fine, you create an infinity of flavours with chocolates: spices, herbs, alcohol, fruits, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate... You can always create something different it’s what I love about chocolate. 

What are the most popular products?
When I started there wasn’t the same interest for the chocolate, there wasn’t a chocolate culture as much has now. Milk chocolate used to be the best seller but now I sell as much dark chocolate.  My shop is located in a touristy area so I have customers from all over the world and the tastes vary depending where people are from or even their age.  American people only buy dark chocolate, Germans love pralines and marzipan. Younger customers would prefer exotic flavours but older Irish people would buy milk chocolate or caramel flavours. Swiss people tend to buy milk chocolate. I had a few French people visiting the shop last year but less since the last presidential elections (laugh).

Do you get original requests? 
We do a bit of everything. We make wedding cakes, we have many different requests. For Easter, we change the design of our eggs every year. It’s like a different collection so people don’t get the same egg from one year to another. One year we made a 8kg chocolate egg with holes in it, looking a bit like gruyere cheese with birds on it. Our creations are more about flavours than the design of them.  We constantly create new flavours , we have about 60 different kind of chocolate. I use new spices or flavours all the time to create new products. I’ve even been asked By St Tola to coat their goat cheese with chocolate for  Valentines season. You can mix chocolate with everything: spices, tea, herbs. It’s endless.

What do you like about being in Bonane co. Kerry?
The village is 17km long with 58 inhabitants. It’s very rural, we are located on the main street. I love the countryside, I like that people are close to each other, there is a real community spirit. Also living in the countryside I get this inspiration that I wouldn’t get in a city. I love Ireland, the Irish life, the Irish people and I hope to stay here for a long time.

Tell me one thing you love about your job.
When customers visit the shop, they can smell straight away the chocolate being prepared in the kitchen. You see the difference when people go to the bank and when they enter my shop.  They’re always in a good mood in my shop, it’s such a pleasure to be in the shop making chocolate, serve the customers and see how happy they are.  I love touching my products and chatting with my customers. We don’t only speak about chocolates, we talk about everything, about life, their culture, where they from. I’m very lucky.

Tell me about your Easter products.
We make Easter eggs in 3 sizes: small, medium and large. They can be made in milk or dark chocolate. Some shops will sell them empty or filled with chocolates inside (5, 12 or 20). We make chocolate rabbits, chocolate hares and chocolate hens. We make ‘trendy’ eggs and even personalised eggs.

Is chocolate good for you? 
People tend to think chocolate is fattening but It’s scientifically proven that a small quantity of dark chocolate everyday is good for you. Chocolate is one of the strongest anti oxidants, as much as cranberry or granny smith apples. It reduces bad cholesterol, rises good cholesterol. Chocolate regulates the blood flow and therefore prevents heart disease.  Dark chocolate also has a feel good effect so it’s like an anti depressant, well or maybe that’s an excuse that ladies use to eat more chocolate (laugh).

*All pics courtesy of Benoit Lorge

Benoit Lorge will be signing Easter chocolate eggs in Donnybrook fair (89 Morehampton Rd, D4) on Good Friday.

Benoit Lorge's website
Benoit Lorge on Facebook here
Benoit Lorge on Twitter @Lorgechoc