Comedy Stories

Pour L’amour du Chocolat

Step 1: The Harvesting of Cocoa Pods

Parisian pharmacies prescribed chocolate during La Belle Époque. Whether chocolate had any medicinal properties or not, Jean-Paul did not know, but he’d become obsessed with learning its secrets. Over six feet tall and heavily tattooed, he stood out in the training kitchens, silently filling chocolate spheres with salted caramel, tangerine, pear, and hazelnut. He worked efficiently, earning him the praise he deeply desired from his peers.

When singled out for his work, Jean-Paul beamed. He’d celebrate by driving his motorcycle far too fast through slick city streets, popping wheelies, pulling stoppies, doing burnouts—everything that used to get him into trouble as a teenager. His instructors wrote glowing letters of recommendation. Jean-Paul has the soul of a pâtissier. Jean-Paul’s boundless creativity matches his dedication to chocolatiering.

Working in kitchens had been in his blood since his father had washed most of the dishes in Paris. He’d been teased as a child. Tu es si noir, tu as l’air violet! At school, Jean-Paul bragged about his father being a steward until he learned it meant dishwasher. Then he quit talking about his father altogether. 

As a teenager, he grew resentful of their squalid flat in Grigny and how little money there was, but few people rented to African immigrants. He memorized the public transportation schedule until he stole his first motorcycle.  

Invariably, his father returned late at night with chapped hands and sore feet, bringing a small bag of M&M’s for his son, purchased from a vending machine near the Métro. 

Jean-Paul often awoke in the middle of the night and silently ate them, one by one. 

Step 2: The Fermenting, Drying, and Roasting of Cocoa Beans

His mother had left them both, absconding with a light-skinned North African, breaking his father’s heart. Jean-Paul’s father slept longer during the day, waking to cough blood into his hands when the winters were cruel. But regardless of his health or the weather, his father trudged to the kitchens every night. 

“You are always gone,” Jean-Paul complained, watching his father lace up thick-soled work boots. “You’re always at work.”

“I like to work,” his father protested. 

But Jean-Paul was lonely at home. He met up with older boys, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes on the rooftops, jumping from building to building when they were bored. One night, he shimmied down a drainpipe and dropped down to the street from a second-story window, twisting his ankle in the process. Jean-Paul spied his father and hid when he passed. His father appeared not to see his drunken son and did not break his stride, but a block away, his shoulders slumped.

Returning home, Jean-Paul tripped over his father’s work boots—cold, worn, and wet from his hours in the dish room. A piece of arugula was lodged in the laces. He reached down to retrieve it before placing the boots near the radiator to dry. 

On his way to throw out the arugula, Jean-Paul found a little brown bag of candy-coated chocolates on the kitchen counter. 

Tears ran down his face as he ate the M&M’s, one by one. 

Step 3: The Refining of Cocoa

Assigned to kitchen duty, Jean-Paul learned to make chocolate in prison. An older inmate taught him how to regulate cooking temperature to ensure the chocolate became glossy and smooth. If there was a drop of water in the melangers, tempering machines, or melters, then the chocolate would seize, becoming lumpy and thick. Jean-Paul took it hard whenever the chocolate burnt. God forbid if a white, chalky bloom appeared, meaning he’d neglected the sugar or fat.

The day after his parole, Jean-Paul made chocolate croissants while explaining his future plans to his father. His father watched as his son rolled out dough and cut it into triangles. For fun, Jean-Paul dotted the pastries with M&M’s. 

“How much is culinary school?” 

“€49,200,” Jean-Paul replied.

His father grimaced. 

“I will apply for scholarships and loans.”

His father pursed his lips. “In restaurants, the hours are long and the pay is low. You are yelled at for things you cannot control.”

“I want to work in kitchens—like you.”

His father waved him off. “Go to school to be a doctor or a lawyer. Be something good.”

“You work in the kitchens. Are you not good?” Jean-Paul sighed and put his head in his hands. 

His father patted his back. “Is the culinary school far away?”

“It’s south of Paris. I can take the bus to Rungis.”

“That is two hours in one direction!” 

“It’s where the best culinary schools are—and the largest suppliers. Just think of the connections I’ll make!”

His father paced the floor in their small apartment. 

“We will move closer,” his father decided. “I can wash dishes anywhere. Go to your chocolate school.”

Jean-Paul folded the frail man into his arms.

Step 4: The Tempering and Molding of Chocolate

“Are you ready, Papa?”

His father struggled with his tie, throwing up his hands in frustration. “A steward rarely needs to tie a Windsor knot!” 

“Let me help.” Jean-Paul put down his suit coat and attended to his father, whose arthritic hands gave him trouble.

“I shouldn’t go. I will embarrass you.”

“I will not accept any award without my father in the room.”

“What did you win this time?” He allowed his son to straighten his clothing. 

“I won the Silver Pod for my salted almond Madagascar chocolate and the Platinum BonBon Award for my Maracaibo chocolate with cranberry caramel.”

“Those confections are too fancy for your father.” 

“That’s why I made you these.” Jean-Paul handed him a little velvet bag. 

Inside were homemade M&M’s, expertly coated in colorful candy, filled with the best milk chocolate a Parisian master chocolatier could craft. 

On the way to the awards ceremony, his father ate them all, one by one. 

Leave a Reply

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