Marcel Proust once said that “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Ironically enough, I came across this quote right after I returned from France last Spring. I was sorting through boxes of old papers and junk that I had hauled home from college a year before. I was also contemplating life post-France, which, in my jobless, almost penniless state, did not look promising.
Then, I found a magnet that must have been a graduation present. It was one of those corny gifts that people give to recent graduates, perhaps in hopes of inspiring them (even as most of us are terrified, intimidated by and unprepared for the real world). When I read the quote, it struck me; moving back home and leaving behind my life in France was hard. In lots of ways, I felt like I had left my adventures behind, and was preparing for a year of monotony. I had lived in St. Louis my whole life. What was left to discover?
But in moments of clarity, I’ve come to see that Proust was right. My perspective has changed, but I’ve also learned how to look for hidden treasures within my hometown. Before I left for France, I didn’t scavenge for the best bakeries, chocolate shops, and restaurants. My cooking consisted of boiling a pot of water, and waiting eight minutes until the noodles were done. I miss France, but I’ve also taken what I’ve learned (especially about food), and applied it to my life in the U.S. And sometimes, it leads to the best discoveries.
RJ Chocolatier is one such discovery. Have you ever heard of Patrick Roger? Neither had I, despite all my time in France. It turns out, he is one of the best chocolatiers in France, and has stores throughout Paris (not to mention a “lab” where he experiments with chocolate and other sweet ingredients). He is an innovative chocolate maker, a veritable “artiste” in his “metier.” Rick Jordan, an American from St. Louis, studied under Roger, and then came back here to open his own store.
All of Jordan’s chocolates are handcrafted, and they’re almost too pretty to eat. When I visited the store last week before Valentine’s Day, Jordan was making chocolate covered strawberries…without the berries. Some of us might settle for the large, hormone injected berries with flavorless white interiors, covered with globs of chocolate. But Jordan wanted to offer Valentine’s shoppers a tastier alternative…
To create “Les Fraises,” he filled Easter egg molds with Dark Chocolate, and then air-brushed the eggs with white and red cocoa butter. Each egg was filled with marshmallow mixed with strawberry purée (from real, in-season berries), and topped with delicately constructed white chocolate leaves that were colored with green cocoa butter.
Jordan told me he was planning on displaying the berries with “dirt” made from overcharged chocolate in CO2 containers. He sprays the chocolate into a vacuum, sucks out the air, and then lets the chocolate set in the freezer. Whoever thought dirt could be so delicious?
His box chocolates were equally appealing, offering everything from bonbons with strawberry confiture and white chocolate, to Jivara chocolate– which, I learned, is like gold in the chocolate world.
I left the store with a bag full of chocolates (my Valentine’s gift to myself…?) and the satisfaction that comes from having discovered something truly unique- especially where I least expected to.