by Mimi Montgomery
photographs by Ray Black III
The holidays are a time to indulge. Local chocolatier Gabriela Miu Kropaczek counts on it. Her company, Avenue des Chocolats, specializes in European-style bonbons with ganache centers that Kropaczek makes by hand. Born in Romania and raised in Sweden, the former physicist and consultant was bit by the joie de vivre bug when she moved to Paris, where she was inspired to make cooking and food her full-time occupation. After marrying her husband, she moved to Wilmington, N.C., where Avenue des Chocolats was born. Her company’s French name is a nod to her time in Paris, and she hopes each bite of her chocolate transports customers abroad to the city’s famed chic avenues. Now based in Raleigh, Kropaczek and her decadent line of goods aim to make the City of Oaks all the sweeter.
You hold a doctorate in physics and had a totally different career path before becoming a chocolatier. How do your past experiences help you in your current business?
Developing new recipes involves a lot of trial and error – that’s where the scientist in me gets her kick. Working with chocolate demands a lot of concentration, precision, and rigor, not to mention consistency, in a way that’s very analogous with the way a scientist works: Just like my scientist years, I keep a log for my recipe development to ensure I don’t make the same mistake twice.
Walk us through the process of making a bonbon.
It’s a three-step, three-day process. Step one is ganache making: This requires mixing chocolate couverture and cream, adding flavoring, then pouring it into a pan and letting it cool. Then the ganache is cut into centers for the bonbons, and I hand-coat each ganache with tempered chocolate. I then decorate each bonbon with nuts, sea salt, etc., and place them in a wine cooler for storage.
As a chocolate-maker, how do you find inspiration and create new bonbon recipes?
I try to keep an open mind and find that most things inspire me. Besides the obvious inspiration from the works of other chocolatiers, bakers, and chefs, I also find inspiration in more unexpected places; the idea for my A la rose de chine chocolate bonbons came in the shower while reading the ingredients of my shower gel.
Out of the bonbons you make, which is your favorite to eat?
At the moment, it is one of the bonbons from my fall collection, Au sirop d’érable (milk chocolate ganache with cinnamon, maple syrup, and Crown Royal Maple Finished Canadian Whisky); it’s also a best-seller with my customers.
If you aren’t making bonbons, what is your favorite food to cook and eat?
I love baking. I have an obsession with fresh yeast (the kind I grew up baking with in Sweden, which is very hard to find in the U.S.); I love the lukewarm, organic feeling and texture when I knead the dough. And I love the results, such as cinnamon rolls (a classic Swedish recipe) or my latest obsession: croissants. I keep making them, tweaking the recipe, and re-making them, and I won’t stop until the day I create my perfect croissant.
What are some of your favorite things about Raleigh?
I immediately felt at home (here). I love that it’s so cosmopolitan, so open-minded, so full of culture, a city on a growing path. This dynamic is contagious in the best sense of the word.
Where do you go for a sweet treat?
I love going to small, authentic bakeries, such as La Farm Bakery or Boulted Bread, and trying classics like croissants. And just a few days ago, I had the most amazing ginger ice cream at David’s Dumpling and Noodle Bar. I might not know much about Raleigh yet, but I know enough about its food scene to know I am only at the beginner’s stage when it comes to exploring.
There is a lot of chocolate consumed around the holidays. What are some of your favorite seasonal recipes?
I love mousse au chocolat (chocolate mousse), a favorite French dessert. I love exploring different variations: with or without cream, with or without eggs, with or without flavorings. My absolute favorite, however, is chocolat chaud (hot chocolate), and by that I mean real hot chocolate prepared with actual chocolate (not cacao powder) and milk or cream (though some purists prefer just water) – basically a ganache in liquid form. Rich and absolutely delicious!
If you weren’t a chocolatier, what other job would you want to have?
I love what I do, as well as the freedom and flexibility of having my own business. But will I be doing it until I retire? I don’t know. I am of a curious nature; I love learning new things, and I feel slightly underutilized as a chocolatier (just take the fact that I speak four languages). Let’s just say I have a long list of eclectic interests which range from international relations to fashion. So it’s not impossible to imagine that next time we speak, you will find me pursuing a totally different career.
Order bonbons by contacting Kropaczek at email@example.com or 910-262-3650; avenuedeschocolats.com.