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Happy 100th Anniversary Valrhona!

The International Chocolate Day comes along at just the right time to celebrate the 100 years of Valrhona and the launch of its (soon to be) famous and delicious new couverture: Komuntu 80%!

For the occasion, So Chic had the opportunity to meet Wenceslas Wedrychowski! The Asia-Pacific General Manager, also described as a French epicurean, reminds us the background of Valrhona and tells us all you want to know about Komuntu!

Nice to meet you Wenceslas! Could you start by introducing yourself, the way you want?

Nice to meet you! My name is very complicated [laughs], Wenceslas Wedrychowski. I’m French and I have been in Asia for the last 10 years and if I would have to describe myself, I would say that I am a French epicurean, a globe trotter who loves food, travelling and good time with good people!

Three things were, and still are, in the DNA of Valrhona […]: consistency, commitment, & people.
Wenceslas Wedrychowski

This year, Valrhona celebrates its 100th Anniversary. Could you remind us how Valrhona’s story began? Where does this name come from?

That’s a long story! It all started quite a long time ago, in 1922. Valrhona has been created by Albéric Guironnet, who was a pastry chef and decided to create a chocolate for pastry chefs […]. The name Valrhona is coming from ‘Vallee du Rhone’, because Valrhona is made in Tain l’Hermitage, in Drôme, in the Rhone Valley.

3. In hindsight, what would be the 3 biggest lessons you learned over the last 100 years?

So, speaking with all the people from Valrhona, who made Valrhona, three things were, and still are, in our DNA. The first one is consistency in the quality of the chocolate, of course.

The second one is commitment. All along these 100 years, Valrhona has been committed to a sustainable gastronomy, to a fair cocoa and, of course, to a creative gastronomy. This was key.

Last but not least, it’s people. Over the past 100 years, it has been key for Valrhona to put people at the heart of its chocolate creation: from the cocoa producers, its employees and of course all the chefs who’re currently using, buying Valrhona.

I think that people will still be at the centre of everything we will be doing in the future.
Wenceslas Wedrychowski

How do you imagine the future of Valrhona? What are your next challenges? How are you planning to overcome them?

I think that people will still be at the center of everything we will be doing in the future. Sustainability, it’s no miss and has been in Valrhona’s DNA since day one. It will be in Valrhona’s DNA in the future as well. Innovation will also be key for all the gourmet, the pastry chefs that will use our brand. They will always look for the most innovative texture, taste and product.

And last but not least, transmission, as well. We have a young generation of pastry chefs, who have to know our chocolate, our techniques, our schools and that will be key for the future.

Our challenge will thus be to continue to produce consistent & delicious chocolates for our community of pastry chefs or gourmets, in a sustainable way. We have always to make sure that from our cocoa producers to our employees and chefs, Valrhona makes everything in a sustainable way. That means, above all, traceability to know exactly where and how is made the chocolate.

To celebrate the 100 years of Valrhona, you’re launching a new couverture: Komuntu 80%. What makes this new creation unique?

I think Komuntu is the best expression of what Valrhona is about : collaboration. Komuntu is the result of a collaboration within hundred people. We have chosen to select a third of our cocoa growers, suppliers, involved in the creation process of this unique chocolate; one third of our employees; one third of chefs & chocolate connoisseurs. They all have been involved in the creation process of this unique chocolate.

Komuntu is the result of a collaboration within hundred people. The name “Komuntu” is coming from two things: “Komunumo” which means ‘community’ [in Esperanto] and “Ubuntu”, which means “I am because we are”.
Wenceslas Wedrychowski

The name “Komuntu” means a lot. For our readers, who are discovering the range, could you tell us more about it?

The name “Komuntu” is coming from two things: “Komunumo” which means ‘community’ [in Esperanto] and “Ubuntu”, which means “I am because we are”. The whole expression describes what Valrhona’s doing, […] that’s the expression of a collaborative chocolate done with all stakeholders from the cocoa chain. On top of that, what’s very important for us is that 100% of the profits of Komuntu will be given to the cocoa community.

Could you share with us the manufacturing process of Valrhona’s chocolate ‘feves’?

It’s a long process so we will make it short and digest for everybody [laughs]. There are actually 10 steps. Normally, all the cocoa beans are selected, fermented, dried before being sent to our chocolatery in Tain l’Hermitage. Then, we receive them there, we double-check the quality and […] start to roast them between 120 and 140 degrees depending on their origin, their quality and the kind of chocolate we want to make.

Once they are roasted, we will remove the shell which is enveloping the bean. We then call it the cocoa nibs. The cocoa nibs are then grounded until becoming a liqueur, a cocoa mass. Finally, we will add ingredients to this cocoa mass: sugar, cocoa butter…

We put the result in a big “conche” […] for the chocolate to get the smooth texture you know and you enjoy every day.

If you had to define Valrhona’s spirit in one sentence, what would it be?

One short sentence would actually be our mission: “Together, good becomes better”. We will only be able to do delicious, sustainable, fantastic chocolates for all gourmets and pastry chefs if we involve everybody towards the same goal.

“Together, good becomes better” also defines Valrhona’s mission through its Live Long program. Could you tell us more about the program and your sustainable initiatives?

Live Long Program is a combination of four pillars. The first one is ‘Live Long Cocoa’: how can we make sure that we make good cocoa in a sustainable way with all our growers and planters. [These are the questions] of traceability and quality.

The second one is ‘Live Long Environment’: how can we make sure that we’re reducing our impact on the planet?

The third pillar would be ‘Live Long Gastronomy’ : how can we make sure that we’re mixing all generations, experimented pastry chefs with younger ones?

Last but not least, the fourth pillar would be ‘Live Long together’: how to make sure that we’re involving how key stakeholders in a sustainable way for producing the best cocoa and chocolate.

Discover all about Live Long

Let’s imagine that someone wants to buy your chocolate for the first time. What range would you recommend? Why?

So, we have plenty of different aromatic profiles. One of our most iconic chocolates would be Guanaja 70%. We sparked a revolution by creating Guanaja the world’s most bitter chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% in 1986! I think it’s the perfect expression of dark chocolate, perfectly balanced and totally delicious.

Of course, we have also delicious, milked chocolates. Jivara 40% is a fantastic blend, very chocolaty! It reminds you when you were young, eating delicious milk chocolate. We have other creations such as Dulcey 35% that we also call blond chocolate, invented by Frederic Bau: a very biscuity chocolate!

Then, we have of course plenty of other creations. One of the last ones was Inspiration, which is a fruit couverture. It has the same texture of chocolate but with fruits, such as raspberry, strawberry, passionfruit or yuzu!

Discover Valrhona’s ranges

A few days ago, I went to the supermarket and surprised myself thinking about how huge the chocolate industry is, how many brands and chocolate bars we can find there. So, would you have any advice to help us choose the right chocolate? How to recognize a quality one? What should we be looking at?

I think it will always start with taste. If something is tasty for you, keep it for you [laughs]. Usually, when you want to select a good cocoa, the important thing to know is how it is made. How was it selected? Where does it come from? Is it a single origin or a blend? Try to find out first where it grew up, who made it…

Secondly, the percentage will be an interesting indication, but it will not make a good chocolate. It would also depends on the quality of the cocoa behind […].

Finally, your preferences between dark, milk or blond chocolate will help you make your selection!

What’s your favourite one?

For me, I think it would be Guanaja 70% but I also love Manjari 64% coming from Madagascar, a single origin from Millot plantation that Valrhona conjointly owns! But I have plenty other preferences [laughs]. Komuntu is also one of my favourite ones now!

That’s already the end of the interview, thank you so much! Do you have anything to add?

Thank you and please enjoy the best of chocolate!

French Shopping, Dining & Lifestyle guide in Singapore