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Benoît Nihant is inspired by Japanese cherry blossom in his latest collection of Easter eggs
Only in Belgium would you find a chocolatier confident enough to describe his produce as haute couture, but one Walloon entrepreneur is doing just that.
Benoît Nihant travels the world searching for inspiration – as well as fine cocoa beans – to create a unique taste and eye-catching design, adding a bit of je ne sais quoi to his artisan chocolates. In a saturated Belgian chocolate industry that has been thriving since the 19th century, connoisseurs like Nihant bring their own natural flair to the table.
As well as being the proprietor of two chocolate shops in Brussels and three in Wallonia, Nihant recognised the growing demand in the Far East for the sweet stuff and has opened some 30 stores in Japan. Not surprisingly, they are proving hugely popular.
During a trip to the country, Nihant popped over to the annual Hanami celebrations, a cherry blossom festival that honours the transient beauty of the pink spring flowers. Captivated by the colour and the splendour of the tradition, Nihant – a former commercial engineer – decided to bring a little touch of the blossom back to Belgium. Now his latest inspiration is the showcase for the brand’s 2023 Easter egg collection.
The hand-made eggs are adorned with delicate displays of cherry blossom on their smooth shells. They fill the windows of Nihant’s Stockel and Ixelles shops in Brussels as well as his stores in Liege, Awans and Embourg in Wallonia. Customers are promised a surprise when they finally bite into the chocolate, so no spoilers here…
Nihant is described by friends as extremely modest and insatiably curious, but he is confident enough to label his collections of dark chocolate as ‘haute couture’. The uniquely flavoured chocolates are all produced in his spacious workshop near Liege.
Other sweet designs in his repertoire include chocolate icebergs, nomad chocolate bars and an intriguing collection entitled ‘Journey to the Unknown Land.’ Nihant is also the author of a hybrid travelogue/chocolate recipe book ‘De La Feve Au Chocolat’. It contains tales of his trips to cocoa plantations with added dollops of humour and secrets along the way.
With his wife Anne (who’s also an engineer), Nihant sources the cocoa beans from South and Central America as well as the Caribbean and Africa. They passionately believe in paying the farmers directly for their produce in addition to employing local people. Farmers in developing countries are often dealt a raw deal if their beans are sold on the stock market but by selling them privately, they can get a fairer price.
Nihant and his team teach new recruits to harvest the beans and they too earn a fair price for their work, thus ensuring they live comfortable lives. He is one of a select group of chocolatiers who master the ‘bean to the bar’ approach, manufacturing their own unique chocolates after personally purchasing the cocoa beans.
“We are also transparent in making our chocolates, literally as we are in full view of everyone to see in to our workshop,” says Nihant. “By working like this, we have nothing to hide and it mirrors our products. We make real, honest chocolates.”
Opting for older, more traditional bean grinding machines isn’t just an act of frugality on Nihant’s part. The aroma of the beans is said to be more potent when ground in mature machines, resulting in a richer flavour of the chocolate.
The couple are constantly working on improving flavours, and for customers on a tighter budget this Easter, there is an option for smaller yet flavoursome eggs jam packed with raspberry, passion fruit, almond and marzipan.
Chocolate expert, Yasmine Ali, who shares her knowledge with customers in the Stockel store (pictured above), reminds tasters that it is essential chocolate is consumed in the manner of a fine wine. First, the nose has to take in the aroma before it is gently placed on the tongue. Here, the flavour has to be captured before the chocolate gradually melts and is fully savoured.
The secret to success in the chocolate world is simple, according to Nihant. Treat the product with the utmost respect, have an incessant passion for making it and an infinite drive to produce a quality product. Those are his personal essential ingredients that are likely to delight many this Easter.
Hanami egg: €64
Three little Hanami eggs: €36.90
Mini egg selection: €19.90
‘La Cocotte’ and her little eggs: €19.90
Mix mini ganache eggs: €11