Geert Vercruysse is strange for a chocolatier. He really knows his chocolate.
This is not to say that your local chocolatier doesn't care about their product, they do, and they may even use the only the finest ingredients that they claim. But most chocolatiers buy all of their couverture from a single supplier, and there are not that many suppliers out there. Their concern is about the creativity and quality of their fillings, but not so much about the chocolate that surrounds them.
Upon arriving at the Patisserie Vercruysse workshop in Kortrijk Belgium, Geert took me to his cellar to show me his collection of couvertures. A few years ago, a little bored by his couverture supplier, Geert began experimenting with different chocolate. Nowadays he uses dozens of different brands in his creations, and if he finds a chocolate he likes that doesn't come in bulk couverture, he uses their bars! That's like your local baker making their loaves from 1kg bags of flour from the gourmet food store.
In the display cabinet in his shop, each of his chocolates is described not only by its flavouring but also by the chocolate used. It takes a very refined palate, a major curiosity and a lot of patience to bother pairing a particular chocolate with a flavour of filling, which is what sets Geert apart from most chocolatiers.
On my second day in Geert's workshop, perhaps after proving my dedication to this sacred substance, Geert busted out his private collection! It was like a gourmet chocolate Piñata — I have never tasted so many different brands of chocolate in a single sitting! A truly amazing experience was tasting chocolate made from beans from a single plantation in Vietnam, but processed into chocolate by two different brands.
One was lively, fruity and acidic whilst the other was reminiscent of an ashtray. Over-roasted perhaps? All up I've spent a month working in chocolate making workshops where the producer starts with a bean, but never have I experienced so clearly how the decisions of the chocolate maker affect the experience of eating the final product.
Geert is a generous being and shares his chocolate discoveries regularly, conducting chocolate tastings in his home for clients and passing chocolate fans, writing not one, but two chocolate blogs, and posting regular Facebook updates about new chocolate brands, chocolate packaging, cacao cultivation and general chocolate knowledge. Plus he has an enormous collection of chocolate books, many of which I didn't even know had been printed (which is a little worrying considering I wrote my Master's thesis on the subject).
After so much time in the workshops of chocolate makers it was wonderful to see that material put to work in the laboratory of a chocolatier, especially one with such respect for the work of chocolate makers. Geert's curiosity and willingness to experiment make the chocolate world a better place.