Jumping In With Both Feet
I had the pleasure of learning about Bob and Fred's stock-in-trade while hanging out in The Belgian Chocolatier Piron kitchen at the rear of their shop. The longer I stayed, the more chocolate came my way, so needless to say, I stretched the interview out as long as I possibly could.
Experiencing this kind of chocolate 'immersion' is every chocolate lover's dream. Ever since I was a kid and first saw the movie 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory', I've fantasized about jumping into Willy Wonka's chocolate river - right behind Augustus Gloop. I'm covered in chocolate, sucking up the river to my heart's content, all the while being fanned by my own personal oompa loompa. Well standing in the Piron kitchen, surrounded by big chocolate melting pots and chocolates being popped out of molds right and left, was the next best thing. I was a kid in a candy store.
If It's Belgian It Must Be Chocolate
Of course I am far from being a kid, and I quickly learned that The Belgian Chocolatier Piron is NOT a candy store. Say the words 'candy store' in the Piron's presence and you get the major eyebrow raise (say the words 'Willy Wonka' and you get the full-out eyeball roll). "For us, chocolate and candy are two different things," Bob explained. "We do chocolate." Fred added, "Candy is hard and bounces if you drop it. We think of candy as a different category all together."
The Piron brothers clearly have a deep respect for the chocolate. As Bob noted, "The minute you get too cocky about chocolate it can come back to bite you."
The success of the Pirons' chocolate molds depends on the proper temperature of the chocolate and the temperature of their kitchen as well. If the chocolate is not warm enough or 'tempered' just right during the production process, the cocoa butter and cocoa powder can separate. This creates those white-ish gray splotches known as chocolate 'bloom' which makes for...well...ugly chocolate. The chocolate can also crack if temperatures are off the mark. The day the massive, two-foot chocolate bunny cracked during the Easter rush was a memorable one at The Belgian Chocolatier Piron. Fortunately, with years of experience under their belts, the mishaps are few and far between.
Spreading the Love
Handmade chocolates from The Belgian Chocolatier Piron have made their way to the South Pole, into the hands of the Crowned Princess of Japan, onto the desk of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and even back to Belgium. Chocolates filled with ganache, grand marnier, passion fruit, strawberry and creme caramel as well as chocolate bark are a hit on Main Street in Evanston, Illinois as well as far beyond the bricks and mortar of the Piron brothers' quaint, European-style shop.
The burning question I had for the brothers before I pulled myself away from the chocolate ganache and creme caramel was whether they partake of their own creations. Can you still love chocolate when it's your business? The answer was a resounding 'yes.' "We never get tired of snacking on our own product," Fred said. "I particularly love the dark chocolate with fruit."
Bob and Fred Piron are passionate about their work. They relish finding the right blend of art and production...the right balance between beauty and extraordinary taste. "That's what keeps us challenged and excited about the process," Bob explained. "... and the best part of it is that we have the nicest customers." Fred agreed, "People are in a good mood when they're buying our chocolate. They're either buying someone a gift or doing something nice for themselves."
After nearly 25 years in business, the Pirons have seen a whole generation of chocolate lovers grow up. They've received tremendous satisfaction seeing all of the smiling faces on the other side of their counter over the years. "That's what makes it all worthwhile for us," Bob observes. "We're selling happiness by the pound."