Chocolate is his staple diet. French chef Jean-Marc Bernelin tells SHONALI MUTHALALY why
He's a technical advisor to a 150-year-old company with more than 30 production facilities in 24 countries but he'd rather eat chocolate than check his e-mail. "I go to work at 8.30 in the morning, and switch on my computer. Then I answer, or don't answer my mail. By nine, it's time for chocolate," grins Jean-Marc Bernelin, stirring a deliciously dark concoction of rich cocoa and creamy ganache as he talks. At the Taj Coromandel to train chefs and popularise chocolate, French Chef Jean-Marc has been emphasising how, with chocolate making, everything - from the ingredients to temperature - needs to be perfect. He should know. In his colourful cocoa-drenched background spanning nine years, Chef Jean-Marc has worked as an apprentice in pastry shops in Paris, a pastry chef in the United Arab Emirates and pastry cook at the Prime Minister's office during his national service years. He has also been selected as the best apprentice of France, after working with Ferrandi, and the grand prizewinner of Arpagon in the junior category. He was nominated as the Inniskillin Pastry Chef of the Year at the World Gourmet Summit 2002. "I have to admit, I'm constantly excited about my work," he says, "I'm very lucky to do a job I love." Not surprisingly, Jean-Marc is a self-confessed chocoholic."When I started working with chocolate full time, I was a bit scared," he says, "I thought, maybe, I won't enjoy it as much. But nothing changed." The past should have given him a clue. When he began as a chef at a patisserie about 12 years ago, he was constantly tempted by the enticing chocolate goodies surrounding him all day. "But I was too shy to ask, `Can I eat?' Then the owner told me, `Have as much as you want. In a week you'll be fed up'." One week later, the owner was a worried man. "He came to me and said `Please stop eating the chocolates!'" Jean-Marc laughs, adding, "Even if I'm eating chocolate everyday, I'm still never bored." No wonder he's so much in love with his present job at Barry Callebaut base in Singapore, which sounds a little like life at Willy Wonka's factory. For, once Jean-Marc's done with those pesky e-mails, he charges upstairs to their aromatic storeroom, "where I walk through and choose from 150 varieties of chocolate." And does he try a different one every time? "Oh no," he says quite seriously, "I have a preference of 10 to 15 types. My favourites are the milky chocolates that come out of the Belgian and Swiss factories." After lunch, he heads up again, this time for some strong dark chocolate. "It's a nice tasty finish to my meal."Jean-Marc is, of course, a vocal supporter of the addictive dessert. "I eat between 100 and 200 grams everyday, depending on my mood," he says, waving his arms about and adding, "Look at me, I'm fine." Like author Mirielle Guiliano who wrote the best-selling "French Women Don't Get Fat", Jean-Marc believes chocolate can't possibly be fattening if you eat it sensibly. The trick is moderation. As every French woman worth her Hermes silk scarf knows it's better to eat and enjoy a couple of cubes of good dark chocolate than wolf half a kilo of cheaper chocolate and then chase it down with a sugary chocolate drink. "With dark chocolate, just after 20 grams you feel satisfied. You have a tendency of eating less," says Jean-Marc. He adds, "Dark chocolate is also rich in antioxidants." Mid-speech, he's asked about chocolate as an aphrodisiac. "Um... er," he stammers going red, completely thrown off balance, "I guess you have to ask my wife."He recovers quickly though, attempting to sum up what it is about chocolate that hooks people from all over the world. "Because when you eat chocolate, you treat yourself. It's a pleasure," he says, adding with a laugh, "after that you feel good and maybe a little guilty."Choco facts"We French are used to eating a lot of chocolate. It's in our culture, and everyday diet. The Swiss eat about 10 kilos of chocolate per person per annum, on an average, while in America, the consumption is about 4.6 kilos. And if you follow figures in the U.S., there are a lot of overweight people, while Switzerland, in spite of a much higher consumption, has fewer overweight people," says Jean-Marc.