Call it crazy. Call it couture. Just don’t call it boring. Emanuel Andren Gastronomy AB Chocolates have arrived in the US and they aim to be the world’s most luxurious chocolates. A decades-long favorite of the Swedish royal family, each handmade praline is $29 (a box of four is $98; box of 16 is $398). And just like a glass of fine wine or a meticulously prepared dish, these “edible works of art” are to be savored.
Naturally, I couldn’t pass up the chance to meet Emanuel Andren and taste these pricey pralines myself. So after his initial US launch at the Pebble Beach Concourse d’Elegance, I met up with the candy man here in LA to get the scoop on his sweets and indulge in a crash-course tasting of everything from elderberry and sea buckthorn to the creamy Västerbotten cheese with cloudberry marmalade and cigar. (Yes, cigar.) About 40 minutes later, I was left with just one lingering question: Why can’t all work meetings be like this?
Tell me about the inspiration for Emanuel Andren Gastronomy Chocolates.
My family started as a local bakery and pastry shop, but I knew I had to do something different. I didn’t have it in my mind to make bread and cakes and do the same thing every day. I wanted to have a challenge and come up with new things because that’s when I work best. That’s why I am involved in every aspect of this business from the design of the box to the flavors of each piece. But at the same time, I still have the history of my family. I am still making everything at the same place that they first opened in Lilla Edet, Sweden, in 1868. I even have my own street named after me: Emanuel the Baker Street!
You’re the fifth generation of dessert makers in your family, but how long have you been making these chocolates specifically?
I’d say the last couple of years I have really been working with developing the concept, putting together recipes, designing the look and packaging and finding people to work with. Then at the start of this year is when I focused on launching in the United States.
You’ve chosen an interesting time to launch, considering the global economy right now. What do you say to those who would sneer at you for charging $29 for a piece of chocolate?
Well, this is geared more for the people who buy a bottle of wine for $200 or are going to eat at French Laundry and really enjoy the finer things. But even though it is expensive, it is not so extreme that you can’t treat yourself once in a while. This is definitely more approachable than buying an Aston Martin.
Who would you say is your competition?
That’s tricky. I have tried quite a bit of chocolate and I don’t know if I would call what I make chocolate or if I would even call it praline. It’s more edible art. And in that category, there is no competition.
From my understanding, you’re basically a one-man show. You must taste all the flavors before deciding on which ones to produce.
Yes, I’m quite selfish. I do what I like, and I figure if I do what I like, then other people will like it, too. It’s really hard to produce music if you don’t like the music you do. It’s really hard to make a painting if you don’t like it. And it’s really hard to produce these great flavors and chocolates if you don’t like it.
What about the ingredients? Do you use organic and/or sustainably sourced ingredients?
It’s a mix. I believe that it doesn’t have to be organic to be really good because many products that are not organic also have great quality. But the ingredients are fairly local—some come from Spain, others from France, certainly Sweden. And then a lot of the herbs and berries come from my own garden.
Wow, this eldberberry is really good. Tastes kind of citrusy, very bright, but it has depth. I detect just a hint of pear.
Yes, that is part of the Swedish Berries collection. It actually has elderberry picked from my own garden.
Do you recommend eating your pralines with a glass of wine or cheese?
We actually have a cheese collection that is great to enjoy after a meal. [FYI, I tried the Västerbotten "strong" cheese with cloudberry. It was my favorite with a deliciously creamy texture, slightly salty notes and overall subtle sweetness.] It depends on the person and what they like. These chocolates are so rich in flavor you can enjoy them exactly as they are.
I like the more unusual ingredients you use like sea buckthorn. That’s something I usually associate with beauty products–I love Weleda’s sea buckthorn cream.
Yes, it’s fun to see people try these flavors for the first time because you can see it in their eyes and in their face and they’re just smiling.
Oh, and the cigar flavor. Are you kidding? The weirder you can go, the better.
I have a quite a few ideas going on in my head for putting together things. For this flavor, I use Zino Platinum cigars. As you breathe it in, you’ll smell a little peppery kick. If you see the liquid inside, that’s Appleton Estate dark rum. What you’ll taste in the truffle is dark chocolate, salt, some heat from the Tabasco and after a while, you’ll feel a slightly hot, burning sensation and that comes from the cigar. It’s actually great paired with wine.
OMG, yes, you’re right. It takes a while to get there, but I did feel it. That’s real tobacco in there?
No, it’s actually a real cigar. I use real cigar.
What? You mean you literally crumble up a cigar or throw it in a Cuisinart and then mix it with the other ingredients to create this?
I’m not the kind of person who just has the same kind of truffle in every single praline and then just adds drops of flavor. I use real ingredients and the best ingredients that I can find. I don’t have other people making them in a factory. I make all of them myself by hand and I don’t compromise anywhere.
Wow, you’re basically doing slow-food chocolate.
Yes, super slow! The thing is, people are used to grabbing a piece of chocolate, throwing it in their mouth and then, gulp, it’s gone. The idea is that it’s supposed to be experienced and savored.
So back to the cigar … is it an actual cigar you just chop up?
The way I produce it is a secret.
Okay, without giving away your secret, the bottom line is that it is cigar, right?
Yes, absolutely. It’s the same with all the other flavors, where I use real elderberry flowers or real Västerbotten cheese or whatever ingredient it is. Everything I do is by myself. I am the one creating it. Of course, I’m not actually making my own liquor. I’ll buy Lephroaig whiskey, for example, but they are all real ingredients.
Would you consider making them bigger? Americans want super-sized pralines.
Maybe smaller, not bigger!
What is your ultimate goal with these edible creations?
I want to create beautiful pieces of art that people can enjoy all over the world. I want to make people happy, put a smile on their face and give them a totally new experience.