Step into one of Patrick Roger's 11 chocolate shops and you're instantly transported to a realm where chocolate meets fine art. And we mean fine art in the sense of paintings, sketches and sculpture. A chocolate maker unique in the world of fine art, or a sculptor unique in the world of chocolate making – whichever way you slice it, he's an artist-artisan who has carved out a unique niche for himself in both worlds.
Portrait of Patrick Roger — Photo courtesy of Patrick Roger
Sitting in his upstairs sculpture gallery, in a sea of aluminum cast, life-sized hippopotamus sculptures, overlooking the Place St. Sulpice, I asked the 40-something chocolatier, "Which came first, the love for sculpture or the love for making chocolate?"
His answer, as one can imagine given that few have a straight A-to-B path in life, was somewhat complex. But his resolute point was that he's loved both since the young age of five.
Born and raised in a small town in the French countryside, this dynamic character first apprenticed as a pastry chef and then quickly specialized in chocolate. Most people would have been content running a chocolate shop catering to the locals, but Roger's love of speed – he rides a Ducati – and his artistic need for self-expression propelled him further, to Paris.
Within a relatively few short years, he opened 11 boutiques throughout France. And his shop on Place de la Madeleine was named the best shop in Paris for 2014, out of a selection of over 6000 boutiques in the running.
His shops have become as much a place to purchase his fine chocolates as they are a a gallery window in which he displays his latest sculptural creation. Currently, all 11 shops are displaying his chocolate sculpture of Auguste Rodin's The Thinker.
Patrick Roger at the Musée Rodin — Photo courtesy of Musée Rodin
This leads us to his latest crowning achievement: Patrick Roger's monumental sculpture has been chosen to be featured in the main hall at Musée Rodin. The museum, the site Auguste Rodin himself chose and for which he campaigned doggedly to have his works presented, has just reopened this month.
After three years of extensive renovations at the Hôtel Brion, the 18th century building which houses the museum is ready to welcome you. At the center of it all is sculptor and chocolate master, Patrick Roger, and his nearly 12-foot sculpture (whose face and head is that of Balzac) on display at the museum until the February 21, 2016.
Says curator of the Musée Rodin, Catherine Chevillot, “In this age of cloud computing images, of virtual space and 'augmented reality,' we have forgotten to confront the materiality of objects and forms. Sculpture, by its very nature, never allows itself to be reduced to an image: it takes time to appreciate it in all its facets and in changing lights.”
After all, Rodin put it so eloquently, “Art, moreover, is taste. It is the reflection of the artist's heart upon all the objects he creates. It is the smile of the human soul.”
Hippos 2012 by Patrick Roger featured at his Place St. Sulpice boutique — Photo courtesy of Paige Donner
Where does chocolate figure into all of this? It's at the heart of the whole story. Roger first carves, or reveals, his sculptures using the raw material of chocolate.
Often these are the pieces he displays in his shop windows, such as the one on Place St. Sulpice or Place de la Madeleine, or his newly renovated shop on Blvd. St. Germain in the Latin Quarter. The pieces are then cast in more durable material: aluminum (Oreilles 2013), silver (Homard 2015) or bronze (Lionne 2014). These he displays in his galleries and also at his workshop in Sceaux, just outside Paris.
But this is not an artist who has cast aside his day job in order to indulge his artistic pursuits. Chocolate remains on the top shelf of all that he does. The design of his shops is what first strikes you when you enter. The chocolates are on display, like works of art.
The cacao blend varies with each creation but you can be sure it's of the highest quality. Some of the selection includes: Vanuatu, a vanilla ganache; Douceur, pistachio marzipan; Hypoxie, beer ganache; Trinidad & Tobago, Gianduja rum and raisin; Opium, walnut and saffron marzipan; Corsica, orange rind; Instinct, almond praline and hazelnuts; and many more.
Some of his newer flavors, launched this season, are exotics such as marzipan with celery, marzipan with black rice and marzipan with potato, each piece covered in chocolate. His use of almond, as noted in the marzipan, has become more expansive of recent since he invested in almond orchards in the south of France.
This chocolatier and sculptor is well-known in France, yes. But he also draws fans from far and wide. At least a quarter of his loyal customers are from Japan, and the royal family of Qatar regularly purchases hundreds of boxes of his chocolates, shipped by overnight delivery.
When you wander into either his St. Sulpice or Madeleine shop, be sure to take those stairs that lead upwards, because that's where you'll find a few of his sculptures on display. And as for his chocolates, well, you would have to have an iron will not to indulge in those.