Walking into the Chocolate Academy in east-end Montreal is like stepping into Willy Wonka's factory. The air smells of icing sugar, the walls are lined with bags of cocoa beans from every corner of the Earth, and fanciful candy sculptures tower on the tabletops, daring your inner Augustus Gloop to break off a handful of chocolate and indulge on the sly.
In the Academy's atelier, industrial-sized mixers churn night and day to keep vats of molten chocolate the perfect temperature and consistency, and the cupboards are stocked with a vast array of tools for moulding, shaping, filling and even painting chocolate. Amateur chocolatiers and master chefs alike gather here to learn from some of the greatest chocolate scientists in the world.
For chocolate is a science. Fail to accurately measure each ingredient and time each step, and the whole product suffers. It's a lot of pain for one brief moment of sublime snacking pleasure, but done right, chocolate is a feast for all five senses.
The Academy — the only facility of its kind in the country — is the sweet centre of a burgeoning chocolate and pastry scene that should see Montreal ranked among the great dessert capitals of the world alongside Paris, Brussels and Zurich. Each February, the city plays host to a chocolate trade show that attracts upwards of 12,000 visitors over the course of three days, and luminaries of French pastry like Christophe Morel and Roland Del Monte have chosen to practice their art in Montreal.
Whether you like your chocolate pure and bitter as midnight coffee, poured warm and glistening over waffles, or mashed in between the two delicate halves of a macaron, Montreal has a chocolatier or pâtisserie to cater to your every craving. Here are six of the best places to indulge:
Atwater Market, 138 Ave. Atwater
Chocolate purists will find much to love about Chocolats Privilège, Montreal's only bean-to-bar chocolatier. Whereas most chocolatiers melt down pre-made chocolate from another manufacturer, bean-to-bar means every step of the chocolate-making process is performed in-house, from roasting and shelling the cocoa beans to blending, heating and moulding the finished product. Curious chocolate fans can find production in progress two to three days a week at Privilège's Atwater Market location.
5328 Ave. du Parc
The story behind the success of this Park Avenue fixture is as sweet as their handmade chocolates. Sisters Madeleine Daigneault and Juliette Farand started their chocolate-making business in 1940 as a way to provide for their families during the Second World War. Sugar was hard to come by, but clients would donate their own rations to ensure the store could continue providing sweets for their celebrations. Today, Chocolats Andrée is run by Daigneault's granddaughter, Stéphanie Saint-Denis, and their chocolates are still created, dipped and signed by hand.
Juliette et Chocolat
3600 Boul. Saint-Laurent
Chocolate isn't just a dessert at Juliette et Chocolat — it's a fundamental ingredient in almost everything on their menu, from their hot and cold chocolate drinks to their chocolate-infused balsamic vinaigrette. And, if you haven't had your fill of chocolate by the end of your meal, each of the seven Juliette et Chocolat locations around Montreal has a boutique and bakery counter where you can pick up brownies and boxed chocolates to go.
Suite 88 Chocolatier
1225 Boul. de Maisonneuve Ouest
Suite 88 is a sweet escape from the bustle of Montreal's Golden Square Mile. Famous for their hot chocolate (try the cayenne pepper hot chocolate - if you dare) and crisp, golden Belgian waffles, the store also offers a wide range of bite-sized candies. Try their alcoholic chocolate shooters, which come in party-pleasing flavours like Appletini, Tia Maria and Hypnotique.
1700 Rue Ontario Est
Arhoma is primarily known as a bakery whose bread is served and sold in restaurants, hotels and delis across the city, but recently, they've branched out into chocolate. Their signature "72.7%" chocolate bars are made of a proprietary blend of — you guessed it — 72.7 per cent pure cocoa that will satisfy your dark side.
Maison Christian Faure
355 Place Royale, Vieux Port
Maison Christian Faure, with its picture-perfect storefront in the heart of Old Montreal, is as close to Paris as you can get without leaving Canada. Christian Faure himself is a master pastry chef who got his start in a Parisian pâtisserie and has created desserts for some of the finest hotels in France, as well as athletes at the Salt Lake City and Vancouver Olympic Games. The Maison doubles as a pastry school, but most patrons are drawn by Faure's sumptuous macarons, mille-feuilles and eclairs. Montreal's dessert domination could soon face a challenge: Faure is set to open a Toronto location in the near future.