Written by Catherine Nelson-Pollard Illustration by Matthew Weems
Perched on a hill in a pretty Swiss village, overlooking the Alps, vineyards, and Lake Geneva, lies Tristan, said to be one of the finest chocolate shops in the world.
Such is the reputation of Tristan Carbonatto that clients come from far afield just to visit the artisan in this bucolic setting and purchase from his selection of over 100 different handmade chocolates – classic truffles, orange flavoured slim batons of chocolate, or exquisite delicacies laced with bergamot, myrtle, green tea, or ginger.
They all leave carrying an artfully wrapped package in an elegant white bag bearing
the name Tristan whilst savouring a courtesy chocolate. Other customers (some of them famous) send their drivers to the shop in the village of Bougy-Villars to collect specially commissioned creations such as a ‘mountain’ made out of chocolates, replete with miniature chocolate skis.
The shop itself is tiny (more than a handful
of customers at one time quickly fill it up)
and it doesn’t sell its chocolate anywhere else. It is also open only four days a week. And whilst this is all part of its exclusivity, the key to it all
is Tristan himself, and his passion for fresh ingredients and for creating works of art
in all things chocolate.
“I need to create, I love to experiment,” he enthuses. “I am constantly looking out for new ideas, unusual spices or fruit that I try out to create a new chocolate. I source the best ingredients: pistachio nuts from Sicily, specialist liqueurs, good single malts. If I can, l travel to meet the producers themselves, it’s good to create a relationship between us all; it’s part of the final product. The chocolate itself comes from many places, from Cuba to Venezuela; it changes according to the quality each year. Quality is everything.”
Tristan learned his trade working with other major chocolatiers in Switzerland, but he always yearned for his own place. “Like many things in life, acquiring this shop was a matter of luck. I was crossing the road in the village one night and the landlord of a local art gallery told me that the resident artist was leaving. I replied [that] it was a shame and went home. That night
I suddenly thought, ‘why don’t I open my own chocolaterie here in the village?’ I grabbed the opportunity and took over the space. What followed was four months of hard work, painting, decorating, and installing equipment. I did it all myself. I opened the doors back in September 1998 and haven’t looked back since.”
When the shop is open, it’s not unknown for Tristan to work from four in the morning until ten at night, making chocolates. “It’s not just me though; it’s a family, team, and village affair here. My father specialises in making florentines, Michel makes the truffles, my sister helps out with design, and in busy times the ladies of the village come and wrap the chocolates.”
For Tristan Carbonatto his dream
of being his own chocolatier has come true. For chocoholics it’s
a visit to paradise with a drive
home amongst gorgeous scenery as a bonus.