Step 1: The Selection and Harvest of the Cocoa Pods
Although Jean-Paul had received several invitations from Brussels to Zurich, he decided to apprentice with one of the chocolatiers in Paris. Parisians had a particular passion for all things chocolate, even prescribing it from their pharmacies in the 18th century. Whether chocolate had any medicinal properties or not, Jean-Paul was wholly vested in learning its secrets.
He arose early and stayed late in the training kitchen, filling hundreds of fine chocolate spheres with concoctions of salted caramel, tangerine, passion fruit, pear, or hazelnut. He worked quietly and quickly, earning him the praise he deeply desired. When the chocolatier singled out his work as an exemplar, Jean-Paul beamed.
His superior work at the Lenôtre Quai Henri IV School of Culinary Arts had all but cemented his prestigious apprenticeship. His previous instructors had written him glowing letters of recommendation. Jean-Paul has the soul of a pâtissier. Jean-Paul’s creativity almost matches his dedication. Jean-Paul has a brilliant future ahead of him as a master chocolatier.
Of course, working in kitchens had been in his blood. His immigrant father had washed most of the dishes in Paris. At school, Jean-Paul had bragged about his father being a steward until he knew that was a fancy word for dishwasher. Then he quit talking about his father altogether, resentful of their squalid flat in Grigny and the little money there was for clothes or the latest iPhone. His father didn’t feel the need to apologize for their living conditions, as poor African immigrants had few places to settle near Paris.
Invariably, his father would return late at night with chapped hands and sore feet, bringing home a small bag of M&M’s for his son, purchased from a vending machine on the Métro station platform.
Jean-Paul would awake in the middle of the night and silently eat them, one by one.
Step 2: The Fermenting and Drying of the Cocoa Beans
His mother had left them both.
Fourteen-year-old young men need their mothers as much as four-year-old boys, and his mother had decided to abscond with a light-skinned North African, breaking his father’s heart.
Jean-Paul’s father almost quit speaking, sleeping more during the day, waking to cough blood into his hands when the winters were especially cruel. But regardless of his health or the weather, his father went to work every night of the week.
“Why are you gone so much?” Jean-Paul once asked him, watching the stooped figure lace up his thick-soled black kitchen boots.
“I like to work,” his father protested.
But Jean-Paul was lonely at home, easily completing his schoolwork and dutifully finishing his household chores.
One night he set out for the street corner and met up with some older boys, happily joining in with their drinking and smoking.
At two in the morning, Jean-Paul watched his father trudge home from the Métro, carrying an old umbrella. His father peered at him from across the street, doing a double take before realizing it was his son. When he did, he slowly shook his head. He hadn’t broken his stride in the brief exchange, but Jean-Paul saw his shoulders slump.
Jean-Paul silently put down the half-drunk bottle of beer and scurried home. As he unlocked the front door, he saw his father’s work shoes drying by the radiator. They were worn and wet from the dish room's sprayers. A piece of arugula was lodged in the laces. Jean-Paul reached down to retrieve it.
On his way into their own little kitchen to throw the leaf away, he found on the counter, as usual, a little brown bag of candy-coated chocolates.
Fourteen year old Jean-Paul inexplicably started to cry as he ate the M&M’s, one by one.
Step 3: The Roasting and Refining
“How much is the culinary school?” his father asked.
“€49 200,” Jean-Paul quietly replied, while opening the bag of M&M’s his father had brought home for him.
His father looked pained at the astronomical sum.
“I have saved some money, and I can apply for scholarships. Even if I have to take out loans, it will be worth it. I will train with titled chefs! Once I get an internship, I will have my choice of establishments to work in. All throughout Europe!”
“Are you sure you want to work in a restaurant? The hours are long and the pay is low. The managers will yell at you for things you cannot control.”
“I want to work in the kitchens like you,” Jean-Paul insisted.
“I wanted you to be a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant. You are too good to work in the kitchens.”
“You work in the kitchens. Are you not good as well?”
“I do what I can so you can do better. The school, is it far away?”
“To the south of Paris. I can take the bus to Rungis.”
“That’s two hours one way!” his father lamented.
“It can’t be helped. That is where all the best culinary schools are—and the largest market for gastronomy suppliers. Just think of the connections I’ll make!”
His father paced for a bit.
“We can move closer to your school,” his father suggested, adding the burden of a longer commute for himself. “It will make it easier for you.”
“Thank you,” Jean-Paul said.
“Don’t worry, my son. We will find a way.”
With that, his father helped himself to the small bag of M&M’s. He tossed the small candies—one right after another—high into the air, catching them in his open mouth.
Jean-Paul laughed like a child.
Step 4: The Tempering and Molding
“Are you ready, père?” Jean-Paul asked.
His father struggled with his tie, finally throwing up his hands in frustration. When did a dishwasher ever need to tie a Windsor knot?
“Let me help you,” Jean-Paul said, putting down his suit coat and attending to his father, whose arthritic hands continued to give him trouble.
“I shouldn’t have come. I am going to embarrass you.”
“I will not accept my awards without my father in the room.”
“What did you win for exactly?” asked his father, allowing his son to straighten his tie and collar.
“I won the Silver Pod Award for my salted almond Madagascar chocolate, and I also won the Platinum BonBon Award for my Maracaibo chocolate with cranberry caramel.”
“That sounds a little fancy for your father,” he said wryly.
“That’s why I made you these,” Jean-Paul said, offering him a little bag.
Inside were homemade M&M’s, expertly coated in candy, filled with the best milk chocolate a Parisian master chocolatier could craft.
And his father ate them all, one by one.