There are many businesses that flourish as family affairs, passed on from generation to generation, from father to son. However, in the chocolate industry, longevity isn’t always the rule. Many famous chocolatiers are first generation artisans or inherited companies that are much younger than Bonnat chocolates. In fact, at over 125 years in the field, Bonnat chocolate is the oldest chocolatier still in the industry. Today the company’s kitchens are led by Stephane Bonnat, a man who is currently the fourth generation of his family to play with this confection.
It isn’t at all surprising that Stephane Bonnat is such a master of chocolate. In fact, it wouldn’t be at all incorrect to say that he has been swimming in chocolate since he was an infant. His father took over the business before Stephane was born, and the family was already steeped in decades of chocolate experience. In interviews, Stephane fondly remembers chocolate as an integral part of his childhood. Today, he markets his own confections on that nostalgia, turning back to his childhood days when chocolate was a treat that helped him forget his troubles and celebrate his triumphs. Stephane is also quick to point out that he was like many children, and chocolate was one of the first flavors that made a distinct and lasting impression in his young life. In actuality, it would have been unexpected for the boy to not become involved in the family chocolate business.
While many modern chocolatiers have long and distinctive biographies, it is difficult to dig up any information about what Stephane’s life was like between his childhood and when he became involved in Bonnat chocolates. It is unclear if Stephane attended even college, let alone culinary school like many of his contemporary colleagues. The man, however, obviously knows his stuff. Stephane’s father, Raymond, was a student of business and also honed his art at Basel’s School of Chocolatiers. It’s certainly possible that Stephane followed that tradition, but no public information is provided about this period of his life. It is logical, however, that apprenticing in the family business was a big part of Stephane’s professional development.
While Stephane’s parents, Raymond and Nicole, had four children total, only three of their children work in the family business. Stephane oversees the production and artistic side of the business, the responsibility held by his late father. His sisters Cecile and Flavie work with their mother, providing the public face in their chocolate shop in Voiron, France. As the master chocolatier, Stephane holds a key position and is the mind that shapes most of the company’s decisions and products.
Like many chocolatiers today, Stephane Bonnat focuses on quality and sourcing to create the finest chocolate on the market. He admires small artisans who truly care about the history of chocolate and the production process. While Bonnat chocolate is an old company, they still pay personal attention to every part of their chocolate making. Because of this, the brand has a loyal following among French aficionados. The Bonnat brand is also a worldwide name, due largely to its early exportation to French colonies around the globe. Today, any Bonnat customer can visit the factory in Voiron and experience chocolate making at its finest in the charming locale.
Modern artisan chocolate making relies heavily on quality beans and extensive sourcing. In this area, Bonnat is definitely cutting edge. Stephane Bonnat runs a bean-to-bar operation, meaning that the company buys only the best raw cacao beans and starts the chocolate making process from the roasting stage. This provides Stephane with closer controls on the end product, as well as allowing him to maintain traditions and plantation connections that his family has nurtured for years. While bean-to-bar productions have become the signature of artisan chocolatiers, the truth is that few chocolate manufacturers have the expertise to micromanage the production process this closely; in France, Stephane Bonnat is among only five chocolatiers who attempt this feat. It is safe to say, however, that he might be one of the best in that competitive field; his family has always made chocolate this way.
Bonnat chocolates produces several notable chocolate bars for public sale. They are most known for their 75% dark chocolate bars. They also produce a line of milk chocolate bars. Stephane Bonnat never mixes bean sources, preferring instead to let each single-source bean stand out. Bonnat sources beans from growers in Mexico, Venezuela and other South American countries. The world-renowned company has also taken a hands-on approach to promoting, sourcing and marketing organic cacao beans and making them a viable part of their business plan. Today, Stephane is proud to note that his encouragement helps these growers make sustainable livings. His influence has also catapulted many of his colleagues to world fame, with several Bonnat growers in Brazil earning awards from the Salon du Chocolat in 2009.
Choqoa Video: Interview with Stéphane Bonnat