Who are you and how did you arrive at the idea of Nao chocolate?
I am Christophe Gossiaux and I am an active entrepreneur in the social economy and a stakeholder in the organic sector of Brussels.
I created Nao chocolate in 2015 after I realised that there was no Belgian organic chocolate on the market, something that should not be possible in the country of chocolate. I used my previous experience in catering to work out a very simple project: to offer a Belgian organically certified quality chocolate that is accessible to all budgets and is offered in bulk.
Are you now realising a dream by creating your own supply chain?
I ended up in the world of chocolate quite recently. It is perhaps this fresh take on things that made me ask very many questions that created dissatisfaction and disrupted habits because nobody was yet asking these questions. Habits that were no longer being questioned. Everybody said to me: “It’s impossible to work without the large suppliers. There is a type of monopoly and that is how it is.”
With our system, we go a lot further than even the most enviable labels that everybody takes seriously, for a lack of a better description: organic, ethical, Fairtrade, etc.
Organic was, for us, not the goal in itself. It was an obvious condition.
In relation to a “fairtrade” label. That is very good and even essential. It allows us to implement a mark and give both the customer and the chocolate maker a simplified interpretation of the product and the market. This ensures that everybody can easily determine that the involved product is part of a serious supply chain that protects and correctly pays the producers.
We wanted to go a step further. How can we do it better and guarantee the best income and the greatest stability? This is the reasoning that motivated us to drop our preconceived ideas and set up our own supply chain with a high purchase price for the beans that goes further than the standards of fair trade, but also with a fixed price all year round that protects producers and their families against the dynamics of speculation on the cocoa market.
Now, at Nao, we have completed this phase even though the road ahead is still long. I am a happy and proud man. Before, you could only be sure on a very small scale about your product: you imported the beans in lots of a few bags and worked with small quantities. The quality was there, but the price was that of a luxury product: the haute couture of chocolate. I wanted to democratise excellence. Create a confection line: the requirements of a famous couturier, his style, his taste, but accessible to everyone.
What does chocolate mean to you?
Chocolate is not any old thing. It is holy. It is a sweet nectar from the gods. Never forget that. When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they quickly heard about xocoatl. It is a holy drink that is often used during religious ceremonies or celebrations such as weddings or children purification rituals. If you drink from this nectar, you will be in a different emotional state or mood, you become much more aware of your surroundings. The drink is very spicy and refined with bitter tastes, no sugar but more towards the sour side with a selection of very subtle tastes. The Mayan and Aztec people already combined the cocoa drink with vanilla (to make it sweeter) or chili (to make it spicy). Centuries afterwards, this is the true craft that every good chocolatier wants to find. Combined with the regressive enjoyment of sugar of course: the trick is to know the dose. There is, however, something reassuring and pure in the idea that it all comes from a very old cultural tradition that is symbolically very strong and full of meaning. A tradition that has won over the entire world.
Tell us about the steps that separate the cacao tree from the coffee table in our living rooms…
The fruit grows on the tree, an elongated pod that contains the beans. After having been plucked, the pods are left to ferment in the sun. The aroma already tells you something at this stage. This phase is too often skipped by large companies. This initial fermentation at the harvesting location is, however, essential to having the tastes mature.
Next, the beans are dried and roasted. Roasting also makes a multiplication of the pallet of tastes possible. The depth of a chocolate is determined by the care taken during each stage. The roasted beans are crushed and ground. It is then that the natural oil of the chocolate, the cocoa butter (also known as theobroma oil), is collected and later reused when the chocolate itself is made. Depending on the recipe, specific ingredients are added to the obtained mass. Sugar, powdered milk, various spices, nuts, etc. The variations are nearly endless. Then conching follows. This is a very visual phase in which the future chocolate is heated and stirred to have the tastes come together and to make the product homogeneous and creamy. The last step is tempering and forming: the temperature is carefully reduced to have the chocolate crystallise, which gives it its crunchiness, glossiness and perfect tastiness.
What are your favourite stages?
I love to talk recipes with our master chocolatier. However, what has given me the most satisfaction recently is this partnership with MO Chocolate, an independent supply chain that leaves from an African island (São Tome) and continues all the way to the shelves that Nao offers in organic stores. However, I’m not planning on resting on my laurels: unfortunately, I’m a perfectionist. I’ve already set my sights on what can be done even better.
Which objectives are those?
Sugar and fondant. Again, we return to the recipes, the know-how. There is a way to use less sugar without having to concede on taste. We are working on this. The fondant is the result of various stages including whether to grind more finely or not. The fineness of the obtained powder will ultimately show its importance in the very last stage: in the mouth of the consumer!
This fondant is very pleasant naturally. It reminds us of our childhood. But it also contains a multitude of tastes, a pallet that spreads throughout your entire mouth with aftertastes that resonate for a long time. The fondant is the wave on which you will surf. There is no point in finding the perfect board if you don’t have a wave. Now I’m talking about surfing. Stop me because I can endlessly talk about chocolate.