Sparkling and gourmet, Gilles Cresno is a craftsman of his own. His thirst for learning led him, very young, to work in the biggest chocolate houses. The talented chocolatier then “went into exile” in the Paris suburbs, far from the flourishes, to run his nascent business with pragmatism and conviction. His goal is to offer a new customer experience with a chocolate rich in taste and just in price. Therefore, he goes to the basics by knowing perfectly the best qualities of the product, then manage the teams differently with values such as responsibility and human relationships. His clients crowd into his laboratory and his shops in Nanterre and Rueil-Malmaison and their opinions are so postive. But the Master Chocolatier remains humble, keen to build the foundations of a new house, built on an always exceptional chocolate, just and accessible.
“I didn’t like chocolate when I was little.” Was he disgusted by these sweets wrapped like year-end pralines, or the Galak chocolate slipped into his schoolbag. The little Vendéen already has a very fine palate and sensitive to refined tastes. “I moved a lot in my childhood when I went to the Île de Ré, then to Dordogne; and then in Vendée. But I always wanted to be a cook and then a pastry chef.” He is the son of a dentist father and a pharmacist mother, and he was a gourmand from childhood, always present whenever there was a snack. Her mother cooked, and she marveled at all the cooking and baking techniques. “Making pancake dough, breaking eggs, making apple pie… it was magic for me !” In this siblings of 3 boys, he was the only one to love hand gestures as much and with a very pronounced taste. This will go as far as DIY, and it is he who will ensure up to the tiles, electricity, furniture and painting of his shops later. “I like those jobs.” At home, enthusiast about modeling, he even made a ramp with wooden sticks and peeled edges. A meticulous work of several hundred hours, planned step by step. “It all shaped me before I even started.” From adolescence onwards, he will make all the cakes in his family. In particular, a pear and chocolate charlotte. “My father told me that we should buy the cookies by the spoon. But I had a recipe and I made them myself with the chocolate Charlotte. The mix wasn’t perfect. There were small pieces of chocolate that remained mixed with a little bit of egg. But it was so crunchy, in addition to the moss, and everyone had enjoyed it.”
Gilles Cresno began his apprenticeship at 16, with the certainty that he would soon be a pastry chef. He was placed at Gelencser “which is an excellent house, and besides, it was a chocolatier who had done his classes in Switzerland.” An avant-garde craftsman for the time because he had a know-how that was neither traditional nor local. That’s where he’ll discover chocolate. “Doing extraordinary things was my first motivation and this discipline should be well suited to him.” He would therefore continue with a BTM (technical patent of the trades) of chocolatier-confectioner in the North in Cysoing, for 2 years. Then a specialization in chocolate, and will get his CAP Chocolatier, without going into the distinctions yet presented for him, because he also wanted to build a family. Now he can be a manufacturing manager, run a business and train apprentices. “It has given me some foundation but there are a lot of things I do as a self-learner.” After his studies, he will practice a small season in the mountains as a pastry chef, and for some time at the Maison du Chocolat where he will learn the management and constraints of the trade to maintain an impeccable quality. “I learned a lot because they have a know-how, a more industrious vision but still in the right sense of the word. How can you not sacrifice the product to pass through a machine (because of the large volumes) but ask yourself the good questions, and the concerns about hygiene and quality that a large luxury group poses.” He also went to work at Ladurée and Rémy Henri in Colombes, where he had the idea of undertaking. “It was an old-fashioned fabrication with few means, the small series. It showed me that with little investment, you can start even if it’s very manual.”
So Gilles Cresno took his independence in 2003, to finally do things his way. The designer didn’t have a name on mind for his company, and will sign his chocolates by his name only. He moved with his wife to a cottage studio on the ground floor in Nanterre. It is here that he will start his business with quality homemade chocolates, “made in the morning and sold in the afternoon”, seeking above all to satisfy his customers, without pressure of margin, profitability, or debts to recover. “I did things the way I wanted to, I created the way I wanted to, and so somewhere I had this ease and freedom. I was in an unlikely place, in a dead end, but in a good geographical position in the Hauts-de-Seine. And the rest was done by word of mouth.” He would go to business centers and big companies giving samples to make himself known. And then gradually, his reputation was made, with the freshness of a good chocolate. This activity was very seasonal, with Easter and Christmas very much in demand. “I would close for five months a year, then I would reopen in September. I started with a small refrigerated tower, a counter, a small vat, air conditioning and so on.” At the time, the Master Chocolatier did not like coffee, cheese or alcohol. But it has since evolved. “So I made the delicacies I liked, the ones I found very good. I wanted everything to be good and to offer the best of what I love.” Today, there are 40 varieties of chocolate and all the tablets are present. So four times more offers than before!
His chocolate of the month, is also very appreciated. A seasonal creation or a recipe, therefore a short-lived candy, which he makes with yuzu, licorice flavor or chestnut chips… “I limit the varieties offered, because I cannot make the 200 varieties I have created, nor propose them all the time and at the same time. This allows you to always have extra-fresh products and fast rotation. And so we have everything, but in limited quantities.” His main shop, on the church square, is full, as his laboratory a few streets away also with the third shop in Nanterre. Always exceptional chocolates, perfumed and delicious in the mouth, which will earn him many awards and especially those of the prestigious Club des Croqueurs de chocolat for several consecutive years and dithyrambique opinions on the internet. “I don’t follow all this, nor the opinions on the Internet, but I am told about it and this makes me happy of course. The most important thing for me is to have a sincere and greedy approach using the best raw materials; then creating subtle recipes and ensuring maximum freshness while respecting the constraints of chocolate.” His plans today are to make the company sustainable. Pralines are made in the old premises in Nanterre with roasting of dried fruits and caramelization, as well as grinding and processing into pralines with ripening. And in the Rueil workshop, we make the basic chocolates for all the shops. We also have another storage room (bags, rigid boxes…). “The idea would be to regroup one day, continuing to combine solid bases”, i.e. a versatile team, a budget invested in production and rational choices (cardboard, communication,…) to always have the best chocolate, at an attractive price.
Passionate, hard-working and humble, these are the first qualities of this craftsman who sublimates good chocolate with absolute accuracy and precision. A luxury item? With quality always because his only interest is to satisfy the customer, creating emotion and pleasure in each tasting. And that emotion makes them want to come back. A gamble won in this peaceful suburb where people now run from all over to get their taste buds full of tasty Gilles Cresno chocolates.
Link to the website of Gilles Cresno Chocolatier
“Above all, I am a very sensitive and passionate person who likes to offer an impeccable product, in a journey of taste and originality. I do not consider myself an artist, but an artisan. I don’t consider myself a chocolate jeweler. I have an approach that is more simple. Look for flavors, textures, rather complex fragrances in the taste, since this is the only thing worth going into. And without destroying what nature has given. When you have raw materials that are very tasty; i am thinking, for example, of a chocolate from a certain terroir that would already have something extraordinary to tell on the aromatic level. You might as well sublimate it by making a plain ganache that is simple, coated, clean, good, very good, and that is enough. When you eat cheese, you eat the milk of an animal that’s been processed, but all of those flavors come from the raw material and a little bit, like wine, from the way that you processed it. So there’s this transition between exceptional raw materials and craftsmanship. The breeder, or the vineyard and how it was vinified. It’s good especially! And it’s beautiful!
The same is true of my inspiration. We shouldn’t lie, we don’t invent much. My creation today always comes from my experience. Things I could taste in pure or transformed state. I’m not the only one making raspberry chocolate or passion fruit. But the recipe I’m going to create, it’s going to be researched. Make my recipe. The one I like. The one that suits me. And my pride is in having managed to make good, affordable chocolate. How will we present the product? the price range? the target?… All this must go to the heart of the matter, with quick choices made in quality and rationality. What’s the point of having a beautiful box of chocolates when the inside isn’t fresh? The type of preservation is therefore important, because chocolate is a short-lived and fragile product. On the shelves, for example, the packaging was changed. They’re now light-tight. Shelves that are well protected and that can be consumed in good conditions for a sufficient period of time. I’m responsible for all this somewhere.
Authenticity is therefore the search for the good above all, from the idea of a recipe to its consumption. Let everything be perfect. We have no one in the office, there is no office and the majority of employees are versatile and invested, not like in a factory! I want everyone to feel at home, in a family spirit. I also take care of everything that is maintenance, DIY, setting up processes, selling sometimes and even if it is necessary to sweep, help wash, fold the laundry or do the dishes, I do it with joy and it is even normal because I am nothing at all, and my contribution is important if I have time to do it. I am often asked why I have not considered long competitions and awards. First of all, I wanted to be sincere and invest myself to produce a good chocolate, while preserving my family life and my business. You have to stay down to earth, because life, the best moments, you spend with others, not with yourself. Genuine chocolate is, above all, taste, pleasure and delicacy, shared in a beautiful team spirit and in a profession of transmission where one learns with gesture.
When I was 12, I wanted to take care of the meal. A memory etched in my memory. I had been working all day to make a full meal. Little puff pastries-Queen bites with seafood topping, then chicken in pot and apple pie for dessert. I’d done the puff pastry on a table that wasn’t even flat, and later on, I found that I had done well because technically, it’s not that easy to make round bites that are regular, pretty, and with edges that are totally welded together. Not everything was perfect. When you learn, you make a lot of mistakes and that’s how you learn the craft. It’s such a wonderful world. A simple world too but with very good things. That’s the real thing. A good pie in the pastry. There are such exceptional things: in the difference of hot / cold, in textures, fruity, flowing, creamy… These are my first loves and I really regretted not being able to continue, because I specialized in chocolate.
In conclusion, we must always remain humble in this profession, while recognizing our successes and what we know how to do. We must not hide our faces in either direction, but remain lucid. I am not a magician, an alchemist, or a goldsmith. I’m just trying to leverage what I’ve been able to learn through the lessons I’ve received and many more, through the observations I’ve been able to make. Experience is something very important. I would always like to imbue people’s minds with something positive. Ah these chocolates, how good they were! That would make me even more happy, because I would have perpetuated something with the original spirit. And I would be even more proud if one of my children took over the case, and if he did. What’s important is what you leave to people. One lives not for oneself but for others.
Interview held with Carine Mouradian in Rueil-Malmaison, 4 May 2018
Link to the website of Gilles Cresno Chocolatier