I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacques Torres. Fondly referred to as Mr. Chocolate, Jacques Torres is the authority on all things related to this confectionery delight. His story begins in the South of France in a small town on the Mediterranean Sea in the southern region of Provence called Bandol. At an early age, Jacques was inspired to start a culinary career and was enraptured with pastry making. He began his apprenticeship when he was 15 years old at the best pastry shop in Bandol. With passion and dedication, three years later in 1980, landed a job with Two-star Michelin Chef Jacques Maximin at the Hotel Negresco in Nice, France. Jacques eventually became the Executive Pastry Chef and for 8 years this opportunity took him around the globe. In 1986, Jacques was awarded the prestigious M.O.F. (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) medal in Pastry. He was (and still is) the youngest pastry chef in history to earn the distinction; he was only 26 years old. In 1988, he ventured to the U.S. as the Corporate Pastry Chef for Ritz Carlton Hotels and was headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1989, the legendary restaurateur Sirio Maccioni invited Jacques to New York City to work at his world-famous restaurant, Le Cirque, as the Executive Pastry Chef. For 11 years, Jacques served his cutting edge, magical and memorable desserts to presidents, kings, and celebrities at the iconic restaurant. Through his early years as a pastry chef, Jacques developed a deep affinity and love for chocolate. He fulfilled his American dream in 2000 with the opening of his first chocolate store and factory, “Jacques Torres Chocolate” in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Jacques was a pioneer in the bean to bar movement, he was the first artisan chocolatier in New York City to start from cocoa beans and make his own chocolate. Jacques and his chocolate became an instant success attracting fans from all over the country. In 2004, he opened his second chocolate factory and flagship store, in the SOHO neighborhood of New York City on Hudson Street. The demand for his confections grew rapidly, so he opened more stores throughout Manhattan including ice cream locations. In 2013, Jacques moved his two production facilities (from DUMBO and SOHO) to one state-of-the-art 40,000 sq. ft. chocolate manufacturing plant at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. There are 7 retail locations throughout New York City. Jacques prides himself on specializing in fresh, handcrafted chocolates using premium ingredients free of preservatives and artificial flavors. From sourcing the perfect cacao beans to techniques steeped in tradition, Jacques combines genuine passion with handcrafted mastery to produce purely delicious, real chocolate. His motto is “Real is my promise to you.” During his time at Le Cirque, Jacques released a 52 episode Public Television series, Dessert Circus with Jacques Torres, along with two companion cookbooks, Dessert Circus: Extraordinary Desserts You Can Make At Home (William Morrow), and Dessert Circus At Home(William Morrow). He also hosted a television series, Chocolate with Jacques Torres, on the Food Network for three years. In 2008, he released his third cookbook, A Year in Chocolate (Stewart, Tabori and Chang). In March 2018, Netflix released worldwide to 190 countries a baking competition show, “Nailed It!” which Jacques is the featured Head Judge on the internationally successful series. Jacques opened New York City’s first chocolate museum called “Choco-Story New York, Chocolate Museum and Experience with Jacques Torres.” The 5,000 sq. ft. museum was located at his flagship store (350 Hudson St.). Additionally, since 1993 Jacques proudly serves as Dean of Pastry Arts at the award-winning International Culinary Center. He designed the curriculum of the fast-track Professional Pastry Arts program and offers internship opportunities to ICC pastry students. He has received numerous awards over the years as well as The James Beard Pastry Chef of the Year Award in 1994, and inducted in The James Beard Who’s Who of American Food & Beverage Award in 2003. In 2016, Dessert Professional Magazine inducted him in the Chocolate Hall of Fame and also the same year was awarded the highest honor in France, The Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. Jacques generously donates his products and time to many local and national charity organizations including The Jacques Pepin Foundation, City meals on Wheels, Wellness in the Schools, Sloan Kettering Pediatric Hospital, March of Dimes, Make a Wish Foundation, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, Emeril Lagasse Foundation, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and numerous charity driven food festivals. He loves children and dedicates himself to causes that support their well-being and happiness. Jacques makes his home in New York City, and is married to Hasty Torres, a fellow chocolatier, who founded her own chocolate business in Beverly Hills called Madame Chocolat. Their son, Pierre, was born in 2016 and their daughter, Jacqueline, was born in 2019.
Thank you so much for joining us Jacques. Can you share the story behind what inspired you to become a chef?
My older brother was a Chef and at 15 years old I wanted to follow in his footsteps. However, at the time in our town of Bandol, France we didn’t have a high end restaurant so he advised me to work at the best pastry shop in town. I fell in love the first day of my apprenticeship and I have never looked back.
What drew you to chocolate/pastry?
During my childhood, and throughout my career, I have always loved sweets and pastries. I have a deep passion for it and find my creative outlet through pastry and chocolate making. I just love to use my hands. My father was a craftsman — he was a carpenter. My oldest brother followed in my father’s footsteps, and my middle brother was a chef, so it runs in my family to craft and create.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that has happened to you since you became a chef?
My career spans more than 45 years so there are so many that I can’t choose just one. From creating plated desserts for the Pope and every sitting president since Ronald Reagan, creating and selling the largest and most expensive chocolate egg in the world in 2014, to creating custom body parts of playmates in chocolate for Hugh Hefner’s birthday….you can say I’ve done it all!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
My career has certainly never been easy. I have had my share of failures and struggles which has only given me more learning experiences and desire to succeed.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My personality is naturally not to give up on anything, but keep trying until I succeed. I guess that way of thinking has helped me most during difficult times.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Always! Stay tuned…its my 20th business anniversary in 2020 and I’ve got some fun things coming ahead. I love to teach, so there will be a lot of chocolate history and fun facts shared during the year-long celebration.
In your experience, what is the key to creating the perfect dish?
The key is a mixture of temperature (hot/cold), texture (crunchy/soft), sweetness and acidity. If you can balance these opposites, you will have a very interesting dessert.
What inspired you to explore ice cream as your next sweet tooth endeavor?
With global warming, the planet is warmer and warmer and I personally crave ice cream and cold drinks in the heat. So, naturally I’m going toward that direction in my business as well.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I wish someone had told me this right at the beginning:
- Always aim to be better and better. Success is the most uncertain thing in this profession. Only 1% become successful — tv/fame/money. The customers are the reason why you are a chef. You don’t cook for yourself, or your ego, you cook for other people.
- Don’t expect success.
- Enjoy what you do every day.
- If you have success, that’s the cherry on top.
- Always put your customer in first. This is the reason you became a chef — to make people happy.
- Never settle for mediocrity.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Food Waste. If we can stop wasting, we will save so much hunger in the world.
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