My mom has been a loyal client at one of Belgium’s best ‘chocolatiers’ aka Del Rey for many years. Or at least of their tasting lounge that is located right next to their shop where you can eat some of the best desserts (also salty dishes) you can imagine. Me having inherited my mom’s sweet tooth, I am her usual partner in crime when she goes to the Del Rey tasting lounge. Sometimes a son has to make sacrifices for keeping his mom happy :-).
Last weekend we were fortunate enough to have a sneak peek behind the scenes of this wonderful chocolate shop to see the beating heart of the best Belgian chocolates. Officially Del Rey opened its doors in 1949 (back then it was called Maison Ray). But it is not until 1975 that Bernard Proot comes into the picture to learn his craft (art of chocolate) from Chef Arnout Marchand and take over Del Rey in 1983 with his wife (and what a lovely year that was, I was also born that year so it was the best year ever) and making Del Rey a success story! Such a success that since 2004 you can also buy their chocolates in Japan (which is the only country outside Belgium where you are able to buy them) and being awarded with many prestigious awards.
Del Rey is also a member of the Relais of desserts. The fact that Del Rey was accepted to join this prestigious organisation says enough. The Relais Dessert is basically a group of the best 100 pastry chefs and chocolatiers from all over the world, you can compare it with the San Pellegrino list for restaurants. My mom and I are fan without any doubt.
It was actually Bernard’s son Jan Proot (2nd generation and as passionated as his dad when I hear him speak) to give us the tour. Jan joined the company 7 years ago and learned his craft by working at Del Rey and by doing some internships at 2 top pastry/chocolate masters Wittemar and Oberweis (you try looking at those 2 or Del Rey’s website without getting hungry!? I dare you). I’m also convinced that the 3rd generation is assured as Jan’s oldest son (around 3 years old) was asking the whole time if he could make cookies together with his dad or granddad 🙂
What some people forget, is how time consuming it is to make chocolates, they just think it is pouring it in a mold and it is done 🙂 I can say for a fact that there is more to it then that (I also learned how to make chocolates when I was in Chef school). Chocolates are made in different stages, first you need to create a base in the mold, let the chocolate set, do the second layer, create filling, etc… with the most important thing to keep in mind -> Patience 🙂 as in between every step you have to wait to be able to continue with the next, multiply this step by X chocolates a day 🙂 (check link for the whole Del Rey chocolate range) and this is only the chocolates, I’m not even talking about making cakes, american style wedding cakes, ice cream, macarons or any other type of dessert. This is also why Del Rey is not working with 6 people or less anymore like back in 1975, but with 30 full time people 🙂 I found their area were they work very big, much bigger than I had imagined it… but if I hear Jan or his dad, a bit more space would not hurt 🙂 If I remember it correct they have 1 house from 5 houses. Maybe they should consider a 6th house to create even more space.
The difference between a chocolatier like Del Rey or for example Leonidas or Godiva is that everything made by Del Rey is handmade, homemade and gets quality checked one by one… as for the other two I mentioned there are more of the mass production (which isn’t necessarily bad, but less refined). I think that what makes their chocolates so special is the combination of high quality chocolate, know-how that they built up over the past 60 years and renewing yourself without forgetting where you came from or your basics. And in this case it are the small details that count, for example when my mom and I eat at the chocolate lounge I usually eat (before I attack the sweet stuff) a quiche Lorraine as they even make their own shortbread base which gives even a ‘simple’ dish like a quiche a total different dimension! It is also that same dedication of perfection that Del Rey puts into it chocolats, desserts, its famous macarons, wedding cakes, etc…
If you want to try the Del Rey desserts, ice cream, etc… I suggest you come to Antwerp, go to the Del Rey Chocolate Lounge, order yourself a coffee Del Rey (which is basically a coffee that gets served with 2 home made chocolate, some cookies, 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream and some whipped cream (the real stuff)) and one of their desserts and I’m sure on your way out you’ll be walking out with a box of chocolates 🙂 because life with a box of chocolates is soooo much nicer!! I know I’ve been eating them at least 30 years 🙂
P.S.: I had taken my own pictures to share on this post, but due to problems with the SD card from my camera I wasn’t able to retrieve them yet. Once I have them I’ll share them 🙂