I have many favourite things, but travelling and chocolate are definitely tops. Even better is when I get to travel and meet chocolate makers, like I did this February on a trip to Australia. I had one weekend in Melbourne—hardly enough to even crack the surface of such a vibrant food and art city—and between celebrating an aunt-in-law’s 70th birthday and hanging out on Brighton Beach, I met with Thibault Fregoni.
In Melbourne, Thibault is better known as the former owner of Monsieur Truffe, two chocolate shops that make bonbons and recently started a bean-to-bar operation. In 2013, Thibault sold his share of the business to concentrate on a new venture, Matale Chocolate.
We met at Seven Seeds, a chic coffee shop that offered a choice of single-origin espressos. Thibault rocked up on his bicycle and we talked for over an hour about all things chocolate. Originally French, he went to London to work on his English, and life took him to Australia. As you’ll see from the interview below, his speech reflects all those elements—proper syntax that comes from formally learning English (he uses “whom” in a sentence, correctly), French idioms (“you know” at the end of sentences) and Aussie-isms (“look” at the beginnings of sentences).
I tried four of his bars: Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and a blend of the three, and was impressed. The Madagascar’s probably the most polished—more acidic than most, but with all the brightness of beans that come from Bertil Akesson’s plantations—but I also loved the nutty, moreish quality of the Vanuatu.
Thibault’s ramping things up with Matale Chocolate in Melbourne, and also developing a cacao plantation in Sri Lanka. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.
What does Matale Chocolate do?
Matale Chocolate is specialized in bean to bar, so making chocolate from cacao. And transforming it into classic products, which are bars of chocolate. There are no flavours added and the aim is to highlight the individuality of cacao, depending on where it’s from and its genotype. And then there’s the creativity of the chocolate maker in interpreting the manufacturing of beans.
How did you come to chocolate?
It was sort of lucky. Basically, I had a friend, a pastry chef, with whom I started to work part-time, and we started working with chocolate and I just thought it was cool. And eventually I started to learn more about techniques and so we started in more traditional stuff. A pastry environment, you know? Making cakes or pralines and bonbons and eventually this led to more of a specific work with the concept of single-origin or single-estate. So over time, I left the confectionery side to specialize more on working with specific cacao and being more interested in plantations and the growing of the cacao.
What’s the best part of your job?
The best part is…. Look, there’s a lot of nice parts. The cliche would be to eat chocolate and not have to pay for it. The other part is travelling.
What’s your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge at the moment is to get hold of good cacao, so that’s the main challenge. Sourcing cacao which is of good quality.
What do you do when you’re not making chocolate?
I’m a cyclist, freak cyclist. So I cycle a lot and that’s about it. I eat a lot of chocolate and lose weight by cycling. And then you’ll ask me to eat more chocolate and then I’ll do that until I drop, you know?