REVIEW: The Secrets of Chocolate Brings the Eye Candy But Spoils the Pot

The author sprouts wings among waves of chocolate

Gourmand, comic artist, and writer Franckie Alarcon puts his love of food on the page with his “The Secrets of” series of graphic novels, which NBM has published and translated to English for the first time. But the native charm of Alarcon’s illustrations and his beautiful color work clashes with such high levels of hero worship and moments of xenophobia that it degrades the book’s overall value.

The Secrets of Chocolate: A Gourmand’s Trip Through A Top Chef’s Atelier

Franckie Alarcon (art, colors, cover, writing)
NBM Publishing
June 15, 2021

A chef stands over an adoring man in a striped shirt and red kerchief, who perches on a hunk of chocolate while drawin. The chef smirks at him as he takes a bite out of a bar.Alarcon spent a year shadowing French chocolatier Jacques Genin for his book, and the rapport between confectioner and author builds naturally. Alarcon’s enthusiasm bleeds through the pages in rivers of chocolate brown and beautifully sculptured art pieces of carefully constructed chocolate. It’s cartoony and funny, and his layouts are fun and pleasing to the eye. Alarcon makes it clear right from the start that his lifelong love of chocolate is what drives him, but his excitement in being involved in a professional kitchen is sometimes infectious and sometimes unctuous. I like him when he sees popping a piece of chocolate into his mouth as a sort of gustatory passport to another land.

His hero worship of Genin (he describes himself accurately as “starry eyed”) sometimes fails to put distance between Alarcon and the art of candy making and turns the entire exercise into a folly of slack-jawed gawking; he stops being an observer and becomes a cheerleader, amazed by the simple art of dropping dried fruit into chocolate wreaths (while I absolutely believe that top flight chocolate shops require a circle of chefs to meticulously place candied fruit peels and nuts into circles of chocolate, I cannot believe that Alarcon, a self-proclaimed gourmand, doesn’t know what a Mendiant is). He sees Genin as a babe magnet rockstar who can make a simple mug of cocoa seem enchanting; he’s mousey, fearful that his confectioner god will forget him behind.

A peek into the artist's lifelong love of chcolate

To the reader, the confectioner comes off as something a little more smug, and certainly less perfect as he pontificates that women “love it when a chef talks to them… chocolate is such a sensual experience! You can’t imagine some of the secrets they share with me! It’s unbelievable!” They probably won’t be doing that after this publication (his girlfriend promptly observes “He’s like the puppeteer holding the women and pulling the strings of pleasure and desire!” Which yikes — I think she’s supposed to be joking, but either way yikes).

Alarcon himself — during a trip to a remote chocolate plantation in the Peruvian rainforest — comes off as a man who’s never seen the outside of a Fanny Farmer store as he gags his way through a traditional dinner in a remote indigenous community involving drinking out of a communal bowl as a sign of good fellowship (was he expecting to be handed a bar of chocolate instead of grilled worms?). One knows he doesn’t mean harm but he does not come off well. This and several more odd observations pile up, making one side-eye him.

It’s a shame, because his observations about chocolate making can be good and trenchant. But The Secrets of Chocolate needed a judicious editor before it made its way from a proof concept to the real deal.

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