Food & Drinks

French-inspired chocolate made in Nairobi kitchen

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Martin Kirui Mutai the owner of L’Entremet during the interview in Nairobi on Tuesday, November 2, 2021. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

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Summary

  • His are artisanal chocolates and pastries, almost ornamental, brightly coloured and which he says are a symphony of flavours.

Martin Kirui created L’entremet, a chocolate brand, a year ago in his Nairobi kitchen. His are artisanal chocolates and pastries, almost ornamental, brightly coloured and which he says are a symphony of flavours. Maryanne Maina spoke to him.

Your Instagram page has beautiful chocolates in ruby, red, gold...How did you start the business?

I started the business to keep busy after my work as a private chef and recipe planner ended during the lockdown. I had worked in France as a pâtisserie. I figured I could turn my skills and knowledge into a business: make tasty, beautifully packaged chocolates. I started with a few pieces and the demand increased.

Why a French name for Kenyan chocolates?

L’entremet means dessert in French. I chose a French name to pay homage to the country and language I came to fall in love with.

How did you start making pastries and chocolates?

My first introduction to a commercial kitchen came through International Hotel and Tourism Institute, a culinary school in Nairobi, almost seven ago. In 2018, I moved to France to further my studies. I’m a saucier, sauté chef by profession and I have made pastries for several years.

After culinary school, I got a chance to work in a few Michelin-starred restaurants in the south of France. Working in a Michelin-star restaurant teaches you how to respect ingredients, manipulate them with precision, and ingredients measured to the gramme.

Not a gramme less or more, or even when portioning anything, not a centimetre more or less. Working in such restaurants sets you in a robot-like way of doing things in the kitchen which I feel every chef should follow.

How do you create chocolates in your kitchen?

It starts with a design idea. The next step is the endless polishing of the moulds as that’s where the shine comes from. Making the filling is another step. I try not to have a set choice as people ask for different flavours. One client once ordered of mango chilli bonbons because they loved fresh mango with chilli, a street snack.

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Some of the chocolates made by Martin Kirui Mutai. Picture taken on Tuesday, November 2, 2021. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

It was amazing to create bonbons, associated with high-end stores, and fill them with street food. What follows is tempering the chocolate which is the process of raising the temperature of the chocolate.

The degrees vary with each chocolate from dark to milk to white. This is done for two purposes, the formation of crystals in the chocolate which gives it that glossy shiny look and to harden it to create a certain chocolate design.

What machines do you use to create your chocolates (bonbons)?

I have a bunch of small kitchen tools. For the shine and detail, I use an airbrush with different needle fittings which are attached to an air compressor. This enables me to create a detailed clean look, thermometers for chocolate tempering, and an immersion blender for making coloured cocoa butter.

Which flavours do you make?

The flavours are endless. I was thinking of an ‘achari’ flavoured bonbon. Just imagine the chocolate snack bounty but the coconut part is mixed with baobab powder, sugar, and natural colour.

My best-sellers are the hazelnut praline, pistachio praline, salted caramel, chocolate ganache, and a few fruit cremuex’s combinations.

Where do you source your products from?

The chocolates are mainly from Belgium and France, the equipment from the US and China, the moulds from Italy, raw cocoa butter from Ghana, and vanilla from Madagascar.

The process is about looking for the best products because with exceptional produce comes exceptional taste. I don’t use cacao pods, just ready-made couverture chocolate bags. I use mainly dark chocolate (74 percent), milk, and white chocolate from Callebaut.

What are the prices of your chocolates?

A chocolate with a yuzu gel filling would be priced much higher than a simple chocolate ganache filling. For best-sellers though, a box or six bonbons would range from Sh1,800 to Sh2,000 and a 12 pack goes for between Sh2,600 to Sh3,200.

How many do you sell per week and month?

For general pastries like entremets and tarts, maybe two or three items per week and bonbons like four packets of 12 a week but all this varies with holidays like Mother’s Day, Valentine’s and Easter. I sell online and door-to-door delivery. I would say buyers are 60-40 percent females to male.

Take us through the design process.

I try to stick to the colour palate of the flavour fillings. For example, if it is a strawberry compote filling, I’ll use more red colours and another contrasting colour to break the monotony. My tools include mini brushes, airbrushes, spray guns, and stiff brushes. I let my imagination run wild.

In regards to designs, the shape is determined by the mould used. If it is a bitter and sour flavour, I use smaller inserts because no one wants a mouthful of bitter-tasting chocolate. With more sugary stuff like caramel or fruit compotes, I use slightly larger inserts.

The process begins with a base colour (if it’s a coloured bonbon). The base colour is applied with a brush, then I leave it to dry at room temperature then I load up my airbrush with tempered coloured cocoa butter and spray inside the bonbon cavities the desired colour.

After a 15-minutes wait, I pour in the tempered chocolate shake, give it a few taps, pour it all out and now I have a shell. This shell needs to rest for 12 hours, in the fridge. I wait for 12 hours because that is about the maximum period required for effective cocoa butter crystallisation.

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Some of the chocolates made by Martin Kirui Mutai. Picture taken on Tuesday, November 2, 2021. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

The next day is the filling day. I fill every cavity to almost three quarters and then cover it with tempered chocolate again. This needs to rest for about one hour then turn the mould upside down and smack it on a marble top.

This is the most nerve-wracking process because if the chocolate or cocoa butter did not temper properly then they would just stick to the cavities.

Your business is in an industry of desirables, not necessities. What are your wins, and challenges?

When I started, I knew I wanted to offer something different, something only a handful of people are doing in Kenya. I want to fulfil the needs of sweet-toothed consumers. The main challenge is the lack of local vendors who sell couverture chocolate (high-class chocolate) or even chocolate working tools.

This requires me to import ingredients that are pricey and there is a waiting period. An order that can be processed in two days and take two weeks to reach my kitchen. I want L’entremet to be associated with the most premium handmade chocolates and pastries in Kenya.

Ms Maina is a Paris-based luxury expert