Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini talks fame and food

With almost 50 chocolate shops across Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Pierre Marcolini talks to FACT about Middle Eastern expansion and his bean-to-bar philosophy.

Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini was declared the world’s best pastry chef by a jury of his peers at the “World Pastry Stars” event in 2020. Yet this has not slowed the roll of this confectionary pioneer known for his bean-to-bar sourcing principle.

We caught up with Pierre Marcolini during the first anniversary of his Maison Pierre Marcolini at Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates. A cosy space situated in the main thoroughfare on the mall’s second floor, where the man himself is doling out strawberry ice cream and bite-sized chunks of chocolate. Clad in a white chef’s jacket, he charismatically slips between French and English as he talks sugar and spice and all things nice.

Pierre began his career as a pastry chef, before opening his first chocolate shop in Belgium in 1995, quickly gaining notoriety for his lavish window displays and exquisitely packaged products. The brand successfully challenged traditional chocolate-making norms, offering smaller, less sugary chocolates featuring unconventional flavours. “Pierre Marcolini is about the journey and people come to relax. The chocolate represents a quiet moment, a brief enjoyment for yourself or for the family,” Pierre tells us.

Pierre Marcolini

His commitment to sourcing the best cocoa beans directly from farmers in countries across the globe, including India, Madagascar, Peru and Venezuela, allowed him a direct connection with the farmers. He personally handpicks the finest cacao beans, ensuring each creation reflects the unique terroir of its origin while also upholding ethical and sunstaninable farming practices. “It’s not children working. Customers today want to know the value of the product, where it came from, and the reason why the price is higher. If they understand, they believe in the brand,” the chocolatier explains candidly. “This is what makes a difference for the brand, this is my identity.”

Much of Maison Pierre Marcolini’s success lies in the ability to tailor products to different marketplaces, creating unique and often audacious flavour profiles to suit occasions such as the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. His meticulous roasting and tempering techniques coax out the beans’ hidden potential, transforming them into smooth, velvety ganaches, crisp pralines, and decadent truffles. Discussing the upcoming Ramadan offering, Pierre reveals: “This Ramadan collection features dark chocolate. It is very simple and less sugary. We make the size bigger for sharing and incorporate dry fruit – pistachios from Iran and almonds from Spain. It’s all about generosity.”

Pierre Marcolini

Beyond chocolate, Marcolini extends his expertise to macarons, pastries, and ice creams. Each confection boasts the same meticulous attention to detail, resulting in visually stunning and flavour-packed masterpieces.

The House of Marcolini itself is an extension of the chocolatier’s vision. From the sleek, minimalist design of his boutiques to the elegantly wrapped boxes, every detail conveys a sense of luxury and refinement. His avant-garde approach to creating chocolates, macaroons and ice creams often results in unique and unexpected flavour combinations such as Earl Grey ganache or mango and Yuzu sorbet. Plus, his dedication to sustainability is also evident, with ethically sourced ingredients and eco-friendly packaging choices.

When pressed on Middle Eastern expansion, Pierre is brutally honest: “Ten years ago, we all thought Dubai was just the beach and the malls. But it’s a bridge between cultures. Nothing has changed in a decade in Belgium, but here you can see the progress.” The Asia and Middle Eastern market is a big focus for the brand “Saudi Arabia is under discussion. Riyadh is amazing,” Marcolini says with a beaming smile.

Pierre Marcolini

Elsewhere, Marcolini’s love for London has seen his products stocked in the upmarket department stores Harrods and Selfridges, alongside a stand-alone Maison on Marylebone High Street. With almost 50 stores worldwide, stretching from Ginza in Tokyo to the China World Mall in Beijing, Pierre Marcolini’s journey is just beginning. 

2024 will see the acclaimed chocolatier open a new factory to further streamline the production process with the goal of making a smoother texture. “I produce in Belgium but deliver chocolates throughout the world. This new factory will be a five million Euro investment for the Marcolini brand. It’s a game changer,” he tells us excitedly. 

When it comes to defining success, Pierre is not looking at store count and accolades. His carer highlight is far more unexpected. “It’s very ridiculous. But my proudest moment was to be featured in the dictionary. I received a letter in 2016 stating that Pierre Marcolini would be entered into the dictionary.”

There’s a reason why Pierre Marcolini is one of the most celebrated chocolatiers in the world. Don’t believe us? Look him up in the dictionary. 

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