It happens every February. The small storefront of Huntington’s Bon Bons Chocolatier fills with men brandishing credit cards. Some are calm, most are not, because they’ve only recently been reminded that Valentine’s Day is near. Eric Lobignat, the head candy maker and consummate Frenchman, takes it all in from the back of the store and laughs. “For me, Valentine’s Day is every day,” he says. “I don’t know why you’re forced to bring something to someone you love on one day.” That’s easy to say when you work around chocolate and truffles.
Lobigant, never one for schoolwork, enrolled into École Jean Quarre in Paris after high school, where he focused on savory dishes. He trained for six years, bouncing around from restaurant to hotel kitchen before joining famed French chef Marc Meneau at L’Espérance. Just two weeks into his new job the head pastry chef quit and Lobigant was left running a five man team, forced to memorize different dough recipes for croissants, brioche and other French breakfast staples.
Around that time he started working with Fernand Borne, a pastry chef who specializes in chocolate. Lobigant, growing tired of the restaurant business, absorbed everything from Borne for 18 months before taking a position at the prestigious chocolatier La Maison Du Chocolat in Paris. There he met Susannah Meinersman, a visiting American whose parents owned Bon Bons Chocolatier. Lobigant asked about working in the US and six months later he found himself living in a basement apartment in Huntington. “It had only one window, but I didn’t care,” Lobigant says. “I was so happy to be here.”
Using recipes perfected by Bon Bons’ owners, Lobigant doesn’t stray much from tradition. “I’m using the same recipes now that Peter [founding partner] developed before I started here 1991,” Lobigant says. But things have evolved too. “The chocolate here is a lot creamier than in France,” he says. “But tastes are changing. Years ago, 85 percent of our business was milk, now it’s roughly 65 percent. So we’re selling more dark.”
He’s seen an appreciation for handmade, quality candies grow. “A lot of our customers travel and when they eat they taste new flavors,” he says. “When they come to us they expect higher quality and they’re willing to pay for it.” But chocolate doesn’t always have to be a high end, premium experience. “When I’m not at work and want chocolate, I reach for M&Ms,” he says. That’s fine for him, but don’t think you can get away with giving a bag of M&Ms for Valentine’s Day.
CHOCO-TIPS: Eat chocolate at room temperature. If it’s tempered correctly it will snap cleanly when bitten. Leave it in your mouth to give the chocolate and the filling time to mix and register on your palate. Breathe in through the nose to aerate your tongue and bring out additional flavors.