Bijou Fine Chocolate
As you cross a walkway to reach the large red barn-like building where Bijou Fine Chocolates is located, with the exception of winter, the sound of water from a small running nature pool is soothing and peaceful. When you enter Bijou, that same aesthetic of nature, beauty and peace evokes a sense of flow and meditation. Your first bite of a ginger, raspberry or cardamom coffee truffle transports you to a happy place, a place you will want to return to again and again.
Evocative music, a vase of fresh flowers, a glass counter of pastries and chocolate truffles greet you. Bijou’s famous chocolate almonds are most likely out for sampling. It’s truly impossible to eat just one. Tins of French tea and chocolate bars meticulously wrapped in Japanese-designed colorful paper sit on the shelves. Simple black tables and large colorful Japanese prints hung on the walls create a perfect atmosphere to sit awhile and relax.
One of Vermont’s best-kept secrets is found in the new Shelburne Green Complex, off Route 7 as you enter Shelburne Village from the south. While people flock to this area for beer sampling and wine tasting at Fiddlehead Brewery and Shelburne Vineyard, respectively, they are also finding chocolate. And once you have found Bijou, your chocolate world will never be quite the same.
You feel cared for here even before you sink your teeth into one of the truffles or sip a cup of hot chocolate or jasmine tea. Rowan Toohey, a co-founder, greets you with genuine warmth and gives you a few moments to take it all in. If you are a regular, he will be the first to tell you what’s new this week for truffle choices or ask how your day is going.
This is a family love affair with chocolate that Kevin and Laura Toohey and son Rowan have created. Rowan handles the front of the house while Kevin and Laura, in their crisp white chef coats with their name on the front pocket, create the chocolate. Daughter Virginia has recently joined the Bijou team as assistant chocolatier, learning from her parents, making ganache for the truffles and creating the famous cocoa-covered almonds. Behind a simple faded Japanese curtain with dragonflies silkscreened on the front, this family works long hours to create some of the most amazing chocolate on this planet.
Kevin Toohey’s extensive chocolate knowledge is impressive. If you are fortunate enough to sit with him, he will engage you fully and share his “pearls of wisdom” that are both interesting and mesmerizing. The world of chocolate is complex and constantly being refreshed and updated. Bijou reflects the classical European style of fine chocolate.
Swiss chefs invited Kevin to apprentice just after college in St. Louis, where he and his wife, Laura, had trained as classical musicians in violin (Laura) and bassoon (Kevin). Kevin learned the Swiss way, honoring traditions and recipes passed down for hundreds of years. He completed six-month rotations in areas including pastries, cakes and chocolate. At the culmination of his three-year apprenticeship, he was presented with a Swiss chef’s knife and the German folk saying “seldst ist der mann eh alles kann”—“a self-made man is one that can do everything himself.”
The Toohey family has proudly carried on the traditions of generations of classic European chocolatiers through in-depth study and training. They take the centuries-old traditions and adapt them to the local environment. What’s in season? What fruits and berries are available? Fresh local ingredients inform their truffles, and nature’s rhythms keep it interesting and fun. Spring offers flavors of maple and fresh flowers. Summer truffles reflect berries in season while fall brings smoky flavors and spices like cardamom, ginger or lavender.
The detail and care in creating seasonal chocolate flavors is also reflected in the colorful intricately designed Japanese paper used in the chocolate wrapping. The team sits down together to carefully choose patterns, design and colors that reflect each season. Each delicate sheet is handmade, and each color printed separately. Chocolate bars are wrapped in this paper like a gift you almost don’t want to open, while boxes are tied with an elegant ribbon.
Rowan Toohey eloquently shares, “When I see the faces of my customers when they try one of our chocolates, I watch the development of an uncontrollable smile and sometimes even a giggle, and it reminds me why we work so hard doing what we do. The product that we make is chocolate, and the experience contained within the chocolate is one of beauty, goodness and joy. This is the experience we care about and what inspires us to do our best every day.”
Bijou Fine Chocolate offers us a lens to appreciate the importance of beauty in our lives, our kindness to each other and the deep web of connections. Savor every day. And eat fine chocolate.
Bijou has brought Laurie’s love of chocolate to an entirely new level of appreciation. She is a regular who loves to be surprised with the latest creation and a simple cup of tea.