As Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz said, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Chocolate certainly helps pave the way for romance on Valentine’s Day—or any day. After all, it’s been related to passion since the Aztecs. When it comes to this sweet treat, whether you’re looking for the perfect savory bite, an extravagant gift, or just delicious, decorative delights, you’ll find what you seek at Chocolat Moderne®.
Today, Joan Coukos’s company, Chocolat Moderne®, occupies a wholesale and retail space on West 20th Street in Manhattan. The handmade chocolates are available in specialty stores, online, and in her shop.
We recently visited Joan Coukos’s atelier in Chelsea, where she makes and sells chocolates, and learned more about chocolate’s magic.
Why did you decide to open an artisanal chocolate business?
Before launching Chocolate Moderne® in 2003, I had a 20-year career in commercial banking, working for a top-tier financial institution in New York, with a 6-year stint in Moscow from 1994 to 1999. Then, in December 2000, on a trip back to Moscow via Brussels to visit former banking friends, I fell under the spell of exquisite handmade chocolates. First, I read about a celebrity chocolatier, Pierre Marcolini, in an in-flight magazine.
The following day, I had an epiphany at La Place du Grand Sablon, a medieval square. I stumbled upon antique chocolate molds and took this as a sign that I was being led to explore chocolate. I brought home two antique molds for old-world inspiration and began to teach myself the art of European-style chocolate making.
After much home practice and a couple of classes taught by world-renowned chocolatiers, I founded Chocolat Moderne® with a mission to create visually stunning, hand-crafted confections filled with perfectly balanced, on-trend flavors presented in distinctive packaging. Art to Eat!
Where do you source your raw chocolate?
First, it is essential to note the distinction between being a chocolatier who makes chocolate confectionery from purchased chocolate and chocolate makers who source the beans and make chocolate from scratch. As a chocolatier, I make delicious treats from chocolate made by Valrhona, a 100-year-old chocolate maker in France. They source their cacao from South America, the Caribbean, Madagascar, and Ghana in Africa. We use a combination of their blended and single-origin chocolates. Our favorites are Venezuela and Madagascar.
What makes good chocolate?
Making good chocolate starts with superior beans. From there, the overall process of creating the chocolate is quite complicated and entails many steps and much expertise and practice to create a product with exceptional flavor and texture. As a chocolatier, whether it’s dark, milk, or white chocolate, I am looking for delicious flavor with no ‘off’ flavors that could result from inferior processing. And just as important is a smooth, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. I am also looking for the snap that comes with the appropriate amount of cocoa butter for dark chocolate.
The chocolate used by chocolatiers is technically called couverture. It has a higher percentage of cocoa butter, which requires it to be “tempered” so that when it is at room temperature, it will be brittle enough to have a snap and a beautiful sheen.
Of course, I’ve just been talking about the chocolate itself, but what makes each piece special is the uniqueness of the flavors we create. I was exposed to exotic ingredients as a child raised by Greek immigrants from Lesvos in the Eastern Mediterranean. As a young adult, I taught myself to cook mainly from Julia Child’s cookbooks. Becoming a chocolatier enabled me to let my imagination run wild! At Chocolat Moderne®, we have over 85 specialty fillings, some of which are also sold as caramel sauces.
What would you say is unique about the business and products?
First, the flavors. I love recipe creation, and I’m quite sure we have more flavors available at any one time than almost any other chocolatiers. Our repertoire spans the classics and encompasses cutting-edge new flavors.
How does one go about choosing new flavors to make a Chocolate Collection?
My undergraduate majors were Russian and French language and literature, and that background has given me a love for themes. Hence, the Kimono Collection and the Greek Revival Collection are where I researched the possible indigenous ingredients that would taste great with chocolate.
We also do seasonal collections like Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, and Hanukkah. The fillings and the designs are all themed to the specific holiday. Our Valentine’s Day chocolates are beautiful, colorful, hand-painted hearts, while our Easter collections include Easter eggs that represent my Greek and Ukrainian heritage.
Do you have a favorite chocolate on the menu?
I don’t have just one, and I indulge every day. Most of the time, I am in the mood for either a ganache or a nut praline. Sometimes, I revisit a flavor I have not enjoyed in a long time and am pleased to rediscover how good it tastes.
Are there any new projects on the horizon?
We started making a vegan line of bonbons and bars four years ago, and we will continue to add flavors to the line and experiment with recipes as new non-dairy milk and butter are created. Last year, we updated our overall packaging in honor of our twentieth anniversary and will continue adding new items. I am planning a new heart-shaped box for Valentine’s Day 2025 and some other sizes in our newly designed packaging.
For more information on Chocolat Moderne, visit chocolatmoderne.com