I want to be Willy Wonka—I’m working hard to be,” says Jacques Torres. But, he’s quick to add, he’s not there yet. Mr. Wonka, after all, had a bona fide factory (and all those Oompa Loompas pulling double shifts), whereas the former Le Cirque pastry chef—who forsook job security to become an artisanal chocolatier in Dumbo—has been content to buy Belgian chocolate in bulk, then turn it into luscious bars and bonbons. That might be good enough for his fans, lured over the Manhattan Bridge by passion-fruit-filled hearts and chocolate-covered corn flakes, but not for Torres. He’s always had a grand plan—one that calls for importing the cacao and doing everything in-house, a bean-to-bar operation. Next month, with the opening of Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven, he’ll realize it.
The prospect of joining the ranks of Callebaut and Valrhona has Torres as exuberant as a kid in a candy store. “I want to share with people what I’m doing,” he says, and to that end, he’s blurred the lines between retail and manufacturing, building a glass-enclosed café and shop inside the factory to give customers a close-up look at every labor-intensive step. (He also wants sales volume, which is why he chose Manhattan over Brooklyn.) Designer Pierre Court indulged every one of Torres’s fantastical notions, from the cacao-pod shape of the shop to a statue of Quetzlcoatl, the Aztec cacao god, at the entrance. The central structure weaving through the high-ceilinged space is an abstraction of the conveyor in Torres’s favorite episode of I Love Lucy. There’s even a lounge of sorts (it is in Soho, after all).
But for Torres, the Haven’s focal point is on the other side of the glass—the factory floor, where beans are fumigated, sorted, roasted, cleaned, cooled, shelled, pre-ground, mixed, refined, and conched—the lengthy process in which cocoa and sugar are heated and ground to superhuman levels of smoothness. (“Conching,” he says, “is the soul of making chocolate.”) It took him two years to track down all this equipment, some of it vintage. The elusive winnower, used to create nibs, came from Mexico; the refiner, from a lipstick company. The resultant process is irresistible: Passersby on Hudson and King Streets will have mouthwatering views of chocolate being molded, enrobed, and turned into hollow gorillas, bears, and cell phones.
One area of the factory will be devoted to producing Torres’s line of New Age chocolate bars for Origins, but he doesn’t plan to wholesale his from-scratch chocolate to rivals. “It’s like microbrewing,” he says, an artisanal holdout in a mass-production Nestlé world. “They sell their own beer. Who’ll sell my chocolate better than me?”