NEW YORK — As a sweeping exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History attests, chocolate is all the rage.
Katrina Markoff, a chocolatier and owner of Vosges Haut-Chocolate, would tend to agree. Her SoHo boutique at 132 Spring Street, which opened on Aug. 1, treats chocolate as the ultimate accessory, as precious and pricy as the handbags sold at nearby Chanel and Ferragamo.
Markoff views chocolate as a sensual and sensory experience. Her truffle “collections” are inspired by exotic locales and contain such incongruous ingredients as dark chocolate, ginger and wasabi, in the case of the Black Pearl truffle, and milk chocolate, coconut and Indian curry in the Naga truffle. Sensory tasting plates, such as Le Plat Yellow, feature raw bee pollen, a kumquat, espresso, a Naga truffle and corn nuts. Each element is meant to be savored, she says.
Every month, Markoff introduces an avant-garde group of chocolates. August is dedicated to Gaudi with Spanish saffron-infused truffles covered in a sugar-crystal mosaic that echoes the architect’s brightly tiled work.
Next month, Markoff channels Vincent Gallo in bittersweet dark chocolate truffles with Italian Taleggio cheese, organic walnuts and Tahitian vanilla beans. The director’s “Buffalo 66” will be projected on a wall in the store, which is expected to do $1 million in its first year.
Markoff makes a strong case for the connection between chocolate and fashion. “I compare Vosges to a couture fashion house,” she says. “My truffle collection is the couture line. It’s very expensive and very exclusive. The couture cocoas are the ready-to-wear, and the exotic candy bar is like our fragrance. It’s the cash cow.”
There’s also a literal connection. Markoff works with a designer each season to create apparel and accessories. A collaboration with Chicago handbag company Agnes + Hoss, produced the Sophie handbag made of silk fabric with a cocoa pod and leaf print designed by Markoff and accented with leather, for $395.
Darren Romanelli, who sells his designs at Maxfield in Los Angeles, created snug-fitting leather jackets in chocolate brown and Vosges’ signature purple for $900 to $1,300. For spring, Markoff is planning a project with cult jeanswear manufacturer Joe’s Jeans.Markoff, whose wardrobe mixes Prada and Stella McCartney with vintage pieces, says, “I’m really a Marc Jacobs bohemian kind of girl,” she adds. “You’ll see a little of him in some of my chocolates, especially going forward.”
Markoff found her calling while studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris following college. She then apprenticed with Christophe Felder, the pastry chef at the Hotel Crillon and worked with current It chef Fernando Adria at the venerated El Bulli restaurant in Barcelona.
“They became my mentors,” she says of Adria and his brother, Alberto. “They do fois gras foam and artichoke sorbet. It really opened up my mind and resonated with me.”
When Fernando suggested she travel the world rather than work for a staid French chef, she took his advice and visited Vietnam, Australia, Thailand and Hawaii. When she returned to the U.S. Markoff began making truffles with names and stories about the places that inspired them.
The first Vosge store opened on North Michigan Avenue in 1998, followed by boutiques at the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago and the Mandarin Oriental in Miami. Vosges is also sold at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus.
“People can relate to the energy of what we’re doing,” Markoff says. “There’s art, education and culture.”
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