"It's more than just chocolate when your senses bring you to a place of reward and enchantment."
Such was Executive Chef Chocolatier Thierry Muret's answer when asked to finish Godiva's holiday slogan, "It's more than just chocolate." His response seems apt, as Muret has spent the last 23 years concocting reward and enchantment in his kitchen. He's the mastermind behind the signature gold box of goodies that a devoted husband stuffs inside his wife's stocking every year and this season's latest ganache that may become her new splurge. And for chocolate lovers around the world, he's Saint Nicholas, the man who makes their holiday dreams come true with just one bite of a favorite truffle.
Chocolate and the holidays go hand in hand. People stroll down the street with a cup of hot cocoa to counter the winter winds. Sweets and treats linger on the mind, a taste of warmth in freezing weather. At department stores, whether in New York City or South Texas, Godiva shelves sit within sight, tempting the passersby. The Belgian brand has been a fixture of the holiday landscape since we were children, and it's nearly impossible to remove thoughts of sugarplums from more enticing ideas of a crisp gingerbread truffle -- Muret's seasonal favorite.
"When creating new chocolates for the holidays, I try to capture the essence of the season -- celebration, lights, joy, family and reflection," he said. This essence is a question of taste and scent. Take the Winter Bayberry ganache: the cranberry-bayberry puree smells and tastes like a burst of Christmas eve dinner with whiffs of holly and loved ones on all sides. Then, there's the design -- red and orange stars atop a layer of white chocolate, like they're crowning a Christmas tree. The effect is a total package of holiday spirit, where it's difficult to think of anything but Santa hats and carolers singing about Rudolph.
While Godiva's sleek, whimsical style may appear to happen naturally, Muret actually puts a lot of philosophy into coming up with his chocolates. He watches fashion shows online every Friday and reads for inspiration. Right now, he's thumbing through Chaos, Creativity, and Cosmic Consciousness by Rupert Sheldrake, Terence McKenna, and Ralph Abraham.
"This book talks about the chaotic process of creativity and its needs to embrace the idea that nothing is constant," Muret said. "Following fashion gives me an outside perspective of how designers outside the food industry deal with this chaos and how they express an emotion through textures, colors and shapes. Then I just need to add a flavor."
Before Muret, founder Pierre Draps led Godiva's culinary efforts, beginning in 1926. Muret had the opportunity to spend a week with Draps before his death in 2012, soaking up his knowledge and history.
"The emotions are indescribable when you see Godiva today and when you hear about its humble beginnings," Muret said. "It's an amazing story, laced with hardship, war, passion, and craftsmanship -- all this in 89 years."
Godiva started in Draps' home-chocolate factory in Brussels, where he combined chocolate with praline for a smooth, rich flavor. His little family worked alongside him, selling their confections at local shops before opening their first storefront on Boulevard Leopold. Soon, the company expanded internationally, and by 1972, it had its first American outlet on Fifth Avenue.
These days, Godiva is a household name. In Japan, chocolate enthusiasts line up days before a new boutique opens. At airports, frequent flyers stop by counters for a chocolate-covered strawberry to ease their traveling tensions. And now, inside Macy's Herald Square, Godiva has opened a store with tables and chairs so shoppers can relax with friends as they sip on hot chocolate, try a holiday hazelnut truffle, or spoon out some white-chocolate soft-serve.
Godiva's new store in Macy's Herald Square.
Godiva's team overflows with gratitude for the community that has bolstered their success, both locally in Belgium at Godiva's inception and now around the world. This holiday season, the company plans to pay forward by donating a dollar to Toys for Tots for every creamy cup of hot chocolate bought in a retail store before December 15. The taste of the hot chocolate is enough incentive to buy a mug-full; it's like a sip of magic mixed with milk and makes you wish you were sitting by a fire in a snow-dusted cabin. But its connection to Toys for Tots -- well that's really something to celebrate.
Godiva partnered with Shameless' Emmy Rossum and Scream Queens' Emma Roberts, who helped get the word out about "Hot Chocolate For A Cause" through events in Manhattan and Los Angeles.
"I feel blessed and lucky to be employed and to have my house and my family," Rossum said. "It's just incredibly important to give back, especially at this time of year. And I love chocolate, so it worked out."
Rossum, who is known for supporting causes like breast cancer awareness and animal rescue, shoots Shameless in Chicago. For a while now, she's wanted to do something for local kids, and when Godiva approached her about their collaboration with Toys for Tots, she didn't hesitate.
"Working in the lower income neighborhoods of Chicago over the last six years really highlights for me the gap between those more fortunate and those less fortunate," she said. "I think we take for granted the exchange of gifts at our workplace, in our families. It's actually quite a special, intimate exchange to be cherished. And the idea that some kids wouldn't get a gift kind of breaks my heart."
Like most of us, Rossum covets memories of her mother making hot cocoa from scratch. She has a bit of chocolate almost every day, as an indulgence.
So she might even empathize with one of my friends, whom I watched as she munched on a winter marzipan and reminisced about sitting in a room with her favorite aunt after Christmas dinner. She thought about savoring just one piece of Godiva and lots of conversation before bed. Then she smiled, remembering.
It's moments like that that make Godiva more than just chocolate.