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Like many young people, French-born Charles Lemai thought he would come to Australia to travel for a year. And like many young people, he’s still here today.
After working in patisserie in France and Australia for over 20 years, he has opened Atypic Chocolate at the South Melbourne Market.
He turned to chocolate after a trip to Vietnam. “There was something missing," he tells SBS French.
"I wasn’t in love with patisserie like I used to be, I had done what I needed to do."
Drinking a coffee at Clement, a stone’s throw from his shop, he says, "After 20 years, I needed a new start."
That new start came when he visited Marou in Ho Chi Minh City.
The French chocolate maker embraces the 'bean to bar" method, meaning that they are involved in every step of the production, from the selection of the cacao beans to the finished product.
Atypic Chocolate at the South Melbourne Market
Back in Melbourne, Charles Lemai knew that the South Melbourne Market was looking for a chocolate maker so he jumped in.
“I explained that I didn’t want to do it like a traditional chocolate maker who only melts chocolate. I really wanted to make my own chocolate,” he says.
The French chocolate maker embraces the 'bean to bar' method, "I didn’t want to do it like a traditional chocolate maker who only melts chocolate. I really wanted to make my own chocolate.”
His pitch must have hit a chord because Atypic Chocolate opened at the South Melbourne Market in 2017. The kitchen and shop are small, only 42 square meters, but that’s where they manage to get everything done.
Through a large window, you can peek at Charles Lemai and his team sorting the cocoa beans, roasting them and passing them through several machines before they end up in a chocolate bar or pastry.
He only uses non-refined and organic sugars, and doesn’t touch any artificial colourings. “One of the reasons I wanted to make my own chocolate, even though it’s more complicated, is that I would know exactly what’s in my chocolate and my pastries,” he explains.
If you’re lucky enough to go to the market on a day where they’re roasting the cacao beans, you'll be able to locate Atypic Chocolate by the intoxicating smell alone.
Once there, you can pick between bars of dark, milk and white chocolate (Charles’ favourite is the 70 per cent 'Haiti'), as well as hot chocolate and 'mendiant,' a chocolate disk with nuts and dry fruits. And since Charles couldn’t totally let go of patisserie, you can also find rich brownies, cookies and - a unique novelty in Australia - the 'merveilleux.'
'Merveilleux' (which means marvellous or wonderful in French) are a kind of cake invented in Belgium and popularised in the north of France.
They are made of two meringues covered in flavoured whipped cream and dusted in chocolate shavings. And - you guessed it, Atypic Chocolate makes its own chocolate whipped cream and shavings. Marvellous, indeed.
Listen Charles Lemai's full interview (in French) with SBS French below: