Maison Marou Chef
The Chocolate Savant
Stéphanie Aubriot grew up working in her family’s bakery and sweet shop, but her talent and drive quickly shot her to the top of France’s most cherished kitchens.
After years under pastry great Olivier Bajard, Aubriot travelled to England to work for the legendary MOF Michel Roux Snr.
In 2013, Roux sent Aubriot to Danang to create the most exquisite dessert menu Vietnam had ever seen. When she discovered Marou, Aubriot flew to Ho Chi Minh City to visit our farms. Then she spent a week tasting each of our single-origin chocolates.
In the end, she invited us to taste a signature chocolate plate arrayed on the wings of a brass airplane. She called it the Marou Traveller and hoped it would whisk diners somewhere special.
When the time came to open Maison Marou, we begged Aubriot to design our menu.
She happily agreed.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
I grew up in Nancy—a nice town with really bad weather.
Nancy has about 100,000 people, good universities, a nice history and some beautiful architecture.
My great grandfather started our family bakery here.
I grew up hearing that the baker was one of the most important people in the village. The mayor, the banker and the baker were the first to have cars, the first to have electricity.
WHAT’S YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF CHOCOLATE?
When I was young, I was allergic to chocolate. It gave me headaches.
Growing up, I watched my dad and my uncles make Easter eggs and things like that. I liked the smell; I liked the texture. But for me, it was never about gluttony.
I took pleasure in the kitchen, in making chocolate for others.
I loved the way tempering machines made infinity symbols as they spun. Nothing was more beautiful than that except, maybe, cream spinning into ganache, or the shine you find in perfect ganache…
Every Christmas, I got up early and worked, hard. Then I’d sit and watch people come into the shop and agonize over this one or that one.
I loved to give them advice. To help them decide how to feed eight people.
Eating is the last of the last steps. And the pastry chef is never there for that step.
DID YOU WORK IN THE KITCHEN EVERY DAY?
My great grandfather built the first family bakery and shop in his house; we lived like that for generations.
In 1980 my grandfather retired and my dad (the company chairman) and his two brothers decided to transform the house into a strictly-commercial building. I think they wanted some separation between their lives and their business. We lived five kilometers from the patisserie.
My dad never once assumed I’d come with him to work. I always had to ask. And he always said yes.
WHEN DID YOU HAVE TO START WORKING WITH CHOCOLATE?
I finished high school at 19 and began studying for a pastry degree. During that time, I apprenticed under my uncle who was a really strong man; it wasn’t easy studying under him. I cried so many times.
When I was 24, he decided to retire and began teaching me how to manage the place.
Then, at the height of the Easter season, he learnt he had cancer and died within a month. At this point, he told me: “Steph, you’ve got to work with chocolate. It’s the noblest ingredient in pastry.”
This was a really tough time for me.
All of a sudden, I had to taste all the chocolate myself. It demanded patience, meticulousness.
I didn’t even have time to study!
While learning to run the whole business, little by little, I got my taste for chocolate.
DOES THIS MEAN YOU DON’T LIKE EATING CHOCOLATE?
Look when you don’t feel well, you eat chocolate. When I don’t feel well, I make chocolate.
I cannot be angry; I cannot be stressed. I must focus.
When I feel bad, I go to my chocolate room and play with chocolate.
He’s one of my best friends. When I’m not patient with him, nothing works.
YOU WORKED FOR SOME LEGENDARY FRENCH MOFs. THEN, SUDDENLY, YOU FIND YOURSELF BUILDING A KITCHEN IN VIETNAM. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
I fell in love with Vietnam from the first day I arrived.
Here in the Socialist Republic, I feel freer than anywhere else in the world—I don’t know why.
The Vietnamese seem at peace with their story. The French came here for war, the Americans came here for war and no one cares today. I like Vietnam because it’s a strong country.
That said, it’s a country without a real dessert or pastry culture.
I remember during my first weeks at La Maison, I gave my staff pastry at the end of the day and they didn’t like it.
Little by little, they came to like that little moment after the service when we all ate pastry. It wasn’t just the pastry. It was pastry’s association with that great moment at the end of the day.
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER MAROU?
Michel Roux was really impressed with the chocolate.
When you don’t know Vietnam, you think: everything’s fake—same same but different.
But after a year here, I discovered you can find anything in Vietnam; you just have to look hard.
It would be stupid to say Marou’s ‘the best in the world,’ but what’s exceptional about Marou is its attention to detail.
Marou goes to each farm, selects each cacao bean and helps each farmer to be better.
Then you have a lot of people coming to Marou like me. We each offer a little of ourselves as ingredients and it all comes together to make something wonderful.