Maison Marou Manager
Maison Marou’s General Manager Jason Laurent grew up in Kansas City as the son of a retired Green Beret.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Park Campus with a degree in pastry, Laurent worked in kitchens in Mexico.
In spring of 2013, he packed his bags and headed for Ho Chi Minh City. Once on the ground, he worked hard to get a temporary roasting position at Marou. Soon, he found himself in charge of the whole factory.
Naturally, Laurent leapt at the chance to move our award-winning chocolate to the next level.
His dedication and imagination proved foundational to Maison Marou.
WHAT’S YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF CHOCOLATE?
My Oma’s rum chocolate tortes.
I never appreciated those until culinary school when I spent an entire day baking cakes and slicing them into the thinnest possible layers. I still don’t know how my grandmother did that.
Anyhow Oma came from a teeny village on the Austrian alpine border and spent 13 years in Rome during the war.
When she moved to Missouri with my grandfather, she was 40 and didn’t speak much English.
I remember her being really, really German. She taught us danke and bitte before we could say please and thank you.
She’s the reason I got into the kitchen. Well, her and the food network.
WHEN DID YOU START WORKING WITH CHOCOLATE?
My high school French teacher got me a job with a pastry chef who opened a teeny-tiny chocolate shop that only made bon bon the summer I graduated.
I walked in there thinking Hershey’s milk chocolate was as good as it gets. Then my boss handed me a piece of single-origin chocolate from South America.
Over time, I learned to appreciate honest dark chocolate. About six months after I started, my mom bought me something wrapped in foil—a rabbit or an egg or a christmas tree. My teeth went right through it and I spit it out.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO VIETNAM?
My dad is a green beret who frequently returned to Vietnam to do humanitarian work. Then at the end of 2011, he invited me to come with him.
We started in Hanoi and came down all the way down.
I fell in love with the energy in Saigon the first morning I arrived. If I’d known it was possible, I would’ve just stayed. Instead, I went home for two years, worked for a butcher and a baker.
I saved up $1,000 and moved to Ho Chi Minh City.
HOW DID YOU FIND MAROU?
Well, the airline lost my bag.
So I literally had nothing. No plan. Didn’t know anyone. I can remember just sitting in a park in Pham Ngu Lao thinking “this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.”
Two months later, I wrote Marou a three-page letter begging them for a job.
They gave me a couple of shifts covering people’s vacations.
And then one day, a position opened and I became the roaster, cracker and winnower. I worked in the hot part of the factory, picking up 50 kilo bags of beans.
I really liked coming home smelling like cacao, which is frankly really weird.
AFTER YEARS OF CRANKING OUT MAROU CHOCOLATE, WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE BAR?
I started out on the original 10-kilo roaster that now sits in Maison Marou. We produced a ton of chocolate a month; I had four staff and space to grow.
By the time I left the factory in Thu Duc, we had 15 staff and could push out 3.5 tons a month.
So I’ve tasted a lot of Marou chocolate.
I don’t have a favorite bar, I have favorite batches.
Eighteen months ago, I picked up a bar of Ba Ria that tasted just like oranges.
At the time, I was experimenting with some candied orange peel, so there were oranges laying around the factory and I thought someone had contaminated the batch.
Turned out it was just the cacao, which had this amazing flavor.
WOW. HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH A CHOCOLATE IF IT CHANGES ALL THE TIME?
When we won our first award, Vincent came up and slapped me on the back and said “Good Job.”
It felt odd.
As the roaster and winnower, I saw myself as the protector of the flavor.
I felt there was nothing I could do to create flavor, unless I screwed up and burned a batch. And I could add sugar, which can cover bitterness and acidity. But adding too much sugar only buries the flavor.
HOW WILL MAISON MAROU SELL VIETNAMESE CONSUMERS ON FINE DARK CHOCOLATE?
Eighty percent of our staff come through the door knowing nothing about Marou or single-origin dark chocolate.
But before we opened, we did a cake tasting and everyone was fighting over the last piece.
We’ve put those guys through two weeks of intensive training so that even our baristas can tell you everything you want to know about chocolate: how it’s made, where it comes from.