By Katie Thomas Explorebigsky.com Contributor
La Châtelaine. If this is not a name you’ve heard, it may sound like a rustic yet elegant place to hang your hat in the mountains.
Qu’est-ce que c’est? What is it? Un château, oui?
But no. Gallatin Valley is fortunate to have a genuine chocolaterie – think of that 2000 movie Chocolat, minus Johnny Depp – of the most gourmet variety.
Wlady and Shannon Grochowski started La Châtelaine Chocolat in Bozeman in 2006, near what many locals still call “the Red Barn,” at 1516 West Main. Here, customers can browse dozens of flavors of ornate chocolates, seven days a week. An auxiliary store, La Petite (“the little one”), was added in 2008, in the Baxter Hotel lobby downtown where many of the hotel’s diners and drinkers are drawn to the stout, rusty orange square boxes enveloped in silk ribbon. During the winter months, one can often smell another of La Châtelaine’s specialties, chocolat chaud (hot chocolate), from the street.
Wlady, the French half of the Grochowski couple, hails from Paris, where he began whisking chocolate concoctions at a young age. His first attempt at chocolate cake, at age 10, was largely influenced by his mother’s baking, as well as exposure to his grand-mère (grandmother) from the Vosges in northeastern France; she made flourless chocolate cakes every week. After studying management at Paris-Sorbonne University and a brief career in auto racing, Wlady moved to the U.S. in 1993 and found success selling traditional French cakes and marketing through word-of-mouth.
Shannon Hughes Grochowski also fell into chocolate crafting after exploring other vocations. Eventually heeding what she calls a “Julia Child impulse,” she too began selling her own creations on a small scale that grew and grew. Once she met and married Wlady, and then traveled to Paris with him, the deal was sealed. Shannon trained further with pastry chefs in San Francisco and Paris before she and Wlady opened La Châtelaine in Bozeman.
The Grochowskis pride themselves on presentation. Towering displays of treats such as brownies, tartlettes, cookies and mendiants (a chocolate disk studded with nuts and dried fruits) adorn the tops of the glass display cases. Inside these cases are perfectly organized rows of individual chocolates with names like “King Bourbon” and “Coeur de Passion.” There’s also a counter next to the ice cream case where one can order a fancy milkshake or ice cream sundae and imagine what a 1950s French soda fountain must have been like.
As for the chocolates, it’s hard to say which is more enjoyable – devouring La Châtelaine’s lavish delicacies, or admiring their intricate, artistic details.
“We are the opposite of Godiva,” Shannon says. “We try to keep our varieties changing. We go with the seasons, we do custom designs, and are always exploring new things.”
With works of chocolate art like the “French Martini,” “Black Peppercorn,” “Azteca” and “Broken Heart,” customers must make a conscious effort to save room for the pink champagne truffles or jars of house-made caramel sauce.
In addition to the two Bozeman stores, La Châtelaine makes its chocolates locally available at the Hungry Moose in Big Sky, the Bogert Farmer’s Market in Bozeman (summers only), the winter farmer’s market at the Emerson, and online at chatelainechocolate.com.
Need more? Take a look at the blog, chatelainechocolate.blogspot.com. It’s enough to make you want to marry a Parisian. These chocolates are as heavenly to look at as they are to eat and will make you feel, if only for a moment, like you’ve taken a trip to France…très chic.