"Les trois chocolats, the talented chocolatier that thrills Parisian gourmands"

Japan Stories

16th September, 2022

Chocolatier Emiko Sano runs Les trois chocolats on the Right Bank in Paris. Her chocolate shop has gradually gained popularity in the Marais, the ultra-competitive chocolate and cake district, to the point of establishing a strong presence there. This success has also affected me as a resident of the Left Bank. I asked her about the secrets and efforts of the Japanese chocolatier that she is, who became famous thanks to word-of-mouth from foodies!

Tsuji: I already had the opportunity to taste your chocolates once, at the opening of your shop. I immediately recognised your talent. Later, by chance, I had the opportunity to work with your father during a TV appearance when I was back in Fukuoka where my parents live. (Emiko's father is a famous chocolatier in Fukuoka).
I was surprised to learn that all the chocolates sold in your father's shop in Fukuoka came from Paris.

Emiko Sano (hereafter referred to as "Sano"): Yes, that's right. Every week we fly in items made in our workshop in France and sell them in our shop in Tenjin.

Tsuji: Les trois chocolats is the link between Tenjin and Paris. Originally, you only sold chocolates, but then you started selling cakes as well?

Sano: From the moment we opened, we did both chocolate and cakes. At first I did both at the same time, but now we have a pastry chef.

Tsuji: When did you open Les Trois Chocolats?

Sano: February 2017.

Tsuji: It was around that time that I tasted your chocolates, so they were brand new! What made you decide to become a chocolatier?

Sano: My family has run a chocolate factory since my grandfather's time, but I worked in sales for three years after graduating from university, so I wasn't initially interested in the family business.

Tsuji: Oh, your parents' chocolate factory was started by your grandfather, not your father!

Sano: Yes, it was founded in 1942, 80 years ago.

Tsuji: I see, by your grandfather, that's amazing. That was long, long before I was born. He was a pioneer. So how did you decide to take over from your father?

Sano: When I first started working, I worked as a sales representative and was in contact with many customers of my grandparents' generation. During conversations, I talked about my parents who ran a bakery. One customer told me: "Before we got married, my husband and I used to go there as lovers"... Until then, my father was always very busy and we didn't spend much time together as a family, and I hardly remember him playing with me. I wondered what my father was protecting by working so hard. I didn't understand why he worked so hard and thought he could do otherwise. I was going through my teenage crisis. So I went to work elsewhere. But when I heard this story, I realised for the first time that the chocolate factory was a place of memories for some people. I understood the meaning of my father's and grandfather's persistence. And when the customer said to me, "If you don't take over, this shop will disappear, it's so sad. I challenged myself to keep the shop going until it was 100 years old. 

Tsuji: If the shop opened 80 years ago, it means that it also existed when I was in Fukuoka, and my parents must have gone there because they also liked fashionable things. I'll ask them next time.

Sano: When my grandfather opened the shop, a piece of bread cost 20 yen. He sold a piece of chocolate for 100 yen, and he was very poor because such an expensive product sold for little. Despite this, he continued to make them for the love of chocolate. Now that I'm doing the same job, and working alone in Paris without my father's support, I'm making it my mission to carry on my grandfather's spirit.

Tsuji: Excellent. And now, the chocolate factory is perpetuated in Paris, thanks to you. By the way, have you ever tasted your grandfather's chocolates?

Sano: Yes, my grandfather passed away when I was in primary schools, but I still remember the taste of his chocolates.

Tsuji: How do you think your grandfather's chocolate tastes different from your father's?

Sano: My father inherited what my grandfather did, but he also had his own dilemmas. My grandfather used to say, "My chocolate is good, eat it," and he made the same chocolates that were made in Germany and France at the time, but my father used his grandfather's techniques to make chocolate that was suitable for the Japanese palate.

Tsuji: I see. Your father, Sano-san, is a powerful man. He is a charismatic businessman. So he worked to expand his business. You, who represent the third generation, have gone back to the roots to emphasise the quality of the chocolate. To do this, you even came to France! What is the aim of "Les trois chocolats" today, and what are your thoughts on your customers?

Sano: "Les trois chocolats" is now located in the Marais district of Paris, which is a fierce battlefield of patisseries, with about 30 patisseries within two or three minutes' walk of each other. We are in an environment where Pierre Hermé, Patrick Roger and other world-renowned chocolatiers are our competitors. In the middle of all this, I always think: what is the uniqueness of my chocolates? This is a constant concern. What can I do that the other big chocolatiers can't? Use Japanese ingredients, constantly vary the flavours and focus on the freshness of the chocolates that can be enjoyed immediately after being made in the shop. We give our all every day so that our customers can always enjoy their visit.

Tsuji: My favourite is Jacques Genin, but Jean-Paul Hevin, Patrick Roger, Pierre Marcolini... they are all very present in the world. It takes a lot of courage to go to the competition.

Sano: Paris is a place where you never lose motivation.

Tsuji: A place where motivation never wanes. So it's also a place of struggle?

Sano: Yes, it's a place where I can always look forward. My father acknowledges this by saying, "This is something only you can do." I think I am like my grandfather in that I challenge myself without procrastinating. 

Tsuji: Can you tell us about Sho Kimura, your head pastry chef?

Sano: He came to France on a working holiday visa. When he was working in a pastry shop in the provinces, I spotted him by chance on Instagram where he was posting pictures of his cakes. I immediately saw potential, so I looked him up. Then one day I was surprised by his visit to the chocolate factory. We immediately decided to work together. 

Tsuji: That's a nice coincidence!

Sano: His father also runs a bakery. His family kept telling him to inherit it from a young age, but he refused for a long time. After working in several jobs where he could not persevere, his father told him to find a way to make people happy. These words made an impression on him, he was no longer obliged to be a pastry chef. So he practiced pastry for ten years in Aomori and then came to France. 

Tsuji: So there are two of you? You do the chocolates and Mr. Kimura does the pastry?

Sano: I am the chef-chocolatier, Mr. Kimura is the chef-patissier and we have another chocolatier.

Tsuji: What are the special features of his cakes?

Sano: Customers say they are delicate and sweet. He makes French cakes, like the black forest or Paris Brest, but he incorporates techniques he learned in Japan. For example, he spent about two and a half years gradually improving a cake, and he ended up making something that he is completely satisfied with.

Sho Kimura

Tsuji: The period of the Covid 19 pandemic must have been difficult for you?

Sano: Since the shop is located in the Marais, there were usually a lot of Japanese and American tourists, so I was worried... I was wondering if everything was going to be okay. We closed for about 20 days during the first lockdown, and I got a lot of emails asking "Why don't you open? We only started opening the shop as far as we could. We didn't advertise and we didn't have many customers, but after about two weeks, people from the neighbourhood started coming in, and the customers who came in then are now our regulars. After three years, I think our reputation is finally living up to what we had hoped for.

Tsuji: That's wonderful. Your talent has finally been recognised. I hope you will continue to hone your skills in this place where your motivation keeps growing. My heart goes out to you!

Emiko Sano

Les trois chocolats Paris

45 Rue Saint-Paul, 75004 Paris

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