By: Tracey Teo
Princess Cruises makes all its chocolate desserts with Love, Norman Love that is. The award-winning French-trained master chocolatier and pastry designer partnered with Princess Cruises last year to launch Chocolate Journeys, a new onboard chocolate experience that offers almost endless ways to satisfy a sweet tooth. Passengers can enjoy tantalizing small bites at afternoon tea, sip a chocolate libation, attend a dessert demonstration or simply order whatever tempts them after dinner.
Love, who was the corporate executive pastry chef for the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain in the 1990s, recently created 15 desserts for the Princess fleet. These treats are dramatic sculptural objects d’art on a plate that almost look too good to eat. Almost. The chocolate tiramisu with mascarpone cream and espresso gelato is a big hit, regularly served as the grand finale to a sumptuous meal.
I’m a hardcore chocolate fanatic from way back, and the chocolate tart with vanilla mouse and flourless chocolate cake left me feeling absolutely blissful.
While sailing on a five-day Caribbean cruise aboard Princess Cruises’ newest ship, the 3,560-passenger Princess Regal, I got a behind-the-scenes peek at Love at work. He was tempering a batch of chocolate with a heat gun, trying to arrive at what he calls a “user-friendly viscosity.”  This crucial step is what gives Norman Love boxed chocolates that high glossy shine. If the temperature is off just a couple of degrees, the whole batch could be ruined. “Chocolate has a mind of its own,” Love said.
His candies are beautiful little bite-sized gems in a variety of colors and shapes that appeal to the eye as much as the palate – literally eye candy. These ultra-premium chocolate confections are normally handmade at Norman Love Confections, Love’s company based in Fort Myers, Florida, then sold aboard Princess ships, but I was lucky enough to get an onboard demonstration. Love stirred the chocolate methodically and patiently, gently coaxing it to that flawless state that makes his candy so special. Like a kid watching mom whip up something delicious in the mixing bowl, I was overcome by the urge to stick my finger in and slurp off the warm, sugary gooeyness. I restrained myself, however, confident that I would eventually be offered a sample.
Once satisfied with the chocolate’s consistency, Love poured it into candy molds prepared with blue coloring the shade of a robin’s egg. Next, he flipped the molds upside down, raining chocolate back into the bowl. The remaining swirl of blue coloring and chocolate that stuck to the mold formed the shell, and this was filled with a creamy vanilla rum ganache that smelled like Christmas.
Finally, the big moment arrived. Love smiled and offered me a chocolate that looked as fragile as an egg shell. I popped one in my mouth, and the sweetness exploded on my tongue, a contrast of crunchy shell and creamy center.
Love scours the globe to find the perfect chocolate for his creations. “Like a sommelier that is pairing varietals with different savory dishes, a pastry chef chocolatier has many chocolates available, and the geographic locations of the cacao beans (the raw ingredient for chocolate) influence the underlying flavor profile,” Love explained. “Each of those chocolates has very different characteristics, such as earth tones and dried fruit versus acid and red fruits and spice. Each one of the chocolates has a different purpose depending on what we are creating.” Regardless of where the chocolate is sourced, the end result is always familiar, nostalgic American flavors. For instance, the S’mores-flavored candy takes a simple, round-the-campfire childhood treat traditionally made with Hershey’s Bars and elevates it to a luxury experience through the use of premium chocolate. “I have always been a chef that tries to create simplistic flavors that are well executed and well delivered,” said Love. “Some of the odd flavors that other chefs are doing are not really my style. I’m about comfort food, not honey blossom pollen and cassis.” He’s currently working on a confection infused with the essence of coffee and glazed doughnuts, but he confides that it has been an exercise in frustration. The coffee part is easy, but the glazed doughnut has been a challenge. Of course, Love is used to overcoming challenges. It took him months to perfect the marshmallow in his S’mores, but he eventually got it right, and now it’s a customer favorite.
Wine and Chocolate – a match made in Heaven
My beverage of choice with chocolate is usually coffee, but when I got wind of a chocolate and wine pairing conducted by Love at Vines Wine Bar, I was all in. I took my place among other chocolate-loving oenophiles and prepared to be wowed. I’m glad I did, because I learned a lot. Dark chocolate with a glass of sweet port is a safe classic pairing, but pairing chocolate with bold, full-bodied wines requires a great deal of knowledge and skill. Every taster received a box of Norman Love Confections BLACK, a collection of dark chocolates representing five of the world’s cacao bean-growing regions: Tanzania, Peru, Venezuela, Ghana, and the Dominican Republic. Love explained that wine makers and chocolate makers have something in common. Despite their best efforts, they only have so much control over their product. Much depends on the whims of Mother Nature. Any wine enthusiast knows a vineyard’s terroir, the soil and climate where the grapes are grown, affects the wine’s flavor. The same is true for cacao beans.
We were encouraged to have a sip of wine, a bite of chocolate and another sip of wine. I obediently took a sip of a 2012 Vall Llach Embruix from Spain, a tannic wine with notes of boysenberry and an undercurrent of something nutty and Earthy. I picked up a chocolate made from rare, highly-prized cacao harvested in Peru’s Marañón Canyon and placed it next to the roof of my mouth as instructed, savoring the deliquescent sensation as it spread across my palate. My second sip of wine was unexpectedly drier than the first, probably because of the tannins in the chocolate, but not unpleasantly so.
As the evening wore on, I liked Love more and more, and not just because he was feeding me chocolate. I’ve always admired successful people that have the ability to laugh about past mistakes, and an anecdote about how Love once turned the late Julia Child’s kitchen into a big, sticky mess when he let a pot of cream boil over made us all giggle. In retrospect, we had imbibed quite a bit by then, so I’m not sure if it was really that funny or if were just giddy. Whatever the case, the chocolate and wine pairing was a cruise highlight as far as onboard activities go.
When I asked Love why he has invested so much time and energy perfecting chocolate desserts, the answer was simple. “I like making people happy,” he said. “Making people happy by the things my team and I produce is satisfying and gratifying.”