Thursday, Apr. 23, 2009

A Taste for Chocolate

Best Place to Experiment with Chocolate

Given that many people's moods are regulated by the chemical action of chocolate, it was probably only a matter of time before somebody recreated the chocolate shop as a drugstore. Looking like a dispensary jointly designed by Damien Hirst and Willy Wonka, Singapore's Chocolate Research Facility,, is stocked with 100 varieties of chocolates, retailed in vaguely pharmaceutical packaging. "Some think these are condoms," laughs founder Chris Lee who grew up at his parents' corner store with one hand permanently in the candy jar.

If the Chocolate Research Facility looks suspiciously well visualized, that's because Lee is not merely a seasoned retailer (his other store is a lifestyle boutique in Chinatown named Asylum) but also head of a marketing agency that numbers the likes of Levi's and Sony on its client roster. That creative streak surely accounts for the imagination at work when it comes to chocolate flavorings.

The Chocolate Research Facility's produce is preservative-free, locally made and divided into 10 lines, with the Alcohol series being the most popular (lychee martini has perennially topped the best-seller list since the shop opened last November, with champagne running second). The Exotic series — with Sichuan pepper, red bean, cheese and other flavors — also does well and is fun to explore. The Spring/Summer 09 collection features yam with almond, cardamom with almond, ginger with ginger crystal, and pandan with coconut flake. And for chocolate snobs, the Connoisseur series uses cocoa beans from individual plantations in Togo, Cuba, Venezuela, Ghana and São Tomé and Príncipe, among others.

Lee admits that 70% of the chocolate combinations he concocts are simple crowd pleasers — flavors like Irish cream, wild berries or latte. "It's not 'I dare you to try this flavor,'" he says. "It's still for chocolate lovers." He should know. Since the store's opening, he's gained four kilos.