Feature: the delicate, delicious passion for Belgian chocolates.

AuthorVerel, Patrick

Across the Sound, a chocolatier is recreating delicacies from across the pond

The gently rolling, secluded hills of Litchfield County, Connecticut have long attracted artisans looking for inspiration among the quaint covered bridges, meandering stone walls and leafy trees. Pierre and Susan Gilissen brought their own brand of art to the village of Kent in 2000. Their medium is chocolate, and their finished works are the most heavenly desserts this side of the Atlantic.

To visit Belgique Patisserie & Chocolatier, the chocolate shop the couple opened in a century-old carriage house that was once chock full of garden tools, is to travel to an outpost of continental grandeur only a half hour away from the fast food outlets of New Milford. On a winter day, the smell of hot chocolate wafting on the breeze is intoxicating enough to draw a visitor off the street, across the gravel parking lot, past the circa 1898 clapboard Queen Anne style house where an accompanying restaurant is located, and through the double doors of the carriage house.

Inside, safely ensconced behind glass like fine jewels, are the handmade chocolates that retail for $55 a pound: glossy pieces of Cleopatra pralines with passion fruit filling, crumbly grignottines of chocolate-covered waffle cones, dark chocolate pyramids, milk chocolate crowns and white chocolate seashells and hearts. Another case sports croissants, fruit tarts, marzipan, molded chocolate sculptures and pastries such as "Miserable" cake, which features vanilla butter cream between almond layers. Gift boxes and exotic imported chocolates with flavors like pink peppercorn, anise, bergamot (the flavor of Earl Gray tea) and even hot Masala occupy the far corner, making the shop "chocolate connoisseur central."

Susan Gilissen, who handles marketing and retail, said the shop has gone through some changes since it first opened. The restaurant and the chocolatier were supposed to be equally weighted business ventures, but as the chocolate shop grew, they realized it needed more attention. So, two years ago, the Gilissens limited the restaurant's operations to special occasions. "We're perfectionists, and we could see it was going to be a problem to manage both places the way we wanted them to be," she said, adding that the restaurant is, "kind of like a hobby for us now, which is fine; we do things when we want; we work it around the other schedule."

Pierre Gilissen, a former sous chef for the British ambassador and...

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