Interview with the passionate Chocolate Making CAP student Charlotte Benzaken

01 March 2021
Charlotte Benzaken, CAP chocolaterie
Passionate about pastry, Charlotte gave up her career in human resources to devote herself to her plan of opening a biscuit shop and tearoom, which she has been working on for over five years. Her signature product is the cookie, in all its forms. But the health crisis slowed her down just as she was approaching the finishing line. Instead, this foodie chose to follow her passion, the one passed on to her by her father: chocolate making. We talked with the soft-spoken and cheerful Charlotte as she looked back on this career change, the happiness of these few months training at the Institut Culinaire de France and her personal challenge of presenting her project during the Business Game.

Can you tell us about your background?

Charlotte: I graduated from the Sorbonne in 2010 and became an HRM, in charge of recruitment and professional mobility.

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to be a pastry chef, but my parents wanted me to pursue my education. But, from the age of 30, I was fed up—my job was anything but creative and I wanted to do what I really loved. I had been baking for a long time and I was learning by myself. In 2017, I did a Pastry CAP at EBP Paris. After my diploma, I was offered a job as an OHS trainer at the school, but I wanted to focus on my plan to open a shop, a biscuit shop/tearoom based on cookies, my signature product. 

What made you decide to enrol at the Institut Culinaire de France?

Charlotte: I had been working on my cookie recipe for five years. I had been planning to open my shop and was looking for premises in Paris. Then the first lockdown happened... I took the opportunity to think about my project and, in the end, I was relieved not to have opened during this time. Then I thought to myself that I had always wanted to do a professional training course in chocolate making.

I love chocolate, it's a delicate product, which is unpredictable and difficult to master.

I decided to take the plunge: I did some research and I came across the opening of Institut Culinaire de France in Bordeaux. It was certain to open in September, so I decided to go there. Besides, I wanted to get away from Paris, so it was the perfect opportunity. 

Where does your passion for chocolate making come from?

Charlotte: Chocolate is my number one passion [laughs]. I have a sweet tooth and I'm a real foodie. But it was my father who taught me to love dark chocolate when I was little. He was a chocolate fanatic and he passed on his passion to me. I love chocolate, both for its taste and for everything it allows you to do. At the same time, it's a delicate product, which is unpredictable and difficult to master.

When you are passionate, you can feel it; you have to keep this permanent sense of wonder.

How did the Business Game go?

Charlotte: It was great! I was very invested in my project and I already had a business plan, so I didn't hesitate to take part in the challenge. It was very interesting. The chefs were very busy, so I also learned to manage on my own. But Vincent Valton still helped and supported me. He was proud of me during my presentation to the judging panel.  

What was the project you presented?

Charlotte: I presented my shop proposal, which I have been working on for years. Sure, the cookie idea may seem basic, but I still wanted to present my project. I gave them my different types of cookie to taste as well as alfajores, an Argentinian cookie filled with dulce de leche that I discovered in a small tearoom in Amsterdam. One of the judges has a chocolate shop and has always wanted to serve alfajores.

Alfajores par Charlotte Benzaken
Alfajores par Charlotte Benzaken
Les cookies de Charlotte Benzaken

I didn't set out thinking I would succeed because I am aware that I have relatively simple products. I wanted to have fun and present this project which is close to my heart. I worked hard on my communication. And it paid off as I was congratulated by the judges!

Do you plan to turn this project into a reality?

Charlotte: Totally! Even if it's on hold, it's a project I want to see through to completion. It will take as long as it takes.

I didn't think this job could be quite so wonderful. I can no longer imagine getting up in the morning and not liking what I do.

What are you doing now?

At the moment I would like to work at a chocolate maker to get my bearings. I have put my project on hold because the current economic situation is not ideal. Investors have contacted me for partnerships. I have been asked to sell my products in a food truck in Bordeaux for a month and I’m very interested in doing that. I've fallen in love with the city so I'm thinking of living there. I'm going to do my second work placement there at Hasnaâ. It's funny, I thought I was going to continue my life in Paris but now I see myself living in Bordeaux [laughs].

What memories do you have of the few months you spent at Institut Culinaire de France?

It will always be one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. And yet I didn't think I could have a better experience after my Pastry CAP. For me, this Chocolate Making CAP was the fulfilment of my dream: as soon as I passed the exam, I would feel complete. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Vincent Valton for being my trainer and also for the passion he passed on to us and the unrelenting investment he made in teaching us this magnificent profession.

I didn't think this job could be quite so wonderful. It's intensive and complicated, it changes our lives, and I thank my husband for his unfailing support in my career change, but it's so beautiful to be able to do what I love. I can no longer imagine getting up in the morning and not liking what I do.

What would advice would you give to future Institut Culinaire de France students?

Go for it! When you are passionate, you can feel it! You have to keep that constant sense of wonder. The school teaches us the basics but not only that. And the chefs are so skilled—they have worked in renowned establishments: Vincent Valton at Fauchon and Kyung-Ran is the first woman to have competed in the Meilleur Ouvrier de France competition. They are top chefs. They are brilliant. They show us the very best techniques and that is priceless. You don't just learn from the chefs’ professional skills, you learn from their passion.

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