The Secrets of Chocolate: A Gourmand’s Trip Through a Top Chef’s Atelier

Since childhood, Franckie Alarcon has loved all things chocolate, so when he gets the opportunity to follow famed chef and chocolate worker, Jacques Genin, and create a graphic novel about him, naturally he accepts. Franckie gets to experience so much more than he expects, including a trip to Peru to meet with an Amazonian tribe and apprenticing under Jacques in his shop for a few days. Make sure to have a sweet treat nearby when reading this trip through a year in chocolate. 

The art of The Secrets of Chocolate really helps to set the mood of the whole story, with loose lines and the lack of defined panels firmly establishing it as a journal or sketchbook. It can take some work on certain pages to figure out the flow of everything without standard panels cutting everything up, but it also helps allow Alarcon to shift the visual focus to whatever he wants. Colors are limited and almost every character wears mostly white, which makes them blend more into the page and again, pushes the focus to what is colored (often chocolate in some form). I don’t love the font choice. Though visually it suits the overall feel of the comic, the curlicue script can be hard to read on occasion. 

Though it isn’t really set up as one, The Secrets of Chocolate kind of feels like a frame story, or a little like it’s breaking the fourth wall, because we see illustrations of and discussions of Franckie writing and drawing the comic we’re reading. It’s fun, especially at the end when Franckie brings in the finished comic for everyone to look at, though clearly it can’t be finished or the reaction page of them seeing the pages couldn’t be done yet. Otherwise, the writing is fine but sometimes feels a little choppy or abrupt. Alarcon definitely creates the story using both visual and text, but the text is almost secondary to the art sometimes. 

There are a few instances of what felt like to me some racial stereotyping and heteronormative assumptions, but they aren’t remarkable and may not bother most readers. There is however a slight problem with lack of explanation for American readers or those not already familiar with French baking techniques; references to European brands, kinds of cakes, and methods of cooking that are never explained to the reader. I would’ve loved just a small section in the back with a glossary of terms or notes, because while chocolate is universal, not all things in this comic are. 

Also worth noting are the recipes in The Secrets of Chocolate. There are a few, but they’re as freeform as the rest of the comic and so aren’t optimal to follow as-is, but better copied out for someone interested in using this recipe for chocolate tarts or truffles. There are also few enough in the comic that it can’t be counted as a cookbook, but a story with recipes, especially without an index to easily find them within the comic. But they are a fun addition and readers of cozy mysteries or other novels that include recipes will enjoy the inclusion. 

The Secrets of Chocolate is a lighthearted look at the world of French chocolate, as well as a glimpse into the way cacao beans become processed chocolate and some discussions of the history of chocolate and how a person’s palate works. It would be a great choice for fans of books like Cook Korean!. At slightly smaller than standard paper size, it won’t be out of place on graphic novel shelves and would be a solid addition to nonfiction graphic collections. 

The Secrets of Chocolate: A Gourmand’s Trip Through a Top Chef’s Atelier
By Franckie Alarcon
NBM ComicsLit, 2021
ISBN: 9781681122786

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)