Soufiere, St. Lucia – Reported by Madeline Boardman for Elite Traveler, the private jet lifestyle magazine
Angus Thirlwell, CEO of Hotel Chocolat, stopped by our offices last week to discuss the recently opened Boucan Hotel & Restaurant, U.S. store expansion, and all things chocolate.
What began as a mail-order catalog of specialty chocolate in 2003, Hotel Chocolat quickly became a favorite brand of chocolate purists and dessert lovers alike. The popularity led co-founders Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris to open the first retail store in Watford, England in 2004. One store grew to seventy-two, including two locations in the United States, one in the Netherlands, and a store in Copenhagen set to open soon.
The celebrated brand’s cult following was so strong that Thirlwell began development of a luxury boutique hotel on St. Lucia, adjacent to the company’s cocoa plantation. Ironically enough, the brand name of Hotel Chocolat was chosen years before there was any thought of a literal Hotel Chocolat. As Thirlwell tells it, the name was chosen “metaphorically to express a state of mind where you truly escape when eating the chocolate.” However a little late-night inspiration pushed Hotel Chocolat’s co-founders to take their brand’s name to heart. “One night I had a little too much rum and the idea for a boutique hotel and restaurant was born,” Thirlwell explained. Apparently a little too much rum was exactly what Thirlwell needed because Boucan has turned into an overnight success.
In operation since January, Boucan has been steadily booked up by chocolate fans and Caribbean travelers and has already landed itself on both Travel + Leisure’s IT List and Conde Nast Traveler’s 2012 Hot List. An intimate hotel of just 14 rooms, Boucan is set on Hotel Chocolat’s agricultural site in St. Lucia – a choice Thirlwell made so that devotees could see the origin of their favorite chocolate.
“Forget ‘bean-to-bar’ chocolate making, we’ve moved on to ‘tree-to-bar’ – something that very few chocolate makers in the world could even consider doing,” asserts Thirlwell. This tree-to-bar strategy is something that guests can see for themselves when staying at Boucan. The resort even offers the option of a “Tree-to-Bar Experience” which allows guests to explore the cocoa groves, pick cacao pods cut from the tree, and take the pods through processing stages, ending with a piece of their own handmade chocolate.
“People think if you stand still long enough at our resort, someone will run up and pour chocolate on you,” says Thirlwell. While that may not be the case, the incorporation of chocolate is truly universal – all the way to the hotel’s CocoaJuvenate spa. With all treatments made in-house in the kitchen of the restaurant, each spa treatment incorporates chocolate. Available treatments include cacao massages in a variety of scents such as cacao-peppermint and cacao-rose, cacao manicures and pedicures, and even a cacao facial.
The restaurant, also called Boucan, is no different. Led by a three-Michelin star chef, Boucan finds a way to work chocolate into every dish that is served. Every part of the cocoa bean is used in the restaurant, down to the sweet pulp which is incorporated into martinis and sorbets. For savory meals, Boucan reinterprets classic dishes with a chocolate twist, such as gazpacho with finely ground cacao nibs or dorado dressed with a red wine and cacao sauce.
Some of the restaurant’s favorite dessert treats find their way into the resort rooms as the housekeeping staff delivers a daily selection of complimentary chocolate goodies. The accommodations of the resort are made up of six lodges and eight luxury lodges. All stand-alone properties, the lodges and luxe lodges feature four-poster beds, “uber-showers” with room for two people, and even an iPod and docking station, pre-loaded with playlists inspired by the estate. A stay in the luxe lodge is set at $550 a night through November 2012, increasing slightly to $595 a night in December.