© K. Aidi
Nancy Passions SucréesMaison Jean Lalonde

Conversation with Jean-Luc Guillevic – Artisan confectioner

In 1983, Jean-Luc Guillevic, originally from Brittany, joined the team at Maison Lalonde (known as Jean Lalonde by locals: Lalonde has been a famous name in Nancy confectionery for generations). He and his wife took over the shop in 1994. Ever since, Jean-Luc, a cultured perfectionist and history buff, has vowed to protect the specialties that have been entrusted to him. He has preserved the origins of the ingredients, the manufacturing processes and the ancestral expertise that bring so much value to the shop. “So that they can continue on after us”, he explains. This shop on Rue Saint-Dizier, facing the central market, has long been dedicated to confectionery and the site contributes to the alchemy of the products. Jean-Luc says that after years of creating these delicacies, the walls of the back workshop exude aromas of sugar and confections. Today he’s slowly passing on the business to his daughter and son-in-law.

 

NANCY PASSIONS SUCRÉES SPÉCIALITIES

  • Craquelines candies
  • Duchesse de Lorraine
  • Bergamot candy
  • Lorraine Chardons

“A shop like ours is a living place of heritage. Our challenge is to be able to rigorously pass on these tastes.”

Why did you choose to be a confectioner? What was most appealing to you?

This trade wasn’t my first calling, but I wanted something where I would work independently, and I was fascinated by jobs where you can work with your hands and use the five senses. I think it’s one of the few jobs that draws on all the senses. You need taste, smell and touch for sure. Also, we carry on techniques that for some go back to the Renaissance and the Middle Ages. It’s something extraordinary and a real passion for me.

 

How did you learn your skills?

I had a background in engineering, but I learned these skills on the job, through observation, by watching how my more experienced colleagues worked. I’ve always loved working with my hands. It’s so satisfying. When I arrived here, I was lucky to meet people who were masters of their craft, and who also had extraordinary senses of taste and touch. They passed on to me what they themselves had learned. The origins of this shop date back to 1850. It has extraordinarily stood the test of time. No skills have been lost; they’ve always been passed on.

 

How long did it take you to master the Duchesse de Lorraine candy?

People think that they’re easy to make, but they are enormously complex and require a skilled hand with speed, regularity, and finesse. When the coating is smooth and bubble-free, they’re truly a work of art. I think it takes 2 to 3 years to get to a certain level of regularity. And since they can’t be dipped in a machine, you have to acquire a certain speed, because you have to turn them out quickly by hand. We also make our own tools. We each have our own techniques and unique tactile sensitivities, but everything needs to come together in harmony.

Bergamote de Nancy: for the Bergamote, we keep learning every day. It was while reading some early 20th-century books one Sunday that I realised that we sometimes worked them the wrong way. You’d think that it’s a very easy product to make, but they’re affected by temperature, humidity and the regularity of the process. We work by sight and by touch. It’s a great art. We’re never finished learning.

Craqueline: it’s the same as for the Bergamote, but with the added difficulty of working with cooked sugar. If you don’t go fast enough, your sugar will recrystalise, and you won’t get anywhere. And if you’re not regular, you’ll end up with misshapen sweets. You have to successfully combine finesse, dexterity, and speed.

Lorraine Chardons: the art lies in pouring the starch! If you work too slowly, you’ll have a mixture of water, alcohol and sugar that will crystalise and everything will need to be thrown away. You need to work quickly to use all the liquid mixture in one go. Time is both our friend and our enemy.

What has experience taught you?

It’s taught me modesty. I fall asleep every night telling myself that the people who came before us were masters, there’s no other explanation. The old machines that we still use today are sometimes worse than clocks. You might think that they’re beautiful when you see them working, but when you know them from the inside, you say to yourself, “what were they thinking?” They are the devil’s machines (laughs).

 

Do you bring your own personal touch to your work?

When a grandmother or grandfather comes to our shop with their grandchild and says, “taste this”, they want their grandson or granddaughter to experience the same tastes and the same pleasure they had when they themselves came here for the first time. A shop like ours is a living place of heritage. Our challenge is to be able to rigorously pass on these tastes. If we innovate, we must remain perfectly in line with the products of our shop.

 

Who do you want to pass on your expertise to? And how do you plan to do it?

To my son-in-law. This requires me to be present every day. And on his end, he is constantly training. When something goes wrong, we fix it together, and then he tries again and again on his own until it’s perfect. I have always had the desire to protect and renew the brands of our shop. I represent the 6th generation; the 7th will come with my children.

 

Any advice ?

To those who will taste these specialties, you are the taste ambassadors of the city of Nancy.

Bergamote de Nancy: It’s an aromatic candy. You need to take your time and let it slowly melt in your mouth. It was originally made to replace toothpaste and to cover bad breath in the 18th century. Because bergamot essence not only has a strong taste, it is also a disinfectant.

Duchesse de Lorraine: most certainly the highest exploit in confectionery, it’s the only confectionery that can travel at all temperatures and latitudes. Delicious and imperishable. No special advice.

Craqueline: simply taste and enjoy.

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