Business & Economy

The Barcelona chocolate saga that resurrected in Vietnam

By Eric San Juan

Danang, Vietnam, May 19 (EFE).- One hundred and thirty years after his great-great-grandfather became one of the pioneers of luxury chocolate sales in Barcelona, Spain, Víctor Ceano is reviving the family business in the Vietnamese city of Danang, where his creations from the Savall brand have become a benchmark.

The great-great-grandfather’s factory was passed down through the generations and became one of Barcelona’s most traditional pastry shops, Reñé, where the now-27-year-old Ceano remembers trying the sweets his grandparents gave him and taking his first steps with chocolate and confectionery, a passion that never left him.

In 2001, when he was six years old, neither his mother nor any of his uncles wanted to take over from his grandfather, who retired and closed the bakery.

“I remember that my father and I stood in front of the signboard and said: ‘One day we will open this pastry shop.’ It was like a pact that he and I had,” he tells EFE.

Although the shop closed, the grandfather continued to delight family and friends with the sweets that he prepared in a home workshop in which young Ceano learned and reaffirmed his early vocation as a pastry chef.

“I did high school at night and in the mornings I was with my grandfather. We made pasta, birthday cakes, nougat when it was the season. At the age of 17 I did my first nougat campaign by myself and that was when I made an entry in Michelin star restaurants with my desserts and in luxury grocery stores in Barcelona,” he says at his establishment in Vietnam’s central city of Danang.

He emphasizes that only when his grandfather realized the hours Ceano spent in the kitchen to improve the nougat did he give his approval and understand that his grandson was serious about the work.

By then, the Ceano Savall family had become acquainted with Vietnam, during a first vacation in 2001 in which they fell in love with the country and made friends with a Vietnamese hotelier in Hoi An, 25 kilometers (16 miles) from where Savall now has its headquarters.

That friend, whom he describes as part of the family, offered him the opportunity to train for two years taking care of the patisserie in his restaurants. That first step later allowed him to work in a luxury hotel and in 2016 found the company Savall, which sells chocolate products in establishments in the main cities of Vietnam.

Just as his great-great-grandfather introduced chocolate (invented in the solid state similar to its current form just a few decades earlier) to European and American elites at the end of the 19th century, Ceano is conquering the palates of the public, much of which only knows industrial products crammed with sugar and palm oil, with his artisan chocolate.

“The addiction and love of chocolate that we have in Europe is beginning here. You say you make chocolate and people think of the alternatives they have bought in the supermarket,” he explains.

“But I give them a taste of some with different flavors and they like it. In Spain we have been using chocolate at home for so many years that the palate has become accustomed to good quality. They (the Vietnamese) are gradually getting used to it.”

The young chocolatier, whose father, Pau, helps him in the management of the company, is clear that the future lies in paying no heed to the siren calls for mass production, and in maintaining his artisan quality with local ingredients.

“We have a rule: product of the highest quality and respect for methods. We always have as a reference what my great-great-grandfather started,” he says.

In the three-story house converted into a workshop, office and retail store, Ceano gives free rein to all his passions: he gives instructions in Vietnamese to his collaborators, supervises the manufacturing of chocolates, designs special creations and boxes for products, and prepares for meetings with potential clients – especially hotels – that he captivates with personalized designs.

“I am in the middle of everything, but everything turns even if I am not there,” he says about the well-oiled machinery of his eight employees (he hopes to have 11 again soon, like before the pandemic), with which his chocolate has conquered some of the best hotels in the country, gourmet shops in the largest Vietnamese cities and has begun to look into other Asian markets, such as Japan and Hong Kong.

Before the pandemic, they made 15,000 chocolates a day for a hotel, although the capacity is greater and they are considering renting a small warehouse on the outskirts of the city to increase production and work on exports to other Asian countries.

The plans for growth do not allow him to forget the old promise that he and his father made when the family bakery in Barcelona closed. In the future he aspires to reopen it, as a branch of the business he started in Vietnam, to which he would travel from time to time without neglecting the Asian arm of the business.

“The premises belong to my grandfather and right now he has rented it to a restaurant that has maintained its modernist style. The dream is still alive,” he says. EFE

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