It’s impossible to discuss the evolution of French chocolate in the 20th century without mentioning Guy Urbain, the man who for more than seven decades dedicated his life to advancing not only French chocolate, but sweet gastronomy globally.
The man who founded the French Academy of Chocolate and Confections, as well as the European Candy Kettle Club (ECKC), and who helped coordinate the creation of World Cocoa and Chocolate Day (Oct. 1), passed away on Christmas Day, 2017. He was 95.
Born on May 29, 1922, in Orgeval, France, Urbain was raised in the family confectionery shop created by his grandmother under the name of “Confiserie Saint Laurent," which eventually became "Douceurs de France,” in Paris.
In 1943, Urbain, who was conscripted as forced labor under the German Service du Travail Obligatoire (STO - Obligatory Work Service), escaped from a work camp in Germany and managed to hide in Paris until the war’s end in 1945. A year later, he married Alda Hugot.
In 1955, he created La Confiserie, which became Chocolat et Confiserie Magazine. For 60 years, Urbain edited and wrote for the professional journal, a total of 450 issues.
Two years later, he created Confiserie Salon, which in 1960 became the Salon International Confectionery, Chocolate and Biscuits, otherwise known as INTERSUC. The show brought together French and foreign professionals of chocolate and confectionery in Paris to showcase the talents and achievements of their trades. The biennial show, now held in conjunction with Europain, the baking exposition, continues to draw attendees.
In 1973, he and Don Gussow, founder of the American Candy Kettle Committee and publisher of Candy Industry Magazine, cooperated in forming the European Candy Kettle Club.
Based on its American counterpart, the European Candy Kettle Club was formed from members of the European confectionery supplier community, as well as members of the trade press. Each year, the ECKC honors an individual from the European confectionery industry who has excelled in research and development, innovation in product quality and production techniques and outstanding marketing and sales implementation, as well as contributed to the industry's progress. (See Candy Industry’s January 2018 issue.)
In 1998, Urbain creates the French Academy of Chocolate and Confectionery, becoming its founding president and eventually honorary president. The role of the academy is to be a “moral guardian of tradition, evolution and professional ethics in chocolate and confectionery.” Composed of 40 independent “wise men,” who are elected by their peers, the academy includes many of France’s most exemplary chocolatiers, chocolate makers and pastry chefs.
In 1999, he became president of the Confederation of Chocolatiers, holding that office for two years and then becoming the organization’s honorary president.
The chocolate industry mourns the passing of “this humanist with a permanent smile," whose surprising creativity, advanced the artisanal chocolate industry and the professionals who work in it.