“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”, declaimed Tom Hanks in 1994 in the film Forrest Gump. It could also be the motto for BbyB, the Heist Michelin chef Bart Desmidt’s chocolate side-line, where the original packaging and a surprising, pure taste are paramount. This week, BbyB received the Gouden Tavola 2012 at the Kortrijk Xpo in the Delicatessen category for the best and most innovative new product.

The year that Forrest Gump arrived on our cinema screens was also the start of Bartholomeus for Bart Desmidt and his wife. The restaurant in the Heists’ sea front received its first Michelin star in 2000 and currently employs 10 people. Raking in more stars is not the forty-year-old’s wet dream. The three days a week he is closed enable him to pursue other projects.

Bart Desmidt: “I have always developed the desserts and the pralines in my restaurant myself. When it comes to flavours, I follow my gut feeling. The purity and recognisability of the flavours is paramount. I don’t like a cacophony of tastes.”

Desmidt describes himself as a “high-priest of regional produce”. So it is logical that he used the babulette, the coastal region’s culinary heritage. The caramel delicatessen is a perfect substitute for sugar and, if salt is added, the flavour of the deserts comes fully into its own.

It became the foundations of BbyB (Babulette by Bartholomeus), that for the past year and a half can be seen in the Sint-Amandsstraat in Bruge with its minimalistic shop window. Bart Desmidt: “Our 24 different bar-like pralines with corporate logo have been categorised in seven flavour families, each with their own colour code. They are packaged per five in colourful boxes with a fixed number. The latter increases the recognisability for the customer. “As well as the basic selection, that is constantly expanding, there are also regularly novelties like the praline of the month and limited lines like the ‘fuel for love box’ at Valentines.

The recipes for the delights are developed by Bart Desmidt and produced in Turnhout by the prestigious artisan chocolatier Jan Verleye. Dirk Reyn takes care of marketing. Verleye and Reyn are the two remaining shareholders, Desmidt is of course still closely involved in BbyB. Bart Desmidt: “It all became a bit too much and I want what we have to be good. Now that tasks have been divided, and I only have to concentrate on developing new flavours, I can perfectly combine Bartholomeus and BbyB.”

Desmidt: “Besides the shop in Bruges and the three sales points in Turnhout, we want to expand with a store in Antwerp and additional outlets. There has even been interest from abroad but everything has to be perfect first. Moreover, our pralines have a limited shelf-life since we use no fat or preservatives. They must therefore be constantly cooled at 16 degrees and that sets stringent export requirements.”

The Gouden Tavola must be a boost for the product and increase the reputation of BbyB in the overcrowded chocolate mecca of Bruges. Bart Desmidt: “We chose Bruges because of the tourists and hoped to make a difference with the quality of the product, the original packaging and marketing. But in hindsight, I could have dared to launch BbyB in Knokke-Heist!”

Source: Ondernemers nr. 5 – March 2013