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If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that Belgium holds a special place in my heart (more in my profile of Stefanos Svanias & his Strofilia restaurant). So you can imagine how intrigued I was when I heard of a woman from my own hometown of Thessaloniki who was daring to make chocolates in Belgium. Who would be crazy enough to take on not just Belgian chocolate but also the mostly male world of famed chocolatiers?! I immediately dispatched my Brussels-based friend and collaborator, Pauline, to check it out.
Pauline came back with a fascinating story of handmade Belgian pralines, Greek inspiration, and an incredible homemade sour cherry liqueur that Mina Apostolidis offered her one cold Sunday afternoon. Working out of her atelier in the Brussels suburb of Rhode-Saint-Genese, Mina introduced Pauline to the world of her chocolate spreads, mixed bars and feminine-named pralines.
Like many of the people I’ve met on this Zelos journey of mine, Mina had a love of cooking from a young age, starting in the second grade when a beloved family friend gave her a children’s cookbook as a birthday gift. She made her chocolate debut, with “vrahakia”, little mountains of melted chocolate & almond clusters. “I used to put them in empty jam jars and draw labels with flowers and ‘Chez Mina’ on them,” she recounts. “I must have known back than that I’d end up in a French-speaking country!”
Mina’s love of chocolate didn’t subside when she went to the US to study journalism and public relations. She followed chocolate-making seminars in the US and Switzerland, while pursuing her career in PR. A family move to Dubai and the need to pause her job led her to seriously dedicate herself to the craft of chocolate-making, and for the first time, she began selling her creations to other expats in Dubai. When she returned to Thessaloniki, she decided, with a helpful nudge from her good friend Marco Penisi (who now does all her gorgeous graphic design from his Milan office), to give up PR for good and dedicate herself to chocolate.
When Mina moved to Belgium in 2012, she wasn't at all intimidated by the prospect of continuing her chocolate adventures in the land of pralines. What many people might not know is that one of the most famous Belgian chocolate companies, Leonidas, was started in 1913 by a Greek living in Brussels, Leonidas Kestekides. “People used to tease me that I was trying to become the new Leonidas”, Mina tells. “But I think they realized that there was room for my own unique chocolate, thanks to the quality, the different flavors and appearances.” Indeed, Mina has placed quality above all - she only uses Valrhona chocolate from France, despite its higher price compared to Belgian and Swiss chocolates; she brings almonds from Kavala and pistachios from Aegina, figs from Kimi, rosewater from Lebanon.
Mina also adds a large dose of love to her chocolates. “Each of my chocolates is like my child, my princess, and when you really love something you can’t just leave it to chance. That’s why I insist on hand-making them, I can’t do mass production.” The influence of her heritage is also evident, not just Greek but also Middle Eastern, harking back to her great-great grandfather, who was a known tahini halva artisan in Ottoman Istanbul. Mina’s first truffle was named Pavlina, after her mother, who made the sour cherry liqueur she’d offered to Pauline on that cold Sunday, and with which she infuses the truffle of the same name. There is also Sofia, a unique blend of olive oil, orange and cinnamon; Athina, flavored with dried figs and the uniquely Greek Mavrodafni sweet wine (the same that is in Elli & Manos' Greek Flavor Burst!); Shahrazade combines tahini and salted almond…these are definitely not your typical Belgian chocolates!
Mina has designed a welcoming space, where her boutique and atelier sit side-by-side. She recently celebrated her 10th anniversary as a chocolatier with a wine-and-chocolate pairing event hosted with her friend Panagiotis Kokalas, who has been voted Brussels’ Best Sommelier for the last three years. Her chocolates are also becoming known outside of Brussels, as she had the honor of participating in a special Valentine’s Day event at the prestigious Tokyo department store, Takashimaya. It’s indeed a challenge to transport these delicate, freshly handmade creations such a distance, but if you do find yourself in Brussels, make sure to visit Mina Handmade Chocolate (details on her site - and she now has a brand new shop in central Brussels!).
Zelos is passionate about Greek food and Global Greek Gastronomy, that fusion of traditional and contemporary Greek cuisine that has spread across the world. In this special section of our blog, we want to promote the people and places that we believe are pioneering this trend. Full disclosure: we DO NOT gain anything from these posts, we are not paid to advertise them; rather, we are honestly sharing our personal favorites for you to enjoy!
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