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Making a statement with chocolate

Patrick Roger uses his creations to express the seasons and his ideals.

PARIS — In the “magic laboratory” where Patrick Roger fashions his life-size cocoa creations, everything is handmade, right down to the fork-sculpted decorations. And for the artisan chocolatier, it’s a source of pride — not shame — that it takes him about a year to produce what large companies like Mars or Hershey's might produce in one day.

What he lacks in quantity, he said, he makes up for in uncompromising quality.

“My business is taste,” Roger said. “Without taste, it doesn’t work.”

In 2000, Roger was named "Best French Chocolatier" for creating "Harold," a life-sized cocoa farmer wearing a wide-brimmed hat and seen squatting on tiptoe while handling a cocoa bean between his fingers. The chocolate statue, later sculpted into bronze, is based on a real farmer he met in Colombia in 1999. “Without cocoa producers, we don’t exist,” said Roger, explaining why he paid them homage.

Each occasion is an opportunity for Roger to lean on his artist's imagination, scientist's penchant for alchemy and, sometimes, activist's inclination. His creations can also offer a glimpse of wackiness.

He offered beer chocolate for St. Patrick’s Day and chocolate sardine cans for April Fool’s Day (The holiday is known in France as poisson d’avril — April’s fish — and calls for attaching a paper fish to the back of an unwitting victim). Inspired by a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands where he dove with seals, Roger created proportional representations of the mammals in chocolate to display with the sardines. Seals eat fish.

But the form is only one appeal of Roger's chocolates. He offers truffles or chocolate bars made with cocoa from prime locations such as Sao Tome or Papua New Guinea, and he mixes them with such eclectic flavors as citrus fruit, ginger root, jasmine and beer.

For Christmas, Roger's shop windows displayed giant chocolate polar bears to call attention to the threatened species. For Valentine’s Day, the windows contained large upside down hearts. An upside down heart, he said, resemble buttocks, and on Valentine's Day people are thinking about sex.

“We all think about it, so why not talk about it,” the 40-year-old said. “Why be shy about it?”