For the European Candy Kettle Club (ECKC) members and guests, the bus ride from l’Hotel de France in Valence, France to the Palais du Congres Sud Rhone-Alpes proved rather short. Nonetheless, the memories from that evening will last long into that and future nights. 

As dusk began to settle, the bus stopped at the gates of the 14-hectare park that houses the exposition center. The anticipation grew as members and guests walked past a serene lake glistening in the ebbing light.

Inside the exhibition center, Jean-Luc Grisot, the managing director of Valrhona as well as key members of the company’s management team, enjoyed cocktails with the ECKC, their spouses and guests. And then, the band started playing. The music, which ranged from classic French tunes to rock and pop, slowly but surely infiltrated the audience’s soul.

Beginning with Dee Wakefield, Candy Industry’s European marketing manager and ECKC vice president, to 2011 ECKC recipient Pedro Lopez, managing director of Valor Chocolates, and Bill Copeland, former chairman of Candy Industry’s Kettle Committee, the heartfelt congratulations evoked applause and acknowledgement for Grisot, the 2015 EKCK award recipient.

Grisot, in turn, took the words to heart and after being accompanied by all ECKC members for a photo opportunity — in a moment of liberty, fraternity and equality — invited the club’s and female companions to the stage to be recognized and photographed as well. At that point, the champagne began to flow and the band played on, bringing everyone onto the dance floor. When midnight approached, there were still many happy feet tapping to the tunes.

On Thursday, just prior to the gala dinner on Friday, Oct. 16, the ECKC held a welcome dinner for Grisot and his team at Michel Chabran’s restaurant, which featured a seasonal menu that included  coquilles Saint-Jacques scallops and lamb a la “Nicolas Giraud a Sisteron.” On Friday, after the plant tour of Valrhona’s manufacturing facility in Tain l’Hermitage, the ECKC visited La Cave Chapoutier Restaurant for a marketing presentation about the company, followed by lunch and ending with a wine pairing of Chapoutier wines and Valrhona chocolates.

The three-day celebration culminated on Saturday with a coach visit to the Cotes du Rhone vineyards, a stopover at Valrhona’s Cite du Chocolat exhibit and a farewell luncheon at Frederic Bau’s Umia restaurant, which overlooks the vineyards in the Domaine Ganmbert de Loche. Bau is Valrhona’s executive pastry chef and runs the Umia restaurant with his wife, Rika.

As the ECKC boarded the buses back to the hotel and eventually home, there was a sincere “au revoir” from members, spouses and guests in the hopes of a return visit.