On Thursday and Fridays at Kron Chocolatier in New York, a small group of chocolate mavens go nuts. Macadamia, that is, and hazelnuts. Also apricots, cherries, strawberries, truffles, and whipped vanilla cream, all of it made of, covered with, coddled by, or wrapped around the best chocolate in town.
For on two days each week, the ebullient Tom Kron offers a two-hour tour of his homey Manhattan chocolate factory. As likely as not, the boyish Mr. Kron will pass along a few family recipes just as they were passed along to him by his Hungarian forebears, who made chocolate for 200 years in his native Budapest. And after an informal lecture on the history and pleasures of chocolate, you are given a few samples to take home.
But best of all, you can touch, taste, and smell the chocolate that has made Kron's name synonymous with the best and has resulted in the expansion of his operation from a tiny basement in Manhattan to 12 retail outlets across the country. (Another will open soon in Hawaii.) This is an all-American success story in which hard work and a great idea have paid off.
The Krons fled Hungary after the 1956 uprising. They opened a candy store in the Bronx. When Tibor Kron, Tom's father, retired in 1967, the shop was shut. In 1973, Tom, a medical student then, decided he really had no vocation for medicine. His father said: ''Why not make chocolate? At least you won't starve.'' So he did.
Together with his brother, Andy, and his Canadian-born wife, Diane, who designs much of Kron's elegant packaging, Tom Kron opened a small shop on Manhattan's Eastside. He worked very, very hard. A few months later, he moved to a larger shop tucked away on the second floor of a building on Madison Avenue.
People came in ever-increasing numbers to buy the assorted chocolates, the golf balls and tennis rackets, the baking chocolate and cocoa, and the famous brick -- 3/4 pound of solid chocolate that resembles gold bouillon. There were chocolate rulers and picture frames -- all long before other chocolatemakers started turning out this, that, and everything else in chocolate.
It's also generally agreed that Kron started the fashion of hand-dipping fresh fruit in chocolate, and the strawberries, grapes, grapefruit segments became a landmark in New York's chocolate habit. The purists order them in a charming woven basket, also made of Kron's semi-sweet chocolate.
Although Kron chocolate comes in white, milk, and bittersweet, it's the bittersweet whose flavor is truly outstanding. The secret of it, Tom Kron claims , is that he uses only South American-grown cocoa beans. Unlike almost all other chocolate manufacturers, Kron does not use commercial slab chocolate, but mixes his own from a secret recipe that includes highly roasted cocoa powder and cocoa butter of very low viscosity.
A perfect Valentine Day gift could be chocolate letters that spell LOVE ($25) , a pouch of minty dark chocolate hearts ($10), a chocolate basket of chocolate-dipped strawberries ($65), a fresh ''Budapest'' cream truffle made of whipped cream, cocoa, and chocolate that must be refrigerated ($10), or a tour of the Kron factory at 419 Park Avenue South, in New York City ($25): For reservations, call Tom Kron at (212) 686-4440.
In Manhattan, Kron shops are located at 506 and 764 Madison Avenue. If there's no Kron in your area, try one of these Kron recipes to sweeten the day. Tom Kron's Frozen Chocolate Souffle 3 egg whites 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar 2 cans sweetened condensed milk 1/4 pound sweet butter, melted 1 pound semi-sweet chocolate, melted
Beat egg whites until stiff. Add confectioners' sugar and continue beating until very stiff peaks form.
In another bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk with butter. Gradually add melted semi-sweet chocolate.
Combine the butter-milk-chocolate mixture with the egg-sugar mixture. Pour into a decorative mold. Place in freezer for at least 45 minutes. Before serving , place in refrigerator for 10 minutes; then serve. The Kron Sundae
This is a desert the non-cook who lives within reach of a Kron shop can serve to the most sophisticated gourmet with inspiring results.
On a tray place the following:
One bowl each vanilla (French vanilla or vanilla bean), mocha (or English toffee), pistachio ice cream
One bowl Kron semi-sweet chocolate bits
One tube Kron Hungarian chocolate sauce (Do not decant; the fun is in the squeezing)
One bowl each chopped macadamia nuts, pecans, and hazelnuts
One bowl whipped cream or a plate of Kron chocolate snails filled with whipped cream
Provide each guest with: 1 large spoon, 1 very large dish that has been 'frosted' in the freezer (dunk the outside in water, then place in freezer). Let everyone fix his own.