Samuel Maruta and Vincent Mourou wouldn’t be the first characters to create magic from a humble bag of beans. However, the duo behind Marou: Faiseurs de Chocolat – Vietnam’s first and, thus far, only line of single-origin chocolate bars – have enjoyed a fairy-tale rise every bit as vertiginous as Jack’s beanstalk. Retailers in a host of international markets including France, Japan, the UK and Sweden now stock their five-strong range of chocolate bars. Culinary big-hitters such as multiple- Michelin-starred-chef Michel Roux and Willie Harcourt Cooze, the British celebrity chocolatier, have given their approval. Meanwhile, Marou has starred at international events – Paris’ Salon Du Chocolat, for one – and has secured a host of awards at prestigious chocolate events across the globe.
Like other icons cut down somewhere close to their prime, early death has lent Elvis Presley a gauzy otherworldly allure. Had he lived, Elvis would have turned 80 this year. Yet it is impossible to imagine him reminiscing about his raucous early days at Sun Records with chat show hosts Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien, doing a crooner’s take on the Great American Songbook, or even pottering around the garden at Graceland for some dour reality TV catastrophe. Truth is there was never anything particularly earthly about Elvis. From his birth in a Mississippi shotgun shack and his thrilling rise to fame to his drawn-out demise and shockingly wasteful death at the age of 42, his short life played out like a Grecian tragedy with sky-scraping highs anchored by soul-crushing lows.
The passenger door slams, the driver revs the engine and we leave the little airstrip in our wake. The tiny, single-propeller seaplane that brought us here is doing an about turn in preparation for the journey back across the Arabian Gulf. And it won’t be back anytime soon. I’m well and truly in the care of the Sharjah Police. “I think you’ll find your quarters pretty comfortable,” says the captain, Hamid, a gruff bear of a man as he ushers me into a low-rise building. I’ve done nothing untoward. Rather, I’m here to investigate one of Sharjah’s hitherto unsung natural attractions.