If life is like a box of chocolates, well, we did a lot of living putting together this package. Talking to the city’s top chocolate artisans, visiting patisseries and sampling bonbons and pastries—it’s a tough job, but we’ll do anything for the sake of good reporting. And what we found was that Las Vegas is rich with the sweet stuff, from Strip restaurants offering delectable desserts to neighborhood bakeries just waiting to be discovered. We also spent some time at an artisanal chocolate facility—a bean-to-bar experience that’s the only one of its kind in town—and watched how the magic happens.
But truly, the magic of chocolate is this: In a world with so many differing opinions, the deliciousness of chocolate is one thing upon which we can all agree. It’s a universal language that transcends culture, politics and religion. Give a 1-year-old or a 101-year-old a piece of chocolate, and the response is the same—pure joy. Which is what we hope you’ll get out of this. When you’re done gawking at the pictures, get yourself a decadent treat.
Heaven in a box
Jean-Marie Auboine, who has been perfecting the art of chocolate making for 30 years, is one of the few chocolatiers in the world to prepare his own couverture of handcrafted chocolates from cocoa beans. Step into his Las Vegas shop and be dazzled by bonbons and truffles that look too beautiful to eat. And don’t dare leave without a box of salted caramels, hailed by The New York Times as one of the best in a blind taste test. 4780 W. Harmon Ave. #1, 702-222-0535, jmauboinechocolates.com. –Genevie Durano
You know Las Vegas’ food scene has reached next-level status when you have Michelin-star chefs hiding in plain sight. Such is the case with Michael Gillet, who has had a distinguished career in France and the U.S., working with chefs such as Jacques Torres and José Andrés. Chef Gillet opened MG Patisserie & Cafe a couple of years ago on Rainbow Boulevard, where delectable pastries and chocolate treats line the glass shelves. Pair a chocolatine with a latte and bask in the sun on the tables outside, or catch up with a friend during High Tea, where Gillet’s mastery of pastry is on full display. 6365 S. Rainbow Blvd. #101, 702-831-1197, mgpatisserie.com. –Genevie Durano
Thanks to legalization, chocolate edibles are no longer limited to those mysterious brownies some hippie brought to your house party. Today, they are legit culinary cannabis creations, complete with childproof packaging. The Incredibles line of cannabis chocolate bars offers a mix of flavors, such as Mile High Mint, Peanut Budda Buddha and Black Cherry, a CBD/THC mix with cherries and milk and dark chocolate. Or for something different, try OMG THC’s milk chocolate-covered almonds. Just remember to start slowly.
All available at Essence Dispensary, multiple locations, essencevegas.com. –C. Moon Reed
Declared the No. 1 chocolate dessert in America by the Food Network, Strip House’s 24-layer cake is actually quite modest in appearance. It’s when you cut into it that you see the magic—24 layers of alternating cake and chocolate filling, topped with a layer of semisweet French chocolate ganache. If there’s such a thing as death by chocolate, this is the way to go. Planet Hollywood, 702-737-5200, striphouse.com. –Genevie Durano
Try not to black out!
Leave it to the Venetian’s Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer to offer a chocolate dessert so outrageously indulgent that even the most jaded of locals will take note. The Brooklyn Blackout CrazyShake has a rim of chocolate frosting, which is covered with mini chocolate chips. As if that weren’t enough, it’s then topped with a whole other dessert: brownie, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Go crazy, folks, go crazy. Venetian, 702-414-2337, blacktap.com. –C. Moon Reed
Chocolate dreams: Pastry Chef Amaury Guichon creates showpieces that defy the imagination
Amaury Guichon is a pastry chef for the social media age. His videos— sped-up montages of his showpieces—have been viewed millions of times.
What takes Guichon hours of painstaking work is condensed into less than three minutes, as he creates hyperrealistic objects—a harp, a telescope, an elephant, the Empire State Building (with King Kong scaling it)—using nothing but chocolate to sculpt every nook and cranny.
In those videos, Guichon’s skill is undeniable, his imagination limitless. And his medium of choice is one that’s as temperamental as it is delicious.
“I have high respect for chocolate,” Guichon tells the Weekly. “It’s kind of unique in its own way, and it takes years to fully understand how it reacts, what are its properties, the composition. Even with the full knowledge of it, you need to work with chocolates for an extended period of time to have a full understanding. And I still surprise myself and discover new things every time I work with it.”
The 30-year-old pastry chef had the good fortune of growing up in the Haute-Savoie region of France, a neighbor to the French-speaking part of Switzerland, an area with exceptional dairy. (The Swiss excel in milk chocolate, while the French make the best dark chocolate, Guichon says.)
He began an apprenticeship at age 14, but even with that early start, Guichon admits it took him more than 10 years to fully understand the particularities of chocolate in its many forms.
After studying and winning accolades in France, Guichon found himself stateside at Jean-Philippe Patisserie at Aria. He has traveled the world teaching a masterclass in the art of chocolate, and he has found a home in Las Vegas, where he opened his own school Downtown, the Pastry Academy. There he teaches students, most of whom are aspiring pastry chefs, the techniques he has acquired over the years.
“I was always passionate about pastry, and I pretty much sacrificed a big chunk of my life to it. I still do,” he says. “But I was never really content and fulfilled until I started teaching and sharing my passion with others.”
If you’ve peeked at his Instagram page (with its 3 million followers), it might seem Guichon’s chocolate showpieces are near-impossible to make, but he assures us there’s no trick to it—just technique.
“Every student that comes and takes my class is in fear of not being able to accomplish it. And I keep on telling them, just follow and trust the process blindly, and you will make it,” he says. “Believe it or not, when I start a new challenge, I have to apply the same logic to myself, because every showpiece is different. And for every showpiece there is difficulty, and I don’t always know how to make things. I always have to reassure myself, just trust the process of what you’re doing and you will accomplish it.” –Genevie Durano
Chef Florent Cheveau is a chocolate master. The owner of Burgundy French Bakery Cafe & Bistro (9440 W. Sahara Ave. #105, 725-204-6557) even won the American 2018 World Chocolate Masters and placed in the top three worldwide. The Weekly caught up with Cheveau to got the
lowdown on all things cocoa.
Types of chocolate. Here’s an easy trick to understand the varieties of chocolate: The darker the chocolate, the higher the cocoa content. Dark chocolate will have more complex flavors, but milk chocolate will be creamier. Think of it like the difference between black coffee and a latte. Cheveau says there’s a chocolate to match any mood. If he wants a sugar boost while watching TV, he goes for milk chocolate. If he’s yearning for a “more refined” dessert, Cheveau opts for a 66% to 72% dark chocolate.
Is white chocolate really chocolate? “Technically, it is,” Cheveau says, explaining that when you grind a cocoa pod, you get cocoa solids (the dark part) and cocoa butter (the fat). Regular chocolate contains both parts; white chocolate only contains the cocoa butter. Though Cheveau describes white chocolate as “not the most noble path of the chocolate,” he says it does have its uses. For example, Burgundy uses white chocolate as the base for its ganache macarons and on the little chocolate Bs that top his pastries.
A multifaceted ingredient. Only the potato rivals this tropical plant in versatility. At Burgundy Bakery, Cheveau uses standard cocoa powder for shiny chocolate glazes and a 99% cocoa mass to make dark chocolate macaron shells with a 60% chocolate ganache in the center. A mix of chocolate, heavy cream and butter, ganache is just one of the many forms chocolate can take. In its turn, ganache can be used in cakes, bonbons and as a base for chocolate mousse. “I love, love, love that chocolate macaron,” Cheveau says. “If I could eat them all day long, I would. But I have to make them, so I don’t want to have to work too hard.”
What is “tempering” chocolate? In order to turn this plant product into a pliable ingredient for candy making, one must follow a process of heating and cooling it. Tempering chocolate gives it its glossy sheen and allows it to do things like coat strawberries and then give a satisfying snap when bitten into. Cheveau likens it to making a very strong snowball, wherein the chocolate molecules are opening their arms and catching each other.
How does chocolate go from bitter plant to sweet treat? Cheveau visited a cocoa plantation in Nicaragua to see the beginning steps up close. “[The process of making] chocolate is very complex and should be enjoyed, because it’s the work of so many different people,” Cheveau says. There are too many steps to detail here, but basically what happens is that the chocolate is harvested, fermented, dried, roasted and ground before being sent to factories, where sugar, milk and more is added. It’s a delicate process that mostly needs to be done by hand. “When you see the work that is involved … you feel very humble,” Cheveau says.
Is chocolate going extinct (due to climate change)? The cacao tree grows in the tropics and is sensitive to variations in the weather. To combat global warming, Cheveau says the chocolate plantation he visited has to plant trees at ever higher elevations. But for now, he says that there’s no shortage of chocolate. –C. Moon Reed