Tuesday 27 March, 2012

The Candy Man Can: A New Las Vegas Institution

Jean-Marie Auboine and partner Melissa Coppel (left) at the tempering machine

For the Las Vegas Weekly, I had the pleasure of meeting with world-renowned chocolatier Jean-Marie Auboine and touring his new factory and training kitchen. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ORIGINAL STORY

Jean-Marie Auboine and partner Melissa Coppel (left) at the tempering machine

The aroma hits you as soon as you open the door.

On a bright winter morning in a nondescript corporate park on West Harmon Road, I’m visiting what may turn out to be a new Vegas landmark: the showroom, factory and training kitchen of chocolatier Jean-Marie Auboine.

With his business partner Melissa Coppel, Auboine is tempering the first chocolate in his new operation, and the scent is every bit as captivating as you might imagine. But the spritely Frenchman is more intoxicated with showing off his new operation—yards of polished granite tables, temperature-controlled rooms, enrobing machines, assembly belts, spray bench, blast freezer, molds, robocoupes and that side-by-side white and dark chocolate tempering fountain.

Caramel, fudge, ganache, marshmallow, gummies, licorice, coated nuts ... Auboine’s team will make them all here, to go and to order. “The idea is, give the customer what they want,” says Auboine, “but artisanal, all natural flavorings, organic, no preservatives.”

And, of course, there will be pralinée (aka bonbons) ranging from the classic European flavors to American key lime and PB&J. “All the French in America only want to do French flavors,” says Auboine, “but I think American flavors can be good, too.”

In the industry, Auboine’s achievements and awards include winning the American Chocolate Masters and being named a Finalist Meilleur Ouvrier de France Chocolatier multiple times. Having cut his teeth under Alain Ducasse, he’s worked in prominent kitchens on two continents, but after less than two years as executive pastry chef at Bellagio, he decided that Las Vegas was the place for him to hang his own shingle. For a city accustomed to some new gee-whiz, world’s-best landmark arriving on a weekly basis, times have been a little tough of late, so having a recognized expert chocolatier put down serious stakes ($500,000 worth, at least) here is no small thing.

“I want to share my experience, and maintain the traditions,” Auboine says.

That may sound heartwarming, but make no mistake: Auboine sees a big business opportunity here, too, filling large-scale candy orders and even creating the unique showpieces that made him famous for Vegas hotels. “A lot of resorts are cutting costs and can’t afford to do these things in-house anymore,” he explains. “Here, I want to be able to fill an order for 5,000 chocolates in 24 hours.” In addition to serving Las Vegas resorts, he can fulfill requests from virtually anywhere in California just as fast. And he’ll teach classes, as well. “It’s very easy to convince people to come to Las Vegas,” he says, smiling.

Auboine has also incorporated some science into the operation: An onsite food lab will ensure that products maintain their shelf life safely, and humidity-free ice packs (originally made for pharmaceuticals) will virtually guarantee that chocolate shipments arrive just as they left the kitchen. That alone, as any serious chocolate lover or event planner knows, is a serious advantage. “I’ve been a customer, too,” Auboine points out, recalling opening shipments for an event only to find the whole batch spoiled.

“Transparency is very important,” he says more than once. “I want to bring people here and have them see us make it here, in America, and in Las Vegas!”

In addition to onsite retail, Auboine also plans to open a separate retail shop in Tivoli Village by this summer.

“Quality isn’t very expensive. It’s just about doing it the right way.”