The Aztecs drank it, the West Africans grew it, the Dutch produced it, the English sold it, the French refined it, the Easter bunny wore it, and everybody loves it- chocolate. Archaeological findings suggest that humans were enjoying chocolate as far back as 1400 BC when it was consumed as a beverage. The Mayans made it into a frothy bitter drink while the Aztecs, who called it xocolatl, often flavored it with vanilla, chili pepper or annatto. With the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate crossed the high seas and fell upon the lips of the Europeans, leading to a continental frenzy over this little bean that could. The first chocolate house opened in London in 1657, and the rest is history. Everybody in the world knows what chocolate is, and everybody, whether or not they want to admit it, loves it.
Flash forward to the 21st century, and we now have chocolate available everywhere we turn. Supermarkets stock entire aisles of it, and even local gas stations have a pretty impressive collection by the Cheetos rack. But the really good stuff comes from learned pastry chefs and chocolate makers who have dedicate their lives to pleasing us with enchanting sweets. On a whole other different level we have master chocolatiers, who are artisans in the art of chocolate who have studied the history and chemistry of chocolates and trained their skills extensively.
On a previous visit to Paris I was blown away by the artistry of Patrick Roger and his beautiful gallery on Blvd St. Germain. One of my guilty pleasures when I visit my family in Tokyo is to nibble on a few of French chocolatier Jean-Paul Hévin’s treasures at the Isetan in Shinjuku. Los Angeles isn’t host to a distinguished chocolaterie yet, but with the recent surge of fine dining establishments and discerning gourmands, I’m hoping that it’s not too far in the future. On my recent trip to Las Vegas I got a chance to revel in the beautiful cacao installments of patissier Jean-Philippe Maury on the Vegas strip. At the Jean Philippe Pâtisserie in the Bellagio and now the Aria, die hard sweets fans can sinfully indulge in Meilleur Ouvrier de France and World Pastry Champion Jean Philippe Maury’s sensational creations. There is something for everybody at Jean Philippe, where he offers not only chocolates, but pastries, salads and sandwiches too.
The Pâtisserie on the ground floor of the Aria has multiple sections, starting with an impressive display of rotating white and dark chocolate flowers by the gelateria. Adjacent to the gelato and sorbet section is a crêperie where skilled crêpe makers will make a savory or sweet crêpe for your liking, followed by the beautiful retail store with rows and rows of enticing chocolates and candies.
Nougats, brittles, spreads, sticks, artisan jams, caramels, cakes and even rice crispy balls are all made on site every day by a team of 80 bakers in the kitchen. At the chocolate bar, you can choose from a variety of sensational hand crafted artisanal chocolates with flavors like anise, amaretto, banana, peanut orange and vanilla rum, and take it home in beautiful boxes.
Imaginative displays of chocolate sculptures sit high on rotating pedestals, delighting shop patrons even further with Maury’s whimsies. All of the edible works of art are colorful, vibrant and dramatic in true Vegas style.
My favorite chocolate sculpture was the chocolate bonsai, delicately carved with fine details of the tree bark and spiny leaves, and accompanied by a dainty three-tiered sakura cake in celebration of spring.
Long glass display cases line the other end of the large pâtisserie, showing off endless rows of pastries and breads, and intricate cakes like tiramisu in a glass cylinder, cheesecake encased in a soft folded white chocolate envelope and tarts with raspberries piled high in a tall pyramid like a croquembouche.
What I love about this pâtisserie is that it’s not just a take away boutique like most pâtisseries. It’s also a cafe where patrons can experience instant gratification at any one of the cafe tables that face the display cases. Salads, paninis and cold sandwiches are also offered here, giving diners the option of having an entire light meal here. Naturally, hot chocolate is on the menu, and with so many options for dessert, one may easily have a continuous dessert tasting and never leave the cafe.
Fortunately there is a reason to leave the Jean Philippe Pâtisserie at Aria- the Jean Philippe Pâtisserie at the Bellagio. There you can take in the dramatic floor-to-ceiling 27 foot chocolate fountain that put Jean Philippe on the Guinness World Records. Nearly 2 tons of dark, milk and white chocolate cascade down leveled tiers in a glass enclosed space in a spectacular display of this true life Willy Wonka factory. On your way out, don’t forget to buy a box of chocolate truffles for that person you love. Who are we kidding? Buy it for yourself.
“Like jewelry or perfume. A blend, a shape, a texture. Creating a candy with precision, emotion and passion. Give yourself the pleasure of gods.” – Jean Philippe Maury
Bellagio – 3600 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV, 89109
Aria- 3730 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Random trivia: Recent studies show that chocolate gives us many health benefits. It is believed to suppress the symptoms of migraines and stop diarrhea. Regular consumption of dark chocolate can lower the possibility of a heart attack. Post-exercise consumption of lowfat chocolate milk in athletes provided superior muscle recovery in studies. Theobromine in chocolate proved more effective at cough suppression than codeine. But eating chocolate for our health is just an excuse. Studies showed that melting chocolate in one’s mouth produced an increase in brain activity and heart rate that was more intense than that associated with passionate kissing, and also lasted 4 times as long after the activity had ended. Now that’s what I’m talking about.