I have been to a number of medical meetings including some in Las Vegas. It is not unusual for them to supply a continental breakfast in the morning before the meeting gets going. It is unusual for that breakfast to be more than edible. Not only were the breakfasts provided to the medical meeting I attended at the Wynn hotel edible, they were downright excellent. I inquired as to their origins and discovered that they came from the hotel's pastry and bake shops as do all of those items in the hotel with the exception of specific items served in some of the hotel's restaurants. I was impressed and endeavored to find out more. Thanks to Amy Rossetti, the senior food and beverage public relations manager for the Wynn, I managed to make arrangements to meet the chefs and have a tour of the facilities.
Underneath the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas lies a sprawling labyrinth of passages that hold much of the
inner workings of the hotel. Added to this warren of activity is an extension under the soon to be opened Encore. In order to be allowed into this inner sanctum I had to be accompanied and leave my driver's license with security. My guide was the lovely Susan Driskill, a public relations specialist for the Wynn. Once below, I was ushered into a hive of activity starting with an employee commissary. Meandering beyond that, I was lead through a number of passages before we arrived at the pastry department, where I was introduced to Frederic Robert, the Executive Pastry Chef of the Wynn and now Encore Hotels.
Chef Robert, a good size man, held a sparkle in his eye as we discussed making pastry at the Wynn while he showed me around the entire, impressive operation. Chef Robert's qualifications and resumé are indeed impressive. Prior to opening the Wynn Hotel as Executive Pastry Chef, Chef Robert spent twentyfive years working alongside Alain Ducasse, the last thirteen of which overseeing all of the desserts, pastries and breads for the entire Ducasse empire. Robert also co-authored the book Grand Livre de Cuisine: Alain Ducasse's Desserts and Pastries along with Ducasse.
Robert started his tour, where else, but in the chocolate room. The scent was absolutely intoxicating as we walked through the doorway. The aroma arose from the chocolate processing machine from which molten chocolate was flowing through a faucet. I thought I was in heaven. Chef Robert introduced me to his chief chocolatier, Lionel Clement. who happened to win the 2008 United States Master of Chocolate competion held at the French Culinary Institute in NYC in November in conjunction with the New York Chocolate Show. Clement, who was born, raised and trained in France will go on to represent the United States at the World Master of Chocolate competition in Paris this coming October.
Robert, Lionel and their chocolate staff are responsible for making all the chocolates consumed in the hotel, both culinary and decorative, from the chocolates placed bedside during the nightly turndown service to chocolate sculptures prepared for display or special events. They showed me a number of the smaller pieces that they had produced in advance of the opening of Encore and upcoming New Year's Eve celebrations at the hotel – impressive. Robert and Clement use Barry-Callebault chocolate in thier work.
From the chocolate room I was led, albeit reluctantly, back through the pastry area's main kitchen, passing by a worker utilizing left over breads to craft rather delicious appearing bread puddings. My reluctance upon leaving the world of chocolate began to evaporate seeing this and then the room wher the Wynn's croissants are produced. These are amongst the best I've had with the only ones in the U.S. in my experience to compare are those of Michael London at Mrs. London's in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Both Robert's and London's are on a par with the best I have ever had in Paris and surprisingly enough in India at the Oberoi Hotel in Delhi. Croissants as good as these are truly rare and truly special. Robert said his secret was using top quality French butter.
Our next stop was the ice cream room, where Robert and his staff make all of the ice cream for the hotel, which is also for sale at Sugar & Ice. Because of Robert's background he makes "ice cream" and not "gelato," however fashionable the latter designation may be. They have large vats that they fill with the specific ingredients for a given recipe (all the baked additions other than Oreo cookies are made within his department) and once mixed are left for twenty four hours to mature before they are finally made into ice cream. Off to the side within the room lay some of the most beautiful and fragrant vanilla pods I have ever seen. Robert sources his vanilla from Mexico.
The last stop on our tour of the Wynn's pastry department was their cake shop under the guidance of Flora Aghababyan. At the time of my visit Aghababyan and her staff were busy creating beautiful strawberry cakes.
From the cake shop, Chef Robert escorted me all the way to the opposite end of the Wynn's basement to introduce me to the Wynn's Executive Head Baker, the amazing Boris Villatte. This will be continued.
For additional photos, please see the album.