Justin Chao’s Le Bon Garcon: Not Your Father’s Caramels
Wondering what to get your friends and family for the holidays? I’m now thinking about hand-crafted, artisanal caramels! I came across the idea after having recently invited by the PR firm, Azcona & Rodgers, to the Le Bon Garcon Wine Pairing Event held on the Rooftop of the Thomson Beverly Hills. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it but my Ace photographer, Jesse Gift, stepped up and went for both of us (he’s a “do what it takes” kind of guy!).
At the event, Jesse was introduced to the Caramel maker himself, Justin Chao.
I love Justin’s story (nicely told on the “About” page of his website). Growing up in Westlake Village where there were no Chinese grocery stores, he would watch his Chinese-American mother create dishes from ingredients available to her and develop her own innovative combination of traditional Chinese/American comfort food. While Justin originally studied architecture at U.C. Berkeley, his heart, largely inspired by his mother’s culinary inventiveness, told him to pursue pastry … which he did by graduating from the prestigious Ecole Gastronomique Bellouet Conseil in Paris and honing his skills at the three-star Michelin rated restaurant Le Meurice. He then founded Le Bon Garcon in 2010.
Le Bon Garcon makes its caramels in three flavors (Salted, Mango-Passion Fruit and Macadamia Nut). During the event, Justin, a studied wine connoisseur, paired each variety with its own wine:
- Salted Caramels with a Muscadet “Amphibolite-Nature” Landron;
- Mango-Passion Fruit Caramels with a Moscato d’Asti “Sourgai”; and
- Macadamia Nut Caramels with a Sauternes Chateau Grillon.
Jesse’s favorite was the Mango-Passion Fruit Caramels with the Moscato d’Asti. The wine notes give some clues into why he may have liked it so much:
The Moscato is a classic version, with a great balance of both citrus and peach flavors found on the palate. The wine’s crispness makes it the perfect complement to the delicate flavor of the mango-passion fruit caramel.
Luckily for me, Jesse brought back a beautiful gift box of caramel samples for me to try. Now while I’m addicted to caramel sauce, I haven’t necessarily been the biggest fan of caramels themselves because I find most of them to be too sticky or gummy. Given that, I was a bit skeptical about how much I might like these even though Jesse had raved. I’m happy to report, however, that once I tried one, I was a fan! Without a doubt, these aren’t your father’s caramels.
So, what makes the difference? I think it’s three key factors:
- Justin’s French training;
- All of his caramels are hand-made, hand-stirred, and hand-wrapped in an artisanal approach; and
- He only the best ingredients: no preservatives, (which, I know from Montage Beverly Hills’ Pastry Chef Richard Ruskell is the best).
And, I’m not alone in being a fan. Lots of foodies have been raving … with my favorite reviews being:
- LA Weekly: “Justin Chao’s confections are bound to make very bad boys (and girls) out of all who eat them.”
- Gastronomy: “My intention was to eat just one … but once I tasted how amazing they were, there was no turning back.”
Couldn’t agree more!
Justin sells his Le Bon Garcon caramels online at the Le Bon Garcon website ($6 for 2 oz., $12 for 4 oz., $24 for 8 oz.). That’s a bargain in my book – the best ingredients, no preservatives, handmade for that price?!
You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter. Personally, I’m going to keep Justin’s caramels on my gift list … and in my everyday treat list as well. And, Justin, may I ask: are you thinking about product extensions? I have a … so maybe that’ll be your next move?