Who doesn’t love chocolate? But the business of making award-winning confections isn’t always easy, and Jin Caldwell, chocolatier and owner of JinJu Chocolates, knows that. Jin, a former chocolatier for Mars Incorporated, and pastry chef for Wynn-Las Vegas and the Bellagio Hotel and a graduate of Le Cordon Blue Culinary School, is known worldwide for her flavors as distinct as sea salt and honeycomb. She’s also recently branched out into edible jewelry for special occasions.
What makes your chocolate different from others’?
We make everything in very small batches, a few pounds at a time, instead of 20 or 100 pounds, the way many chocolatiers make their product. Everything is hand-touched, hand-airbrushed into molds and hand-shelled. We hand-pipe the product. We make our chocolate daily so the customers actually get the best.
You’re known for your work as a pastry chef. How does that dovetail with your chocolates?
For many years I was a pastry chef at many fine hotels and restaurants. Today I actually partner with one of the local hotels here, the Aliante Resort. They have a very upscale steak house, and they are carrying my chocolates in their dessert menu – an assortment of artisan truffles. They get a little menu of these, a little piece of patisserie or a little chocolate at the end of the meal. When people order coffee or after-dinner drinks, they actually can choose to order that instead of dessert. Customers like the idea a lot because it's little bite-sized desserts, and they get to have seven to eight different flavors, instead of having one piece of cheesecake.
Can you tell me about some of the many awards you’ve won?
In 2007, I was invited to be one of 12 team captains selected for a prestigious national pastry team championship. My three-person “Team Caldwell” was also the first all-female pastry team to ever compete at this high level of culinary expertise. Team Caldwell trained intensively for this two-day, 13-hour competition based on the theme of country songs. According to competition rules, teams were required to produce plated desserts, chocolate entremets, bombe glace, three different chocolate confections, three petits gateaux, one sugar showpiece, one chocolate showpiece and a pastillage piece.
In 2003, I won the grand championship of the American Culinary Federation Culinary Challenge, with two “gold” and one “silver” medals. I also represented the United States at the 2006 World Ice Cream Cup in Rimini, Italy, where my chocolate-raspberry ice cream cake was judged to be among the world's best.
What’s ahead for JinJu Chocolates?
We’re going to continue using a lot of savory ingredients like flavored sea salt and different types of herbs and spices. A lot of chefs now like to use savory ingredients like bacon, olive oil, truffle oil. So I think the trend is going to continue in the year 2014.
And what’s ahead for the chocolate industry?
There are so many food shows now on TV. There is such interest in food. Because of this, a lot of people now obviously show interest in the culinary industry. Chocolate is a really growing segment. Every year we are growing. Today a lot of culinary schools offer special courses and even just specialize in chocolate. I believe just chocolate segments in the culinary institution will grow every year.
Tell me about your new jewelry line.
That's something that I created for a VIP event at one of the clubs here. They asked me to create something edible, like jewelry. So we ended up displaying this whole room with chocolate necklaces, earrings, and everything we could imagine and it turned out to be just great, an item to add onto my line. And it’s really caught on. Now people order it as a baby shower or wedding gift. It’s a really fun item. How many times do people get a chocolate necklace as a gift!