Justin Chao says making caramel is an art that cannot be rushed.
Written by STEPHANIE SUMELL
The 39-year-old chef combines butter, cream and caramelized sugar in a large copper pot before pouring the concoction onto a flat surface to cool.
He then uses a machine to cut the caramel into individual pieces before wrapping them by hand.
“It’s pretty labor intensive,” Justin says. “I cook the caramel slowly to develop the flavors.”
Justin, a graduate of Bellouet Conseil, a culinary school in Paris, says the result is worth the wait. His caramels, which were featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, in 2011, have developed quite the following.
Last year he opened Le Bon Garçon, a commercial kitchen at Spring Road and High Street in Moorpark, to meet the growing demand for his candies. His caramels are sold in about 40 stores across the country.
“I’ve been pursuing more and more wholesale opportunities,” Justin says. “Before, I was trying to do everything myself. Now I’ve realized that I should concentrate on what I do best.”
And that is making mouthwatering caramels.
The Westlake Village native, who now lives in Hollywood, says he feels fortunate to be able to bring a little piece of Paris to Moorpark.
Justin studied architecture at UCLA and completed his MBA at USC before heeding the call to the culinary arts. And, wanting to learn from the very best, he went to Paris to study. While interning at a chocolate and caramel shop there, he developed a recipe for the perfect caramel.
“I discovered this caramel in Paris and fell in love with it. It’s nice to bring a unique product back to the United States and see how people react to it.”
So far, so good.
Justin is still offering just one flavor of his caramel—salted—but plans to sell at least one other flavor, macadamia nut, during the holiday season.
“It’s my favorite. The crunchiness of the nuts works well with the smoothness of the caramel.”
Justin plans to bring other flavors, such as orange vanilla and mango passion fruit, into the fold. But right now he’s pursuing a master’s degree in food science from Cal State Northridge.
“It helps me understand the more chemical aspects of what I do. You would expect if you were to caramelize sugar too long it would get bitter, but it actually gets sweeter.”
He is in the process of teaching his assistant, Stephanie Bercu, how to make the candies. Bercu, a Thousand Oaks resident, is happy to learn.
“It can be kind of tricky,” she says. “You have to be really careful with temperatures, but I am really enjoying learning those nuances.”
But the best part of making caramel is testing the product.
“We always have to quality check,” she says with a laugh. “They are truly the best caramels I’ve ever tasted.”
Those who want to find out for themselves can visit www.lebongarcon.com or stop by the store Fridays between noon and 5 p.m. Justin also takes appointments.