For Alsace-born pastry chef Jean-Luc Daul, Las Vegas couldn’t be a better canvas for his creations: extravagant, whimsical, and decidedly decadent. “Pastries pretty much demand artistry and creativity. Whenever our guests hit dessert, they often have full bellies, so your plates have to be attractive to the eye.”
“Usually people who get started in the culinary field have a real passion for it, but I wasn’t so sure,” admits Jean-Luc Daul, pastry chef of Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, who began at a friend’s pastry shop at age 14 at the urging of his mother. “There was nothing romantic – it was a roll of the dice. But I liked it from day one.”
Never particularly artistic, Daul has nonetheless surmounted the creative demands of his profession, fashioning desserts as stunning to the eye as to the palate. His career, he says, has gone through phases: “First I was off the wall, using stuff like lavender. Now I’m more like a person eating dessert, looking for something I can relate to.”
Daul starts each creation with a basic ingredient – chocolate, vanilla or something “lemony” – and then adds “fun” along the lines of “crunchy, frozen or warm.” Next, he focuses on texture, or “the plus-plus-plus of good feel and taste.” Finally comes the presentation – the “‘Oh, wow, I wasn’t expecting that’ moment. It’s critical, particularly in Las Vegas.”
For instance, Daul’s take on cheesecake turns the world’s most predictable dessert on its head by shrinking it down into spheres dipped into hazelnut chocolate and arrayed on a three-holed plate as lollipops with a container of sauce: “They never see it coming.”
Such creativity takes discipline of the sort that drives regular chefs nuts. “Once a dessert is on the move, there’s no way to alter it. The recipe has to be followed precisely.” As such, new desserts take time with much experimentation before they reach their eye-catching, palate-tingling resolution. Daul typically creates five dessert menus a year; as of press time, he’d just “locked down” a new recipe for yuzu sorbet.
When not fashioning sweet excess, Daul likes to build and fly model airplanes – a perfect pastime for the endless skies around town. “Las Vegas is a very competitive city,” he says. “The balance here is to keep your feet on the ground but be visually over the top.” Sounds like he’s figured it out.