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Parisian Inspired, California Crafted
The first time we walked into Le Bon Garçon’s chic Hollywood boutique and tasted the Classic Sea Salt Caramel we knew we had stumbled upon something so special we simply needed to share it with our guests. The buttery bonbon was lusciously sweet and luxuriously soft, and it just happened to be handcrafted here in Los Angeles by a California-born, French-trained candymaker named Justin Chao. We placed an order and started offering these delectable artisanal treats in our guest rooms, allowing guests to enjoy a little taste of Paris in every sweet bite. We recently sat down with Justin to chat about his passion for making French-style caramel, where it all began and what’s next for Le Bon Garçon.
You were classically trained as a pastry chef at the prestigious Bellouet Conseil culinary school in France, as well as at the three-Michelin starred Le Meurice in Paris restaurant. Why caramels?
I fell in love with French caramel while training as a pastry chef at Le Meurice in Paris. To develop my palate, I explored the patisseries and chocolate shops around town. By chance, I stopped into a neighborhood chocolate shop and tasted their caramels. After my first buttery bite, I made it my mission to learn how to make it in this traditional style. The next day, I arranged an internship at the best candymaker in Paris.
What made you want to start a confectionery business after returning to California?
When I returned to Los Angeles after culinary school in Paris, I wanted to share my love of French caramel with friends and family. Using local California ingredients, I started making batches of caramel so that my friends could taste how good it could be. When I saw the look on their faces when they tasted it, I knew that I had something inspired. I began selling at artisanal food fairs, like Unique LA and Artisanal LA. Before I knew it, Le Bon Garçon caramels were chosen as one of Oprah’s Favorite Things!!! That’s when I decided to make Le Bon Garçon my full-time career.
We love the French tie-in and craftsmanship of your creations, and we proudly offer them on our mini bar menu. What makes them French in style? Do you source your ingredients from France too?
What sets us apart is our dedication to tradition—meaning that we make our caramels with traditional European techniques, sourcing only quality ingredients. By patiently stirring the confection as it slowly cooks, we coax out the rich flavors from each ingredient, which results in a tender delight that melts in your mouth.
Do you have a favorite caramel?
Right now, I am enjoying our Honey Lavender Caramel. We start by steeping fragrant hand-harvested lavender blossoms in fresh cream. As we add the lavender-steeped cream into the caramel, we blend in local wildflower honey, which adds the perfect amount of warmth to balance the floral notes of the lavender. C’est bon!
The flavor combinations are so je ne sai quoi—Classic Sea Salt, Honey and Lavender, Earl Grey, Rose and Rosé, Blood Orange and Champagne! What inspires you when dreaming up these decadent flavors?
I take inspiration from the small pleasures in life, like catching up with my best friend over brunch with mimosas or relaxing with a hot cup of Earl Grey tea on a cold morning. By capturing these moments in my caramel flavors, I hope it serves as a reminder to my customers to take a moment to savor life’s joys.
How are they best enjoyed? Can you pair them with wine or cocktails?
I love to have a Classic Sea Salt Caramel with an afternoon espresso after lunch. It’s the perfect afternoon treat. I also love to pair them with wine or cocktails. Because we slow cook each batch, the caramels develop complex flavors that will hold up to wine and cocktail pairings. At our last wine-pairing event, we matched our Classic Sea Salt variety with a briny, buttery Muscadet. People were pleasantly surprised at how the wine brought out nuances of flavor in the caramels.
What’s next for Le Bon Garçon?
I’m working on developing some new products right now to showcase how delicious and versatile caramel can be. I’m especially excited to release a Tarte Tatin Jam in the next few weeks, which we make by slow-cooking caramelized sugar with fresh apples. The result is a luscious, rich spread that’s perfect on buttery toast or even as a topping for ice cream. It’s the perfect way to give yourself a little bit of luxury each morning.
Visit Le Bon Garçon at
5158 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles