Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Sylvain Bortolini started planning Christmas in September.
As executive pastry chef for the Bellagio, Bortolini spent summer and fall creating a massive candy village that's now the centerpiece of the casino's holiday display at its Conservatory Botanical Gardens.
The Chocolate Village display debuted Friday and will remain through Jan. 6. It is the hotel's first candy village. About 18,000 people are expected to visit each day.
For months, pastry chefs molded and painted chocolate logs and kneaded sugar dough candy canes for eight houses and a train station that decorate the garden. They cover 600 square feet and each includes a working chimney. A model train chugs nearby.
The concept was based on a gingerbread town, but Bortolini didn't want to use gingerbread. The French chef chose chocolate instead. After all, Bortolini's assistant chef, Jerome Jacob, recently won the title of Chocolatier of the Year at the national Pastry Live competition in Atlanta.
"We wanted something that we could make clean lines with, something more fine than a bunch of cookies," Bortolini said.
Bortolini wasn't sure how sugar and 1,000 pounds of chocolate would hold up in the humid air of the conservatory. The confections are surrounded by plants, which must be watered daily.
So staff from the Bellagio's construction department made wood frames for the candy houses. They also designed interior lights and smoking devices for the chimneys. A video camera installed in the train gives visitors an inside look at the structures.
The pastry chefs worked two weeks forming 3,000 chocolate logs. Jacob painted each with light brown cocoa butter to resemble wood grain. An edible spray adhesive makes them stick to the wood frames. Assistant pastry chefs molded doors and shutters out of chocolate and fashioned roof shingles out of Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats. More than 300 handmade candy canes and lollipops decorate the houses.
The majority of the display is edible.
Beginning in October, four chefs worked exclusively on the conservatory display while four more juggled the daily demands of the Bellagio's restaurants.