When you see a six-foot-tall zombie sculpture with an axe buried in its head, standing in the middle of a casino, a few things immediately cross your mind. First, "Whoa, that’s awesome." Second, maybe, is that Halloween is coming. And then, of course, "I need to take a selfie with that."
The fact that the zombie is made entirely out of chocolate would probably never cross your mind, but in the case of the talented staff at Jean Philippe Patisserie, that’s the first thing that did.
Executive pastry chef Claude Escamilla, who grew up in France and has been studying pastry arts since age 14, is the driving force behind a cornucopia of creepy, consumable decorum. Early this year, he and his team of about 10 other pastry pros began crafting intricate and astounding chocolate sculptures you might never believe are edible, for this year's Halloween display. From vibrant orange, three-tier pumpkins and various severed heads to the multi-level The Walking Dead piece—which has a sign pointing to Alexandria beneath the classic “Don’t open. Dead inside!" doors—there are nearly 50 pieces prepared for the viewing pleasure of visitors to the shop's two locations at Aria and Bellagio. This number does not include the aforementioned zombie, who Escamilla named Amaury after his assistant executive pastry chef, or the life-size undead showgirl, covered in torn sinew and skin, posing next to a dilapidated Welcome to Las Vegas sign.
Escamilla takes me behind the scenes to where the craft is conceived—the kitchen. It’s here that I learn how this food-turned-artwork is created and discover the sheer passion that drives these artisans. Every detail on every piece is carefully handcrafted, from glossy eyeballs to realistic skin wrinkles to Sally’s patchwork dress and Jack’s coordinating skeleton bowtie. Escamilla says these smaller pieces are each created by a single person and take about a week; the larger-scale works are created by teams and take nearly three months to design.
The bodiless heads seem like a monumental task by themselves; each consists of a large chocolate egg supported by coco cylinders, which shape the neck. The chocolate is then covered in fondant, a pliable sugar paste, hand-molded and pushed, stretched and shaped to form facial features and gory wounds.
When looking at the zombie showgirl, you might notice rocks near her high heeled-feet; those are Oreos and chocolate. The broken shards of glass and random tire are sugar and colored chocolate. Dirt and stains on her dress are the result of a blowtorch. The flesh wounds are painstakingly sculpted using fondant and skill; the blood, a mixture of gelatin and red food coloring. The hands are created by filling a plastic glove with chocolate. And don’t miss the bite mark on her back—the team used a mold of teeth and pressed it into the skin. Her eyeballs are chocolate spheres, delicately painted with food coloring and glazed for shine.
Escamilla says he’s always been a horror fan, and one of his biggest inspirations for the Halloween edible arts show is The Walking Dead. But he doesn’t have a favorite character. “I cannot get attached,” he jokes. “They can die.”
Fortunately, the artistic creations at Jean Philippe—although they might break—could last forever. He tells me that chocolate is fragile at first but gets stronger over time. One of the pieces, a large haunted house that will be on display, was also displayed last year and is still completely intact. There's another piece he still has from over a decade ago. (Although it may not technically spoil, Escamilla does not advise eating these chocolate sculptures.)
Jean Philippe's creepy chocolate collection will be on display beginning September 2. The pieces will be divided evenly between both Strip shops. The axe-stricken zombie will be available for selfies at Aria along with another large piece, a white chocolate skeleton in an electric chair, while the zombie showgirl will be at Bellagio.
The display lasts through the end of October. Come November, they’ve got to make way for Christmas. Escamilla tells me that this year, Christmas will not be as massive since they’re going all out for Halloween. However, his team is already drawing up ideas for Christmas 2017, which he says will be huge.
“For me it’s fun to find the idea, to be with my team and watch them create it,” Escamilla says. “I love it.”
On October 31, Jean Philippe's delicious pastries and desserts will be festively adorned for Halloween, giving us the chance to relish the sweet flavor of a finger-topped Napoleon or bite into a cupcake and, consequently, the scarred face of Chuckie.