The last time I spent significant time with chef Matt Silverman, we were discussing the homemade cheeses he was making at Vintner Grill with milk from his own goats. The guy was clearly passionate about the artistry involved in creating quality products from scratch using the best available ingredients. So I wasn’t surprised to see that same passion on display in the kitchen at the new Hexx Kitchen, Chocolate and Bar in Paris Las Vegas, where he and executive chef Matt Piekarski are creating high-quality chocolates with the same attention to detail. The results are some of the finest chocolates available, and an interesting education on the nature of the product.
Hexx offers five varieties of chocolate. Each features beans from a different country: Peru, Tanzania, Venezuela, Ecuador and Madagascar. They contain between 70 and 74 percent cacao, the dried beans of the cocoa tree. (By way of comparison, commercial milk chocolate can contain as little as 15 percent cacao, while commercial dark chocolate will generally range from 45 to 60 percent.) As a result, Hexx’s chocolates aren’t as sweet as a commercial candy bar. But tasting them side-by-side is as palate-wowing as sampling a selection of fine wines. One may contain hints of plums, peaches, vanilla and caramel, while the next offers up almonds, sweet marzipan and florals. And the texture of each is slightly different. It’s easy to be skeptical before you’ve tried them, and you may not get every flavor the chefs find, but the difference from one to another is nothing short of astounding.
“We’ve sampled [our chocolates] for thousands of people so far,” Silverman says. “And I haven’t found one person who’s said they all taste the same. Everyone finds one where they say, ‘I like that one better than the rest.’”
Piekarski and Silverman oversee the process of creating these chocolates practically from start to finish. They fly to Third World countries to personally select the suppliers who grow, ferment and dry their beans. After importing those to Las Vegas via container ships, they and their staff sort them by hand before roasting them. The roasted seeds are then cracked to separate the shells from the nibs, which are pulverized in a grinder for three days. For sweetness, coconut palm sugar is added. The mixture is then poured into blocks, aged for three weeks, tempered to provide shine and texture, and finally molded into the restaurant’s signature hexagon form. All of this takes place in a show kitchen so customers can observe the entire process. (They even keep raw cocoa pods on hand so you can see where the seeds come from.)
“It’s a way to bring a craft-food movement to the Strip with an item that everybody in the world can relate to,” Piekarski says of the program. “Everybody understands what chocolate is. Chocolate is universal!”
But Hexx’s offerings aren’t just educational and delicious. Given the lack of artificial ingredients and the lower sugar content, high-end dark chocolate is considered by many to be good for you—if enjoyed in moderation, of course. “Anything that’s 70 percent or more of cacao in a bar is considered a health food by the FDA,” Silverman says. “Because it has stuff in there that’s heart-friendly and good for the brain.”
“And,” his partner quickly chimes in, “lots of natural amino acids.” So if you’re a chocolate lover, a visit to Hexx is a perfect excuse to indulge that sweet tooth. Just be careful: As I can personally attest, it’s easy to go overboard.