21 Jul Chocolate Treasures
By Maria Phelan
Jin Caldwell wasn’t supposed to be a chocolatier.
The owner of JinJu Chocolates, which has operated in Southern Nevada since 2011 and this month opened its first retail location at Downtown Container Park, came all the way from Seoul, South Korea 20 years ago to study medicine.
Then she realized working with food was her real passion.
After finishing high school in Seoul, Caldwell’s parents sent her to Denver where she enrolled at Aurora Community College. While going to school, Caldwell started waitressing at a restaurant and found herself drawn to the kitchen. “I think it’s in my blood from my mom and dad owning a restaurant,” Caldwell said. “I was going to school during the day, waitressing at night, and I started to realize I really liked it in the kitchen. I had a lot more fun helping out in the kitchen than working as a server.”
She also found herself watching TV cooking shows, which weren’t common in South Korea at the time. Within six months of arriving in Denver, she decided to follow this newfound passion and left college to enroll at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“My parents are really proud of me now, and they support me a lot, but initially they were not happy with the decision that I made,” Caldwell said.
Her first job out of culinary school was as a baker at Green Valley Ranch Resort, where she eventually became an assistant pastry chef. Her next stop was as a chocolatier at Bellagio, and then Wynn. During that time she continued to take courses on chocolates and confections to fuel her development into a master chocolatier and award-winning pastry chef.
In 2003, Caldwell won the grand championship of the American Culinary Federation Culinary Challenge with two golds and one silver medal. She has been featured on the Food Network and Rachel Ray, and represented the United States at the 2006 World Ice Cream Cup in Rimini, Italy, where her chocolate-raspberry ice cream cake was judged among the world’s best.
In 2007, Caldwell led the only all-female team to compete in that year’s National Pastry Team Championships to a silver medal finish. In 2009, she was the only female named by Pastry Art and Design magazine as one of the Top 10 Chocolatiers in North America.
While Caldwell loved working for high-end hotels, she couldn’t pass up an opportunity to work for Mars Incorporated’s Ethel M research and development team based in Las Vegas. She kept that position for six years before striking out on her own.
“Mars is one of the largest chocolate companies in the world, and working for a large corporation like that was amazing experience, but going from luxurious hotels to a mass brand took a little adjustment,” Caldwell said. “Eventually I realized I wanted to do something on my own, combining all of my experience.”
Caldwell began working on the business plan for JinJu Chocolates, which focuses on creating exceptional chocolates, handcrafted with traditional flavors and modern twists. She started on a small scale working out of some else’s kitchen and selling her products online, eventually counting Las Vegas Strip hotels such as MGM Grand, Caesars Palace, and Cosmopolitan among her wholesale clients. Local Whole Foods stores and retail shops like Sambalatte and Gimme Some Sugar also picked up JinJu Chocolates.
JinJu’s product offerings have since grown to include the Fortunato No. 4 line, made of rare Pure Nacional Cacao from Peru, as well as a large selection of delicious handcrafted truffles and bonbons. JinJu Chocolates also creates a selection of chocolate-covered, sea salted caramels, as well as pastries, including amazing chocolate brownies, and gluten-free chocolate products.
JinJu also offers different types of European-style confections, American-style chocolates, chocolate-related pastries, toffee, and specialty items like chocolate jewelry.
“What I wanted to create was very much a boutique, luxury product, something exclusive,” she said. “JinJu means ‘treasure’ or ‘pearl’ in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, and I wanted to create the experience of a chocolate treasure.”
JinJu Chocolates in the Downtown Container Park is located at 707 Fremont St., Suite 2280, and the will be open Monday–Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, visit jinjuchocolates.com.