By MICHELLE JAMES
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Jean-Francois Suteau describes says a walk through the lobby of The Greenbrier Hotel as a walk through the woods in the wintertime.
That is, if the woods were sweetly edible and featured a scene straight out of a child’s imagination.
“I wanted to create a forest a little bit,” said Suteau, the Greenbrier’s executive pastry chef. “Santa coming out of the chimney outside and he’s got all these gifts. He’s got a gift for everyone. And there’s Olaf (the snowman) and an elf.”
Suteau and a team of three pastry chefs began working in October to create the Christmas dreamland constructed out of more than 1,000 lbs. of chocolate.
Although the scene is different from past years, visitors will recognize some of the larger elements as Suteau saved the giant Nutcracker from two years ago and the fireplace and Santa Claus from last Christmas.
New this year, he explained are 25 ornaments, 45 gift boxes, trees and Santa’s elf.
Everything in the display except for the white fondant snowflakes on the gift boxes, are made from chocolate.
“It’s relaxing to me,” Suteau, a former United States Chocolate Master, said of the process. “It’s like taking a break from the daily routine dealing with all the staff and management, email and phone call. I go to my chocolate room. It’s like my yoga.”
The display was put in place the day before Thanksgiving and took approximately three hours to complete as his team carried each piece from a temperature controlled workspace to the lobby.
A few pieces were broken along the way, but Suteau said he was prepared for that and had replacements at the ready.
He says he enjoys the positive feedback he receives from the display and adds children, more than adults, seem to find joy from the chocolate wonderland.
“That’s my satisfaction,” he said. “It’s more for the kids than the grownups.”
And he should know.
“I’m kind of a kid,” he said. “To play with chocolate all day long, you have to be kind of a kid.”
The Greenbrier’s chocolate display will be in place through the first week of January.
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