Many of us have experienced a time when the exuberance we once felt about a chosen career has melted into mediocrity, and we’re at a crossroads, not as fulfilled as we’d like to be.
Benoit Cornet reached that point in 2016, after his wife, Jennifer, gave birth to their second son. Though it was exciting to welcome a new baby into the world with a future that had infinite possibilities, it caused Cornet to take stock of his life.
After moving to Las Vegas in 2007, Cornet has spent the past seven years as executive chef at Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits where he enjoys creating memorable dining experiences. While Cornet excels at pairing fine dining menus with the wines and spirits offered by Southern, dessert was not his forte.
Like Cornet, Coppel had embarked on a challenging journey that earned her a reputation as one of the country’s top 10 chocolatiers. A spark ignited when Cornet learned chef Coppel had opened her own atelier and that pastry chefs from around the world were coming to take her intensive chocolate workshops.
Cornet wanted to attend, but he was hesitant to ask Larry Ruvo, managing director at Southern Glazier, for the time off. Finally, he sent Ruvo an email and, five minutes later, he got the go-ahead. It’s not surprising. Ruvo, who founded the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in honor of his father, is a kind, fair and generous man.
“It meant a lot that Mr. Ruvo believed in me enough to pay for the workshop and give me three days off, (and) that he recognized this would add value to what I bring to the table.”
Cornet also can’t say enough about Coppel.
“She doesn’t just make bonbons; she’s the Einstein of flavors. Instead of just lecturing, she has a very hands-on approach.”
Coppel’s teaching style comes from her experiences as a student.
“My teachers let us students know we’d never be as good as them,” she said. “My kitchen at the atelier is a magical place with a soul filled with creativity, honesty and fairness — and no room for big egos to crush anyone’s self-esteem. I encourage everyone to believe in their dreams.”
Coppel’s dream at 17 was to be a chef, but there were no cooking schools in Colombia, so she spent three years at a hospitality school where cooking was only taught one hour a week.
“I was hungry to learn, so every day I watched this female chef on Argentina’s cooking channel, El Gourmet, and took notes,” said Coppel. “Then grandma took me grocery shopping, and I’d cook for her.”
After graduating, Coppel visited a cousin in Chicago, where she took a few cooking classes and met her husband, Alain.
Coppel returned to Colombia, taught housewives how to cook, saved money and went to Argentina for six months to study with a French chef. After she got married, she went to The French Pastry School in Chicago for six months while her husband came to Las Vegas.
“It was hard for us as newlyweds to spend our first six months apart, but Alain has always supported my dreams,” said Coppel.
A teacher helped her get a job as a pastry helper at Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas. Eight months later, she was promoted to cook. A month after that, she became the assistant to the executive pastry chef. Then, after rarely seeing each other for two years, her husband wanted her to get a day job.
“I heard Caesars Palace was looking for a chocolatier. I had no experience working with chocolate, but I knew I’d figure it out, even if I had to sleep there.
“I worked alone for six months, teaching myself. The shift began at 5 a.m., but I’d go in at 3 a.m., in case I made a mistake. I worked 14-hour days.”
Next, Coppel went to the Bellagio and, a year later, opened a shop with another chocolatier. During her time there, she was featured in the Spanish publication, which is every pastry chefs’ dream, and won People’s Choice and Chocolatier of the Year awards in 2013.
In 2016, Coppel opened Atelier Melissa Coppel where she teaches students how to make bonbons that are such works of art, they’re almost too exquisite to eat. However, she spends 80 percent of her time on the recipe.
“We live in a society where everything looks beautiful for the camera,” she said. “I do the opposite. Only after I have perfected the taste do I focus on the decor.”
Cornet said he’s excited to go to work every day and try new things, like creating six bonbons infused with the tasting notes that are part Bombay Sapphire gin.
As Steve Jobs said, “Work fills a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”