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As the holidays light up the cactus garden at Henderson's Ethel M Chocolates, Chief Chocolatier Mark Mackey prepares the season's new treats. (Photos by Las Vegas Review-Journal/Ethel M)
Five Minutes With Mark Mackey
The chief chocolatier for Henderson-based Ethel M Chocolates on holiday flavors and the secrets of the sweet life
This story first appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of rjmagazine, a quarterly published inside the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Five minutes with Ethel M’s Mark Mackey

Updated November 27, 2023 - 11:28 am

How hectic is life in chocolate before the holidays?

We run three shifts, 24/7. My research and development office is right next to production. I spend my days jumping in there to see what they’re making and to taste things. I spend my day eating chocolate.

What does a chocolatier do to relax this time of year?

One of my favorite things to do after work is to walk through the holiday lights in our cactus garden. It’s a nice way to decompress and it puts you into the spirit of the season. I don’t have a favorite holiday light creature, but I do have a favorite saguaro cactus, which is the oldest one.

Why are we obsessed with chocolate during the holidays?

Chocolate is one of the most complex foods out there. Just think about the process the cocoa bean goes through from growing to fermenting to roasting, plus all the care and attention that’s needed to drive flavor. It’s quite incredible. Plus, it tastes great.

What’s new for this season?

We recently launched our new milk chocolate cinnamon-apple caramel. It’s our traditional chewy caramel topped with dried apple dices and cinnamon and drenched in creamy milk chocolate. Plus, we top it with muscovado (unrefined) brown sugar blended with a little more cinnamon. I love our milk chocolate bananas Foster truffle, which has a milk chocolate shell with a white chocolate banana ganache center, topped with a Myers’s rum-infused caramel. Other holiday treats include white chocolate pumpkin pie and dark chocolate eggnog. We also have a brand-new dark chocolate-brownie-batter ganache bar.

What makes the difference between run-of-the-mill chocolate and great chocolate?

As with anything, it’s the ingredients or the beans used. You can get wine grapes that are of a cheaper variety or the more expensive ones. Cocoa is the same way: There are specialty beans with all the nuances. Sourcing the beans is really important in making great chocolate. It’s also the process and the recipe you’re using. It’s an art.

What are some of the stranger things you’ve put into chocolate for a twist?

Chili spice. Think of a chocolate turtle with chipotle chili and salt. It’s sweet, salty, spicy, creamy and the flavors ebb and flow as they melt in your mouth.

How does one prepare to become a chocolatier?

I grew up outside Seattle and always wanted to be in the food industry. I loved watching people’s reaction to the foods I created. After I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, I interned with Mars. I planned to go back to school to get my bachelor’s degree, but I discovered this passion for chocolate and spent 10 years in product development. Eventually, I did go back and get my degree in food science from Rutgers University. Now I’ve been here at Ethel M for almost eight years: I go to work and play with chocolate. I can’t believe I get to call this a career. ◆

Ethel M’s traditional holiday light exhibit in its cactus garden is now open and runs through Jan. 1. Admission is a $1 charitable donation; proceeds go to HELP of Southern Nevada and Three Square Food Bank. 2 Cactus Garden Drive Henderson. EthelM.com.

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