By Amy Tarr
and executive chefs often underestimate the power of pastry, but
anyone who’s really looking at the bottom line in this business
knows that the profit margin on dessert – which is often composed
of lower cost items like sugar, flour, butter and cream –
is usually greater than the margins on savory items. With a great
dessert menu that’s effectively promoted, restaurants can
significantly increase their average check.
What’s more, nothing delights customers
more than a gorgeous dessert. Whether it’s an elaborately
plated confection with six different garnishes, or a simple slice
of apple pie à la mode, dessert makes people smile. And what’s
the point of a terrific appetizer and entrée followed by
a mediocre dessert? Dessert is the last impression that you give
your guests, so it’s important to make it last – and
it will certainly help you to build a loyal customer base.
what’s hot and what’s not in pastry these days? StarChefs
went to the source – we surveyed over 350 executive pastry
chefs, pastry cooks and top executive chefs throughout the country
on the industry’s top trends. We also dug our forks and spoons
into a bit of primary research – tasting the desserts of top
pastry chefs in major culinary destinations across the country,
including New York, Chicago, Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Boston,
Atlanta, Washington Dc, Seattle, New Orleans, and Philadelphia.
Here’s an overview of our findings:
asked respondents to our pastry survey what their number one selling
dessert is. Any type of chocolate dessert was the clear winner –
no matter whether it’s chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, chocolate
soufflé or any other chocolate creation. The runners up included
variations on apple tarts – apple pie, tarte tatin –
followed by cheesecake and crème brulée.
Pastry chefs are looking to old-school treats like Twinkies and
Moon Pies for inspiration, and coming up with their own versions,
minus the preservatives. Pastry Chef Sue McCown at Earth & Ocean
in Seattle is a master at recreating these goodies and tapping into
America's nostalgic food memory. Her upscale versions of old-school
packaged desserts are definitely not just for kids. Cheery Crackle
Pop is her artisan rendition of cherry Pop Tarts, while Retro Rock
& Roll is her riff on HoHos.
Another hot trend right now is drinkable dessert. In addition to
serving classic milkshakes, pastry chefs are experimenting with
flavors and ingredients to create innovative liquid desserts, as
in the Lime and Tapioca Pearl Parfait created by
Pastry Chef Pichet Ong of Spice Market and 66 in New York. Pichet
serves his parfait with a straw wide enough for the tapioca pearls
to fit through. Often a dessert "shooter" is an accompaniment
to a more traditional plated pastry, adding another layer of flavor
As with the savory side of the business, pastry is tremendously
influenced by Asian and Latin cultures, following the US demographic
shift. Pastry Chef Maximo Santiago of Norman’s in Miami looks
to a variety of fruits from South America for his desserts, like
his exotic cheesecake sampler. Some of his favorites are lulo, a
citrus fruit whose taste resembles sour apple; guanabana or sour
sop, with its creamy, pasty center and a flavor similar to pineapple
and banana; caruba – a mix of passion fruit with subtle citrus
notes, whose shape is elongated like a banana; and mora –
South American wild blackberries, commonly found in Colombia.
Pastry chefs are playing up the entertainment factor of dining out
with whimsical desserts that incorporate things like doughnuts,
lollipops, pop rocks and cotton candy. Pastry Chef Ralph Perrazzo
of Bradley Ogden in Las Vegas serves a Reconstructed Cappuccino
- a mountain of cinnamon munchkin doughnuts fried to order and then
precariously placed inside a moat of cappuccino broth. The interactive
dessert is served alongside homemade cream soda garnished with a
vanilla straw, a caramel pixy stick and caramelized popcorn.
DARE TO BE
More and more, pastry chefs are taking risks and daring to be different
to make their work stand out. For New York pastry Chef Sam Mason
of wd-50, the walk-in is fair game. If he sees beets and foie gras,
he won't hesitate to create a dessert with them. Beyond the increasingly
popular concept of pairing savory and sweet, Mason assembles the
“creepy” and “comfortable” on the dessert
plate and pushes his diners to experience something out of the ordinary.
Some chefs are also teasing patrons with deconstructed dishes and
sweet versions of familiar savory items, as with Pastry Chef Kenny
Magana of Sensi in Las Vegas, who creates a "Caprese Salad"
with alternating slices of macerated strawberries, panna cotta and
basil, drizzled with balsamic syrup.
Dessert "stories" are on the rise – a plating style
in which three or four miniature desserts are composed on one plate
as a kind of tribute to the season. This innovative style of service
is best exemplified by Pastry Chef Johnny Iuzzini at Jean Georges
in New York. Iuzzini composes an individual dessert sampler divided
into four quadrants. Within each quadrant is a play on colors, tastes,
textures and temperatures – tying in a variety of ingredients
that symbolize the season – whether it’s an ode to autumn
or a spring revelation. Each section can stand on its own as a complete
dessert; taken all together, the effect is spectacular, like a brilliant,
jewel-toned Zeffirelli opera.
By far the biggest trend in pastry arts, and one that is projected
to have a lasting impact on the American dining scene, is the development
of the standalone dessert bar, such as Finale in Boston, Sugar in
Chicago, and Chickalicious in New York. With their relatively low
price points (Chickalicious' prix fixe dessert menu is $12) and
hip ambiance, these late-night outlets are ideal for post-theatre
and filmgoers. Suggested wine pairings for each dessert item are
popular and boost revenue.
JOBS IN PASTRY
The hospitality industry is experience a tight labor market right
now – that means there are more job openings than there are
qualified candidates to fill them. Restaurant owners and hotel operators
come to StarChefs.com to post jobs on our JobFinder, and the position
of Pastry Chef is currently the hardest one the fill across the
country. So if you are talented and motivated, you can take advantage
of the diverse opportunities in pastry right now. And you can find
some of the best pastry opportunities listed on StarChefsJobFinder.com.