I’m a dessert lover. I know, not cool. It’s like appreciating music at conversation level in restaurants. Even bread gets more respect, and often there’s more variety.
I’ve had dining companions shrug off the final course, or worse, ask if I want to share. Umm, no!
They’ll take seconds of an artisan saucisson or a morsel of foie gras over a sweet finish. My anticipation for the pudding seems frivolous, and often I’m lonely—while they finish the last of the wine, I’m scooping spoonfuls of anything served with a side of Chantilly cream (in a chilled silver bowl, please).
I’m all for a limited choice of desserts if they are exquisite, and expertise in the basics can produce those kind of results. But too often, a small selection is the measure of pastry talent.
Some chefs with dazzling skills at appetizers and entrées hope customers won’t notice its lack at dessert. But for me, this tact diminishes the brilliance of whatever precedes it.
I have an elephantine memory for the last act.
As an apprentice, I hand whipped to order the Calvados sabayon to accompany Claude Bouillet’s tartes fines aux pommes. With Neil Baxter at Rundles, I mastered lemon and chocolate tarts and, in pre-Paco Jet times, churned ice cream for every service.
My competence in pastry is a source of great pride. Like those who came before me, I was trained to be well rounded—a generalist, not a specialist—the end goal for any chef-owner.
I will never forget a cherry galette at Chez Panisse—so pure and honest. You could almost hear the drone of bees in the fruit trees.
At a Christmas lunch in Stratford, I went back to the kitchen to beg a second helping of Neil Baxter’s homemade mincemeat tart with lard pastry and brandy ice cream. The first serving was ethereal. He happily complied.
Dessert is a restaurant's bid adieu. It’s the afterglow—a ripe opportunity to ensure a return visit.
Soundtrack - 2014