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Fat Guy

Most impressive dessert you ever did see

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A dessert I had last night at the Mark Hotel here in New York City reminded me of what a sucker I am for showmanship in pastry. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a dessert service as much, and was hoping maybe we could all share our tales of wildly elaborate and impressive desserts.

The very clever New York pastry chef Chris Broberg, who was long at Lespinasse (during both the Gray Kunz and Christian Delouvrier eras) and later at Petrossian (working with Philippe Conticini), has been at the Mark for about a year now and has really whipped the pastry program into shape (there's definitely something of a dream-team coming together in the Mark's F&B department, which I'll post about on the NY board at some point). I'd been meaning to stop in for the longest time, and finally a promotional dinner for Mandarin Oriental hotels (the Mark is a Mandarin Oriental property) presented an easy (and free) opportunity.

The dessert that Broberg did for this dinner was a chocolate dome. It looked like a pretty normal chocolate dome: a half-sphere of chocolate with a semi-hard, shiny chocolate coating and a nice gold-leaf decoration in the middle. It was surrounded by pieces of candied fruit and such.

This was, at first, a little disappointing. I thought for sure Broberg wouldn't mail it in like this. Then again, an Upper East Side hotel with a rather low-key restaurant -- maybe he's just collecting a nice paycheck and living the good life. Or maybe for a banquet he just isn't going to do the good stuff. But when the waiters put down the dessert they said, don't eat it; the chef will be out to "explain the dessert." At this point things took a turn for the better.

Broberg and some of the line cooks appeared bearing pitchers of hot liquid chocolate, essentially the super-rich hot chocolate you'd get as a beverage at L'Aduree or Angelina's in Paris. A cook went over to the dessert of one of the women at our table and started pouring the chocolate onto the dome. He did this for about 10 seconds as a pool of chocolate started to surround the dome. Which I thought, hey, was a pretty cool touch.

But then, totally unexpected -- poof! -- the whole exterior of the dome started to disintegrate! And then, as the cook stopped pouring, the whole center part of the thing kind of collapsed into something that looked like the moon after being wrecked by a continent-sized asteroid. There were audible gasps, woahs, and holy-shits from most every person in the room. Inside the dome, it was revealed, was a whole other deal of crunchy nutty stuff and cocoa nibs all mixed in with the dome's fluffy chocolate interior and the gooey hot chocolate sauce.

Well, I'll be damned if that wasn't the most impressive dessert presentation I've ever seen. Not to mention at least three women (and one man) offered their bodies to Broberg after the meal (which is a lot even in a room full of media people).

I should add, this dessert was actually quite delicious on top of all that.

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Reminds me of a dessert I only heard about, from the French Laundry a couple years ago- not sure whether it was from during Durfee's tenure or after- but the mechanics sound similar. A thin disk of chocolate was set atop some component (it's all fuzzy now), and at table, a hot liquid (maybe it was olive oil?) was spooned over the chocolate, thus melted it and creating a 'sauce.' Something tells me chefg would know about this.

Sort of a 'kinetic pastry.'

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Ducasse was doing something with molten chocolate poured over cooler chocolate at ADNY early on, and my memories of it are likewise fuzzy. It had some sort of geeky Ducasse-speak name like "CHOCOLATE, bitter and sweet, for your enjoyment." As I recall the bowl came out with various chocolate things in it and the hot liquid was poured over in order to do some last-minute melting. But it wasn't nearly as dramatic as this thing with its collapsing-planetoid effect.

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I had that Ducasse thing, and no, it was nothing like the production you're talking about here. Just sort of hot and cold and gooey, but not as distinct -- or distinctive. Wow!

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Are you sure that the amount of wine you had consumed by that point in the meal was not influencing you?

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I have never experienced any pastry showmanship. And with as many desserts as I've ordered, that's a sad thing. Almost as pathetic as having to keep a Hershey Bar in the car in case my fellow diners are the sort who have "no room" left for something sweet.

Looking forward to watching this thread. Maybe I can experience some pastry showmanship during my trip to Chicago. Sure haven't found any in Austin.


Edited by claire797 (log)

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Chefette I'm telling you there were a number of really hardcore, hard-to-impress, jaded food-media types there -- even some Brits -- and everybody who saw this was totally awestruck. It's pretty much all anybody talked about for the rest of the night. I know it's so gimmicky as to sound borderline nauseating when I describe it, but it was a really effective piece of dessert showmanship. I'm going to e-mail Broberg for some more details on the dessert (I think he said it was Guittard with high cocoa butter content) so that when Klc shows up and starts asking questions I can appear not to be a complete idiot.

So what about you all? What's the most impressive dessert you ever did see?

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I've been lurking with this all along Shaw. I'm just so glad to hear Chris is back! and has a showcase for his talent.

It will be interesting to see if different criteria for "showmanship" emerge here; all too often the fun architectural or hokey "showmanship" came at the expense of taste. For me, I enjoy things interactive--like pouring tableside--things that exaggerate the hot and cold dynamic--and very thin brittle things which crack easily and are integral to the dessert.

But the ultimate showmanship does take place in the mouth.

I never tasted this, but I read a description of a dessert at Vetri in Philadelphia which has stayed with me over the years--warmed olive oil poured tableside onto a chocolate disk, melting it and mingling with the dessert below. Sounded like nice showmanship.

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Coolest dessert I've seen was white chocolate ravioli. Probably old hat to most of y'all, but I was impressed.

White chocolate softened, rolled thin and pressed into both sides of a ravioli press. The interior was filled with chocolate mousse and the whole thing pressed together to form these beautiful little white raviolis. Served with some sort of raspberry/chocolate sauce so the whole thing looked like a pastel version of ravioli with a good tomato sauce. Quite cool, I thought.

Chad

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Are you sure that the amount of wine you had consumed by that point in the meal was not influencing you?

Yeah, FG. Are you sure you weren't tripping out?

Just kidding. The visiting Chef from LCB London made a giant Halloween chocolate sculpture today here at school, looked like a witch's hat, but we didn't get to eat it, so I guess it doesn't count.

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I was going to get all excited telling you about the apple gateau with sweet potato creme anglaise and cinnamon chantilly topped with spun sugar that I had last night but when I read your account...well...now I feel as if I've just dined at I-Hop. :sad:

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For shock value there's Kitty Litter Cake (someone out there has a link to it).

I know it's not in your league, but it's either that or a DQ Belly Blaster... :cool:

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There's all kinds of showmanship, folks, I don't think Shaw intends any criteria to be excluded.

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Those who know me well know I'm all about inclusive.

Sheer abundance and variety can constitute showmanship in and of themselves, as with the dessert carts and Viennese tables of old -- not to mention at Ducasse. There's a showmanship aspect to minimalism, even. And I actually think Steve Herrell's ice-cream mix-ins concept (he did create that, right?) is a brilliant example of dessert showmanship. But I think it's hard to top stuff that explodes, collapses, etc. -- destruction sells.

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Well, I did see a really marvellous, compelling dessert once that was just too beautiful and compelling. A little arched bridge and bonzai tree in chocolate with a steam of kiwi sauce and a cherry parfait. One of Msr. M's brilliantly beautiful and artistic creations in our Nation's Capitol.

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A little arched bridge and bonzai tree in chocolate with a steam of kiwi sauce and a cherry parfait.

That's awesome!

Where was the parfait placed?

Do you have a picture?

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Not exactly showmanship but I was impressed a number of years ago when after a long and delicious meal 9accompanied by some luscious Nuits St. George) at Chateau de Marcay near Chinon, we asked the waiter for a glass of champagne. We waited and waited. We asked what progress was being made on getting our drinks. Finally, the waiter appeared with two coupes bearing glace of champagne! I'm not sure if something got lost in the translation, or if the chef was having fun with us. BTW, it was just the thing to end the meal with.

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well surely everyone has at some point had bananas foster prepared table side. Its always impressive not to mention extremely delicious. But that's old school.

Impressive: at a restaurant in Rome: frozen fruit brought to the table in a large bowl. opened to reveal they are filled with sorbet made from the fruit. Very beautiful dessert presentation. And tasty.

Baked Alaska: also old school, but with a twist (sherribabee will like this) Also flambeed, not table side, but on the table, liquor drizzled directly on the table top, so whole dish/presentation is surrounded by a ring of flames. No, it didn't burn the table up LOL.

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Flames are good. I'm in favor of flames. Flames are right up there with exploding and collapsing things. But I think I'm pretty much desensitized to the old gimmick of just lighting some liqueur on fire in order to create flames. I would need much more serious flames to be impressed at this point.

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Are you as impresssed with the guy who slices your entire banana without ever touching it with his hands or peeling it - then he opens it up for you on your plate with his white gloved hands and voila! sliced banana. So its really the waiter that you are interested in - not so much the dessert. Alas, poor hard working pastry chef forgotten in the back (oops, I forgot if all you are doing is setting things on fire for the guests there is not so much work in the back of the house. )

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Wow. That's a huge step above "simple" architectural desserts.

Bruce

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Are you as impresssed with the guy who slices your entire banana without ever touching it with his hands or peeling it - then he opens it up for you on your plate with his white gloved hands and voila!  sliced banana.  So its really the waiter that you are interested in - not so much the dessert.

I personally prefer waitresses to waiters or desserts, but that does sound pretty cool.

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