The 7 secrets of plated desserts
Changing menus for me always represents a moment of intense concentration, creativity and wit.
The variables to be taken into account are many and, often, what you imagine and write on a paper does not bring the expected result. To make the process easier for many of you out there, I have collected my best tips and secrets to create the perfect plated dessert, without driving yourself insane.
First, let's divide this process into 5 phases:
Food cost calculation
Keep in mind that at least 90% of the time each phase is corrected at least 3-4 times.
To keep this article at a manageable length, today we are only going to talk about the ideas. We will analyze the 3 basic rules to be respected when creating a new dessert and, later we will be talking about 4 other factors that will influence your menus depending on where you work.
The 3 basic rules
We create desserts for the pleasure of our guests, not for the satisfaction of our ego. This is what we should always have in mind when we create our menus, putting on the plate no more than 3 elements in a winning combination, and understood by most diners. Desserts are a form of art like any other, so, in my opinion, the more people you “touch" with your message, the greater artist you are. Simplify and remove instead of adding.
When you think about what elements to put on your plate, remember this simple rule. Attention, I'm talking about TASTES, not flavours. The choice of FLAVORS is the real keystone that will personalize your style. Crunchy, of course, is not a taste, but a consistency that must never be lacking in a dessert. I also like old desserts where the warm-cold combination is the master, like hot chocolate cake with ice cream.
A concept that was once fading, is returning today with a newfound force. I say this because, as we all know, any element mother nature gives us, today is present on the market all year round, whether native, imported or from a greenhouse. Even if you don't have access to fresh fruits, you will certainly know how to get frozen purees. The clientele also got used to having everything throughout the year, so today many chefs are afraid to take a step back and follow the calendar while writing their menus. Today, seasonality has become a demonstration of competence, and I would urge everyone to follow this healthy trend. It prioritizes more healthy, wholesome and sustainable cooking.
Now let's look at the variables that change according to where you serve your plated dessert.
4 variables for plated desserts
THE CONCEPT OF THE RESTAURANT
Always take into account that the signboard at the entrance, the restaurant furniture and the marketing of the property, create a specific expectation for the customer. Desserts should be thought of with this philosophy. The ingredients, colours, type of porcelain affect the perception of your guests. In a bistro, a classic tiramisu will make sense, perhaps served in classic china (which gives that touch of tradition), easy and well done. In a Michelin starred restaurant something more appealing is needed, while in restaurants serving large numbers of tourists an international dessert, like a cheesecake, will be a good idea.
ALWAYS FOLLOW THE VISION OF THE CHEF.
The dessert represents the closure of sensory experience, the last course which can make all the difference in the customer's memory. It is important to follow the concept that the chef is trying to express with his savoury dishes, then start a meeting him and create the dessert menu accordingly. At the end of a fish dinner, on a warm summer evening, a fresh and fruity dessert with a sorbet or a granita would be perfect, as would be a bar of beautiful chocolate and Chianti cake with mandarin and rosemary compote, in a pre-Christmas game-based dinner. They may look like basic concepts, but they are often missed by many.
TYPE OF CUSTOMERS
This heavily depends on your location and clientele. Some things work in Naples, but not in Milan. Ricotta and pears, a sweet that I love in an intuitive way, is not understood in London. Apple crumble or sticky toffee pudding are a must here, while in Italy no one has probably ever heard of them. In addition to this, remember that some people love sweets with more or less sugar, prefer a spice or aromatic herb compared to another or perhaps, are not used to certain types of ingredients or cannot eat them, such as alcohol, animal fats etc. You should keep this in mind if you don't want to find yourself having to invent 300 different specials!
HOW MANY DESSERTS SHOULD YOU HAVE IN THE MENU
If you are in a starred restaurant or one that aims to be 4 desserts should be more than enough. Take into account the complexity and rotation of the dishes, which happen on average every 40 days. Let's not forget the alternative menus either, especially for dietary requirements.
For a hotel serving large numbers or a bistro, 6 desserts is the sweet spot (one for each day of service). Remember to accommodate everyone's tastes, having at least 2 traditional desserts, 2 served hot (perhaps with ice cream) and 2 a little more daring. In those, you can let your creativity run for the most demanding and curious customers. High-quality ice cream should always be available (maybe even with a couple of chef's cones), something suitable for children and at least one of your desserts should be a total celebration of chocolate! Beware of allergies when creating your recipes (a thorny topic that I will talk about very soon).
Last but not least, do not forget about the people who serve your dishes. Waiters can make it or break it when it comes to your plated desserts, and are usually inclined to sell sweets that appeal to them. They need training to know exactly what they are bringing to the table, so a tasting with the staff, at each change of menu, would be a very smart move on your part.