Reports from chefs around Australia indicates that the dessert course is still very much alive and kicking despite lots of talk about watching our weight.
Most diners, out for a special occasion are still prepared to indulge themselves a little, ignoring for a short time the ubiquitous warnings from the health gurus. It’s a win-win situation for pastry chefs, customers and management. Top chefs continue to surpass themselves creating delectable dishes to tempt the most discerning palate. And, as the overall profit margins on desserts are generally higher than those generated by the other menu courses, management is delighted.
Well-known pastry chef Lorraine Godsmark who is also co-owner of Sydney’s Yellow Bistro and Food Store says: “Of course desserts are important to a menu. Many chefs seem to forget that the ‘sweet ending’ is potentially the last part of the customer’s meal and as such will impact on the impression of the restaurant the customer takes away. As an extra bonus for the restaurant, food costs are generally lower on the dessert menu, so provided production is managed properly, extra labour costs can be rationalised.”
Godsmark believes that while people are still prepared to indulge, the public’s growing concern about health issues have to be considered. As a result, she has noticed a decided trend towards something ‘lighter’ than used to be the case. Fruit-based desserts for instance are becoming more popular. ‘But fortunately, a lot of our customers seem to know they can achieve a good health balance by exercising,” says Godsmark. “There seems to be a lot of allergies out there though, so we are careful to have a good range of desserts to compensate for this.”
The other factor that ‘sells’ the dessert course is consistency of quality. Godsmark says today’s customers are well educated, with much better food knowledge than ever before. “I find that customers really appreciate quality and can immediately taste the difference,” she says. “Fortunately, our reputation for consistent quality more than ‘sells’ our desserts and I work very hard to insure our customers have the same experience every time they visit us.”.
Debunking the stereotype Godsmark says that men are big fans of sweet treats as well as women. “I am delighted to say that our clients include a lot of men these days,” she says.”They seem to love their cake and coffee in the afternoon just as much as our regular female clients.”
Melbourne’s The Botanical restaurant sells a lot of desserts, says executive chef Paul Wilson. Wilson believes there are a number of factors behind that—a lovely balance of desserts on the menu, and also the open kitchen that allows customers to see the dishes being prepared included. “You want to have a nice ice-cream dessert plus a creamy egg combination, a great chocolate dessert using good quality chocolate, a good pudding, and a fruit dessert.
Wilson also believes the way the dessert menu is presented makes a difference as well. “We don’t include it on our main menu—you don’t want people deciding straight off they they will just have an entree and a main or a main and dessert.” The dessert menu at Botanical is fully self contained listing desserts as well as dessert wines to accompany them and dessert cocktails.”
Chocolate is always a winner,” says Wilson but it must be good quality chocolate these days. “That is what people are looking for. There are a lot of chocolate snobs out there. It’s got to be Valrhona quality. And make it indulgent like a chocolate cake covered in gold leaf. People get very excited about eating it. We have our 24 carat gold Valrhona chocolate nemesis that’s served with warm caramelised figs and praline ice-cream, or in summer we might serve with something like brandied apricots.”
Tasting plates are another trend that taps into consumers desires to share desserts and to also be able to try several different choices. “It’s become very popular—alot of small dishes served on a dessert platter, four or five desserts elegantly presented, miniature versions of the desserts,” says Wilson.
Puddings remain popular as do some classic dishes served with a ‘twist”, say chefs. On the new dessert menu at Brisbane’s Depot Emporium executive chef, Nigel West, has rejuvenated 80s classics with a delicious twist, llike his Oven-baked Granny Smith Apple with Neufchatel Cheese, Walnuts and a Butterscotch ice-cream or his Spiced Carrot and Quince pinenut honey strudels. “People are intrigued to see old dessert that you’ve done something different with,” says West.
A big drawcard on the Depot Emporium menu is the restaurant’s own ice-creams. Flavours have included Green Apple Sorbet, Hazelnut and Praline, Coconut and Mango, Lime and Lychee, and fresh Rasberry. Very popular has been the White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Ice-cream served with a traditional chocolate and banana steamed pudding (pictured left).
The Hilton on the Park Melbourne agrees that one of the emerging trends in desserts is towards healthier options. However, marketing and communications executive Casey Moses says that even with that factor it is classic desserts that seem to have most appeal to the customers of the hotel’s Gallery Restaurant. “They are still looking for classic dessert items such as cheese cakes, bread and butter pudding, steamed puddings and ice cream. And we’ve found women tend to prefer chocolate desserts, whereas men are more likely to go for the hot pudding and cheesecake options. “With this preference for classic desserts in mind our executive chef, Eric Fois, is great at introducing new dessert dishes that put a modern spin on the classic options. To modernise the bread and butter pudding for example, he has created s superb coconut and crepe pudding to add to our extensive menu.”
Moses says keeping front of house staff informed about dishes on the dessert menu is critical. “Our staff are given regular briefings on all dessert options so they can help customers make an informed choice as to which dessert will best suit their individual taste and preference.”
Moses says having stunning tableware is an important part of presenting and sellling the dessert course. “An important introduction has been the beautiful glass platters and other dishes that are now coming out of Europe. They are helping significantly towards enhanced presentation, so important when we serve desserts to our customers.”
We all have a sweet tooth and can be tempted by a dessert, says executive chef at Sydney’s Caliniere restaurant, Thorly Cramp. “You can always entice people,” says the Irish born chef who admits his heritage has instilled a love of old-fashioned desserts from bread and butter puddings to rhubarb with custard.
On his European-influenced menu at the fledgling restaurant, desserts have ranged from the lightness of a Star Anise Creme Brulee served with Poached Spicy Pear and a Pear Sorbet with Peach Syrup, to the most popular offering, the Chocolate Assiette, a decadent chocolate explosion that features a Chocolate Fondant, Warm Chocolate Brownie, a Chocolate Brulee, and a Chocolate and Lavender Sorbet. “I make sure there are light desserts because the rest of the food is quite heavy, there are lots of heavy sauces and I like butter, so when it comes to dessert people are after just something light, but I do like working with chocolate.”
Gold Coast International Hotel maintains presentation is important to ensure food dishes—and particularly desserts— look as good as they taste. Many of their desserts, for instance are served on exciting plates such as stylish glass platters sourced from Europe. Gold Coast International’s sous chef, Don Christie, says generally, the best sellers are dishes that feature more than a few flavours. “Although the classics and classics with a modern spin are always equally popular. Among our desserts most in demand at present are seasonal fruits done in the style of Mango Thai Sticky Rice or similar or anything chocolate,” he says.
Christie says health concerns of today’s customers have impacted on the entire hospitality industry. The result, as far as desserts are concerned, has been to spur chefs to create new and interesting alternatives to cater for customers who need special attention. He says staff are well prepared to answer questions customers have about any menu item, including desserts.
“Guests come to trust our staff who know if they suggest a particular dessert, the customer will invariably accept that option. Other desserts, such as crepes flambéed simply sell because of the great skill needed to prepare the dish and the great flavours they have,” says Christie.
Christie says strong desserts sales are important to any restaurant because of their potential to generate a better profit than most other menu items. “But remember, kitchen revenue ultimately depends on quality, variety and meeting—and indeed exceeding—customer expectations. We have one of the last proper pastry sections left on the Gold Coast and this attracts many customers. But while we may make better profits on desserts, we direct these to help keep our pastry chefs employed. In turn, this helps us to provide the quality and variety demanded by our customers.”