Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Life is Short: Eat Dessert First - Best Desserts in KC!


For those of us who consider pie (and ice cream) the perfect breakfast, dessert is more than just the end of the meal.  It is celebration, it is the best reason to linger, it is the ultimate fireworks to the sit-down portion of the evening.

It is compulsory.



Thankfully, many Kansas City restaurants agree.  They make the grand effort to satisfy the sweet desires of their patrons, whether they outsource, leave it to the chef and kitchen to create, or have a professional pastry chef at the helm.

Some restaurants recognize the time and creativity involved in presenting a great dessert and decide to simply leave the work to someone else.  Sometimes they tell you this; sometimes not.  But what most do is to find the very best dessert that reflects who they are and what their customers want.  And if, apparently, it’s the Costco double chocolate cake that people want, I’m not telling you where that was.

Waldo Pizza, a place you might not think about for desserts, has many, there because of owner Phil Bourne’s love of them.  Their menu proudly proclaims they serve Ted Drewe’s custard (in keeping with his St. Louis roots) and notes their tiramisu is imported from Italy, their cupcakes are from Babycakes, and their white chocolate cheesecake is made locally by Phil’s Italian barber’s wife.   They also make their own.

Some people have created such a special dessert that restaurants are eager to serve it and thus contract specifically for that one item.  Such is Jude’s rum cake, known for its consistent high quality and local ingredients.  The business is owned by catering entrepreneur (Belly Up BBQ) Craig Adcock who came up with the cake because his clients wanted a dessert.  It is served at restaurants such as JJ’s, Tannin, West Side Local, the Farmhouse, and others in and out of town as well – some 35 and counting.  His mother-in-law, whose recipe serves as the base, would be proud.

The second way restaurants do desserts is that someone in house, often the chef, creates them and then they are made either by the chef or by one or two individuals on the staff.  This is probably the most common.  Ophelia’s in Independence, Café Provence in Prairie Village, Room 39, Hollywood Casino and many others rely on their chefs’ mastery of dessert art.  Joseph Jackson at Affäre does both traditional and seasonal desserts and his painted desserts at your table are well worth foregoing your diet.  

A slightly different approach is personified by Liz Miller at Pierpont’s who has been “extremely lucky” as she puts it. She started out as a server and bartender, helped prep and liked it (and did) so well that she started working on desserts.  Now she’s in charge of them under the guidance of the executive chef, Matt Barnes.  Her goal is simple – the complete and total expertise as demanded of a premier dessert chef.  

That is the culminating step: the pastry chef.  That designation can be achieved through both schooling and practice. Chef Patrick Parmentier, program director at L’École Culinaire, points out that programs like his, Johnson County Community College, and the Art Institutes offer a specialty and various degrees in pastry (and desserts).   Every dessert chef, he says, must know the basics of the kitchen and management of a restaurant if s/he is to be successful. And more women than men are pastry chefs, he adds – the reverse, still, of head chefs.

The pastry chefs in town all exemplify a true breadth of expertise.  Adding a pastry chef to one’s retail kitchen is a substantial commitment of space, expense, and devotion to the philosophical concept of the importance of dessert.  The 801 Restaurants exemplify that commitment – all their restaurants have its own pastry chef and each member of the 801 Group  (Chophouses, Fish, and Pig and Finch) serves different desserts.   At Bluestem and now Rye, Megan Garrelts has vastly affected the local as well as the national dessert scene with her and husband Colby’s cookbook, eponymously named bluestem, the cookbook.   

The American Restaurant’s famed pastry chef and now James Beard nominee, Nick Wesemann, mentions that what is best about being a pastry chef is the creativity involved – taking raw ingredients like sugar, flour, butter and devising something that is special.   He also touts the independence, pace, and setting one’s own standards and then meeting them in a fine restaurant.  He likens the job, somewhat, to a scientist’s – one must know ingredients, chemical reactions, formulas – but he is able to tinker until it is simply perfect. Pastry chef Joseph Jackson at Affäre agrees with Nick, whom he credits with a great part of his educational training.  It was there, too, he became more familiar with molecular gastronomy, a style of cooking which relies on scientific principles for its innovation.  He and colleague Clinton Smith were watching “A Matter of Taste,” a documentary about Paul Liebrandt and something they saw fired (literally) them up – and thus, the famous painted dessert you can order for two to forty at the downtown Affäre.

Several chefs mentioned that (too) many people skip desserts, due to calories, expense, being full, or a misbegotten sense of superiority.  (Well, they didn’t say that last part, I did.) Perhaps one should forego that last couple bites of the beef bourguignon or the extra slice of bread and instead, truly satisfy the palate, sparkling the end of the evening with a fabulous dessert. 


A Few Signature - Don’t Miss These Desserts
Gaslight Grill – Any seasonal cobbler
McCormicks and Schmick's – Chocolate Bag
Melting Pot – Chocolate fondue
Jack Stack - Carrot Cake
Pierpont’s – Chocolate mousse w/dark chocolate coffee ganache
Rye – Any pie
Waldo Pizza – St. Louis gooey butter cake


Go International
Bo Lings –Crèmes Caramel and Brule
Drunken Fish – Strawberry Cheesecake Makimono
Nara – Tempura fried ice cream
Saki – Tropical Lover (tempura fried bananas)
Thai Place – Sticky mango rice
Tatsu's - Grand Marnier Soufflé
Grunauer - Viennese Apple Strudel
Le Fou Frog - Créme Brulée
Piropos - Flan de Vainilla


 Can you recognize the desserts from the pictures?  Tell us! 

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