TREND: All Dessert Dinners

The ultimate temptation

How many times have you secretly wanted a meal to hurry along to when the dessert arrives? In recent years this observation has brought about attempts to bring people what they want immediately. The all-dessert dinner was born: pre-dessert, main dessert and final dessert should deliver the utmost pleasure. But what is the best way to approach this?

Desserts are experiencing a boom. Even ‘dessert-only’ restaurants are making an appearance. This is also something that Dave Beeckmans noticed. He acquired his patisserie chef experience in the Sir Anthony Van Dijck restaurant (with Marc Paesbrugghe), at that time a Michelin starred restaurant, at the Magnus patisserie, and as patisserie chef at the Nico Central restaurant (belonging to Michelin-star chef Nico Ladenis); later he became chef de cuisine at the Dominican Hotel in Brussels and today at the Radisson Blu Park Lane Hotel in Antwerp. “‘Dessert-only’ restaurants have a better chance of working in countries that are known for their culinary exuberance,” he explains. “Spain or France, for example. Or the Netherlands; this country is soaring in the field of gastronomy. Belgium also has its chance, especially where its cuisine overlaps. And, of course, all-dessert dinners play a major role in such restaurants. But they also captivate customers in classic restaurants.”

Warning: elaborate composition!

An all-dessert dinner must be designed in a careful fashion so that boredom does not set in. This means offering enough contrast between sweetness and acidity, a hint of bitterness and even a touch of intensity, rich smoothness and crunchiness, fresh fruit mixing with a creamy sauce. (...) Dave Beeckmans’ creations aim to ‘tease & please’. “The pre-dessert should, above all, be ‘tantalising’,” he explains. “It is the first thing that people see; it must make them want to eat more while presenting beautiful yet unexpected combinations, making them curious: ‘that was surprising, what can we expect now?’ The main dessert can, in my opinion, work well as a hot, warm or cold dish, but it must be creamy and tasty. The final dessert must represent the culmination of the dinner: fresh, powerful, intense; an aromatic explosion but without being too extreme or too heavy. Indeed, overall, the most important thing is to integrate enough contrast so that customers want to try everything, from start to finish; the whole palette of flavours must be represented.”

Key examples

Let’s illustrate the approaches to all-dessert dinners with some examples. (...) Amsterdam’s very young restaurant ‘Sucre’, which pays a lot of attention to desserts and offers menus with 4 or 5 dishes of unique composition, interprets the quest for enchanting contrasts with vanilla cheesecake or apple pudding with cinnamon ice cream, various chocolate desserts or a ‘Thriller’: an espresso crème brûlée, chocolate mousse with cardamom and iced coffee.
For his part, Dave Beeckmans, for the pre-dessert, offers a green asparagus granita and a smoked Parma ham biscuit. The freshness and coldness of the crushed ice in the granita contrasts with the saltiness, umami, and crispiness of the smoked Parma ham. A little Tête de Moine cheese is the best way of accentuating the umami experience. The main dessert is homemade nougat made from three sorts of goat’s cheese and rocket, caramelised nuts with a hint of chocolate, cucumber and a spicy dressing of sambal. The salty, spicy and sugary flavours dominate here. The dessert selected is a cucumber bavarois served with a hot chocolate sauce.
Dave Beeckmans: “I intentionally chose three cross-overs. No-one expects green asparagus in a dessert. Goat’s cheese is a true classic but not offered in as a sweet, as nougat with nuts. And cucumber for dessert is a complete surprise.”
He suggests even more possible components in all-dessert dinners: tomato confit with thyme sorbet as the main dessert, for instance. Dolcini pasta (sweetened ravioli filled with crème brûlée, pistachio, chocolate, lime or tiramisu) is slightly heavier and therefore better suited to the main dessert. Then he mentions his creation of ‘pâtes à la bolofraise’ (sweetened pasta with pieces of strawberry in place of the Bolognese sauce and grated white chocolate instead of the cheese, a real hit with children), chicory ice cream, and grated granny smith apple pont neuf with almond cream and pepper ice cream.

The richness of drinks

You have to start an all-dessert dinner with freshness and finish without reserve. And what about drinks? Well, they follow the same pattern. The renowned sommelier Steve Bettens provides an example.
A pre-dessert of lemon sorbet with strawberries would combine well with the Riesling Auslese Trittenheimer Apothek 2008 cultivated naturally on the Eva Clüsserath estate. A main dessert of stracciatella ice cream with raspberries would go well with a 21 Year Old Rare Tawny from the Anvers Estate in Langhorne Creek Hills, Australia, and finally the dessert of iced coffee and yoghurt mousse with almonds would be accompanied well by a 5 Year Old Alvada Madeira from Blandy’s. Beeckmans: “But there are many other possibilities. This is precisely what is enjoyable about all-dessert dinners: you can combine them will all sorts of drinks. Beer, for example, would go very well, because within beer, whether light or stronger, you can find all of the facets that you can in wines. So you could start with a Hoegaarden and finish with stronger, darker beers. Gins and liqueurs can also be envisaged. You could therefore start with a fruity limoncello. It would then be possible to offer an Elixir d’Anvers with the main dessert; it goes very nicely with desserts because it is fresh and spiced. The danger is that it will quickly dominate. To finish, you could opt for stronger liqueurs or spirits such as Armagnac or Cognac. You could also work with different blends of coffee, starting with a fresh sort and finishing with a strong blend. Same thing for tea, starting for instance with a lightly aromatic Earl Grey and finishing, via a more fruity tea such as citronelle, with a more powerful sort such as a classic English blend.”
But Dave Beeckmans highlights that all-dessert dinners can only succeed if they are created by professionals who have a wide understanding of the products, have enough knowledge of chemistry, know what products exist, how they react in particular contexts (for instance with acidity) and at what temperature they should be served, etc. Who will pick up the gauntlet?

Reprinted from: Horeca Revue, April 2011

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