National Dessert Month Brings Savory Surprises

The Black Beauty dessert at E.P. & L.P. features black sticky rice, cucumber cream, and Szechuan cotton candy.
The Black Beauty dessert at E.P. & L.P. features black sticky rice, cucumber cream, and Szechuan cotton candy. Dan Collopy

After scanning over ingredients such as buckwheat, black sticky rice, and soy sauce, it may take a second to register that what you’re reading is a dessert menu—and seeing as October is National Dessert Month, it would only be fitting for you to be poring over quite a few of these menus, whether it be for inspiration or for personal consumption.

Not surprisingly, desserts have become a testing ground for some of the most ambitious takes on newly popular flavors and trends. In its “What’s Hot 2015 Culinary Forecast,” the National Restaurant Association recognized the growing prominence of both savory desserts and authentic ethnic cuisine, and restaurants have been quick to blend these categories into compelling dishes to wrap up a decadent dining experience.

For Providence’s head pastry chef Jessie Liu, adding savory Asian-flair to the restaurant’s dessert lineup was a logical move.

“I grew up in Taiwan, so a lot of the Asian flavor profiles live in my palate already,” Liu says. “It’s natural for me to think of how soy sauce and soba go together, and then to use that combination within Western-style techniques to make desserts.”

Liu says that some of her inspiration comes from conversations with her sous chef husband, during which she considers how she could work the savory elements he frequently uses into her traditionally sweet segment.

This ingenuity has resulted in popular dishes like Providence’s PB & J dessert, which combines brioche ice cream, Thomcord grape, and cilantro paired with peanut for a traditional Taiwanese flavor combination. Liu’s dessert menu has had the added effect of rounding out the subtle Asian-influences in other areas of the seafood-centric menu, while catching customer interest with the unexpected savory additions that turn dessert into an after-dinner experience, rather than just a sweet send-off.

By adding interest to the dessert segment, Liu’s dishes have garnered praise from online reviewers, with terms such as “innovative, provocative, and boundary-pushing,” repeatedly finding a way into posts.

To pull off this sort of innovation effectively, Liu says she always remains focused on ensuring that the basics of each dish are executed carefully, and that ingredients—even when they are unconventional—follow the seasons.

For instance, Liu is looking to add Okinawa sweet potatoes to the menu soon, and has previously used cooling Aloe Vera in summertime desserts.

While Liu certainly produces exceptional plates, this dessert trend is taking off with chefs and guests alike in a myriad of restaurants. For instance, Southeast Asian flavors standout on the West Hollywood restaurant E.P & L.P.’s dessert menu, where its Black Beauty dessert features black sticky rice, cucumber cream, and [incredibly] Szechuan cotton candy.

By branching out into unexpectedly savory territory on the dessert menu while incorporating consumers’ piqued interest in global and Asian cuisines, this year’s National Dessert Month is bringing flavors to the table that are changing the game.

Emily Byrd

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