Desserts: High-Concept Confections from Star Chefs
From pop rocks with an audio track to abstract art drizzled in syrup, restaurants are taking dessert way beyond coffee and cake. Jennie Yabroff on the new frontier in after-dinner indulgence.
“Please follow my instructions. Please follow my instructions. Please follow my instructions.” The artist Marina Abramovic has something to say to you, something very important. It’s about dessert. You will get to eat it, but first, you must pay attention.
Often, dessert is a slab of something topped with a scoop of something else, a small plate of too-sweet mush you push around with your fork while you finish your coffee and figure out the tip. But at the restaurant Park Avenue Winter, dessert is a total sensory experience. Working with performance artist Abramovic, the restaurant has created Volcano Flambé, a $20 dessert that begins with the diner donning an (optional) white lab coat and pair of headphones.
Soon you hear Abramovic’s voice, instructing you to close your eyes, concentrate, and take three deep breaths, focusing on your breathing. Just as you are starting to feel like a nap might be the sweetest end to the meal, you open your eyes and see a flaming mound of white meringue. Once the flames subside, you lift your fork and dig in. Banana ice cream, frozen chocolate mousse, a web of spun sugar, almond cake, chocolate crunches. Or, in Abramovic’s words, “salty, liquid, creamy, spicy, silver, black, gold, burn.”
At the end of the recording the artist thanks you for eating with awareness.(Working with the art collective Creative Time, the restaurant will collaborate with three more artists over the year, one each season.) According to the restaurant’s executive chef Kevin Lasko, Abramovic originally wanted the volcano to explode, but, after failed experiments with Mentos and Diet Coke, the chef settled for flames. He went through at least six variations before coming up with the right combination of shape, color, and taste. “Making it edible was a challenge,” says Lasko. “The model was a traditional baked Alaska, but we’ve made it completely different.” While the flavors are not extraordinary, the experience is. One diner was so moved by her flambé, she started to cry. “We’re getting a lot of reservations just for the dessert,” says Lasko.
Park Avenue Winter isn’t the only place thinking beyond tiramisu. Around the world, chefs are pushing boundaries of flavor, temperature, and presentation, creating dishes that look more like science experiments, or astronomy lessons, or snow sculptures, than something you put in your mouth. Just remember to follow the instructions, and breathe.