We're so full of hot air
If you've ever seen one of those silly Food Network "challenge" shows where teams compete at making towering cakes or sugar sculptures, you know that the most dramatic part is when the teams have to (inexplicably) move their finished creations to a different table. It's just asking for trouble. But it's true that in real restaurant life, the food does need to get from the kitchen to the dining room, and although the chef may have a vision for how to plate a dessert, if the servers can't get it out to the customers in one piece, it's not going to have the intended effect.
At Après we lean heavily on our servers. One of the most fun parts about running the Dessert Bar is that I get to create desserts with playful presentations. There's a fine line between whimsy and foolishness, and I enjoy walking that line. But it turns into a true team effort to get some of those desserts to the table, since I'm not the one who has to get the plate through a swinging door, past the blowing heating vents, around an obstacle course of chairs, and in front of the customer before the ice cream melts.
Almost all of our desserts involve juxtapositions of hot and cold, so timing is critical. Most of them involve garnishes balanced precariously on another object (which may be melting or on fire at the same time). At first we made our servers to carry out grills with live fire, and when that got easy we started pouring rum on the plates and lighting that on fire. Last month we asked them to make ice cream at the table using dry ice. And last week we debuted a pumpkin soufflé, which has a presentable life span of less than 30 seconds. Is this getting ridiculous? Yes. But by Jove, it's a fantastic soufflé. I know, because I did at least 40 individual tests to get it right.
This isn't a great picture, but I didn't have very long to set it up! When we get an order for a soufflé, we whip an egg white by hand (Travis and I are so buff, we can do this all night long), and then we fold it into the pumpkin base and pour it into the ramekin. It takes exactly 2 minutes and 20 seconds for us to cook the soufflé (using some new oven technology that you don't have). The moment it's done, we have to rush it out to the diner, because the dramatic rise of a soufflé is held up only by hot air. The first couple of times we made one to order, we all stood in front of the oven watching the timer count down, because we were afraid to do anything else and miss the second the soufflé was done. But now we've gotten so good at multitasking that the servers sometimes come back to get the soufflé when there are less than 5 seconds on the clock. Several times when the servers have carried it out, we've gotten a round of applause! (It tastes good too, this isn't just a show.)
We've brought back one of our favorite fall desserts, Travis's signature apple dumpling. After I had a come-to-Jesus moment a few years ago and swore to use only local apples (instead of the really substandard grocery store ones that have been in storage since last fall), we've tried our apple dumpling recipe with a dozen different local varieties. We have a clear favorite, Cameo apples, and I just found those for the first time last week, so apple dumplings are back in style! The apples won't last forever, so come try one before they're gone!