Desserts: Global Desserts

Published in FSD Update

Operators find sweet success by adding treats with worldly flavors.

Montana’s bread pudding.

Lemon tart. Tres leches. Thai rice pudding. What do these dishes have in common? They’re part of the global dessert trend sweeping the country. As diners are more adventurous and educated than ever, operators are finding success taking their desserts international.

Take Justin Johnson, executive chef at Watertown Regional Medical Center, in Wisconsin, who recently added lemon tart, crème brulee and gelato. “They’re classic European desserts that have stood the test of time,” Johnson explains. “There’s a visual appeal and an immediate familiarity without being something that looks processed or is too foreign.”

Other operators take it a step further. Timothy Gee, executive chef at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, in New Brunswick, N.J., has offered a variety of Latin American desserts, including dulce de leche rice pudding, flan and tres leches. “It allows us the opportunity to give customers something different and exciting,” says Gee, who hosts international theme days featuring desserts. 

Lindsay Marshall, executive pastry chef at the University of Montana, in Missoula, recently added several global options to her dessert menu, including Brazilian bread pudding, macaroons and Thai rice pudding. 

So, what’s the secret to their success? Here are a few:

  1. Research. Visit local ethnic restaurants to better understand flavor profiles, Gee suggests. Read about a country’s native crops and staple dishes and look at their history, Marshall adds.
  2. Follow the rules. “Master the traditional recipe and understand the provenance and preparation before you reinvent it,” Johnson says. “For example, if you whisk a custard too vigorously to speed up the process, you’ll incorporate too much air and it will deflate when it cooks.”
  3. Do as much advance prep work as possible, even making desserts the day before, which allows flavors to blend and develop more, Marshall suggests.
  4. When forecasting how much of an item you’ll need, take into account your demographics and a cuisine’s popularity,” advises Marshall, adding that desserts don’t usually sell as frequently as entrées.
  5. Keep desserts small, Johnson says. “The flavors diminish after the first few bites, like the law of diminishing returns, plus you don’t have to worry about using fake substitutes to save calories.”
  6. Put together an experienced and enthusiastic team. “Our dessert program has had so much success because our staff fully embraces taking fare from around the world and making it Montana,” by adding local products such as huckleberry French macaroons, Marshall says. Utilize your diverse staff, Gee adds. “They know the authentic dishes from their country and what will sell the best.”
  7. Educate your customers by demystifying foreign terminology, explaining the history of a dish and how it tastes, Johnson says. If a dish is really exotic, give out samples, Gee adds.