John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Chef Ned Grieg, Corporate Chef at the Essex Room in Essex, Massachusetts. Today, we’re talking about interactive dessert stations. Welcome, Chef Ned.
Chef Ned Grieg: Hello.
John: Chef Ned, what is an interactive dessert station? That sounds interesting.
Chef Ned: It is where your guests is actually involved in creating his own dessert, or her own dessert. It is always attended to by a culinary artist, or a service person that’s working that has culinary abilities. I like doing them. Do you know why? I want to get out from behind those closed doors. I want to see the guests; I want to talk to them. I want to look in their eye. I want them to know that we care, and we want to create something for you right now that’s going to make your day.
John: It sounds kind of like the modern concept with restaurants, where they have an open kitchen, and you’re able to see the chefs right there behind, or maybe they’re just behind a counter, and you can see them working and creating your food, it makes it kind of interesting.
Guests Enjoy Interactive Dessert Stations
Chef Ned: Yes, it does. People are always inquisitive. They want to see what’s going on. I know, when we do events here, I can’t tell you how many times guests walk by the door, and we have these little slits in the windows, and they peek in to see what’s going on. Everybody’s fascinated, “How does this happen? How does this magic happen? How do you feed 200 people in an hour, all this different things and food?” So, when we move it outside and we have it at a station, and it’s part of their celebration, and then they see me standing there, or somebody else, it’s just like it’s inviting them to come over and participate. When you get to have that, to be able to talk to them, and talked them through it, it’s a wonderful experience. I enjoy it because I become part of their celebration as well. Obviously, I like to talk a little bit, so for me to get outside from behind those closed doors and see the guests, to me, it makes it a memorable moment for me as well.
How Trendy are Interactive Dessert Stations?
John: Are interactive stations for desserts becoming more popular now? Do you see people choosing that more often?
Chef Ned: 50% of our guests seem to choose it today. The younger brides and grooms that we have, absolutely. They like constant motion, they like to be distracted, they like to have the interaction. So, it does work well for younger groups of people. I feel as if some of the weddings that we do, the people that are 45 and over, not so much. But, that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t choose to do that, it just seems to be the clientele that walks through the door here on the causeway down in Essex, Massachusetts.
John: Right, so maybe the older that you get, the less that you want to be up and down from your table, stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down.
Chef Ned: Yeah, that could be it. But, I don’t put limitations on it. It could be for a multitude of reasons. It really depends on the people that walk through the door. Some people want their guests to be up and at ‘em. If it’s smaller wedding, not so many times do you have an interactive dessert station, if it’s under 75 people, so to speak. It’s more intimate, people are sitting down. I find that we do more plated desserts for groups of that nature. After they’ve had their dinner, what they’re told to do is take their dinner card and turn it around, and then they’ll see that they have to move to a different location at another table. So, they go and talk to other guests. So there, not so much do we have interactive dessert stations. But, for larger groups, it certainly seems to be a very popular way to go.
Types of Desserts to Serve Interactively
John: Okay. So why don’t you give me some examples of some interactive dessert stations. What is it that people are doing?
Chef Ned: Okay. One that I’ve been working on that I like to do, and it seems to be a little bit of a rage these days, is different chocolate truffle stations. Where we’ll have the chocolate truffle pate, that’s what they call it before it gets rolled up and it looks in that wonderful shape. Then, we’ll do some out a hazelnut flavored chocolate, we’ll do some out a white chocolate, we’ll do some out a bittersweet and milk chocolate. Then, we’ll actually flavor some of the chocolates. Then, you have all these different substances that you can roll them in or dip them in. From chocolate they like using cocoa powder that’s flavored with a little bit of powdered sugar and cayenne pepper. Oddly enough, a little bit of heat really seems to go a long way with chocolate. Don’t ask me why, I’m still trying to figure that one out myself. Salted caramels seem to work really well. So, it would be a dipping that you’d be dipping them in.
Then, we always seem to have a little bit of fresh fruit. No matter how we do a different type of dessert station, some people just can’t consume that much sugar. So, we always make sure there’s some fresh berries and fruit that are easy for your guests to eat also. But, the chocolate truffle idea, I love that because I like the taste of chocolate like that. We’ll have like a little sauté stations where we’re doing things as well. One thing that we had was really popular was a crepe station or a banana foster. But, not doing it just with bananas, doing it with pineapple, and doing it with mangoes. It’s limitless what you can do. But, the basic concept of a banana foster is your butter, your brown sugar, a little bit of banana flavored liqueur, and some cognac and quantro.
Crepes were always fun; people seem to always like that. If you do the crêpes Suzette thing, it’s just really the crepe with the flavoring, and they put it over ice cream. But, if you do the other one where you can put fresh fruit in it, and then have different glazes that they can put over it, that seems to be quite popular these days also. It’s just that you have to be prepared, because if you have a wedding that’s over 150 people, you’re going to have to have about six people out there cooking these, because you just can’t go fast enough.
John: Right. Any other ideas for interactive stations? I know that I was at a wedding recently when they had a s’mores station, and people could make their own s’mores.
Chef Ned: Yeah, s’mores are good. Those are a lot of fun too. People say, “Well, how can you do that inside? You need a fire.” Well, no and no we’re not moving it outside, because you have a 50/50 chance of the weather not being good. It could be the middle of August, but it’s freezing cold by the time they want to have dessert. I can’t tell you how many events I’ve done in August where you needed, not only a blazer, but a sweater on to go outside. So, we move it inside, and we’ll take a long rectangular vessel, similar to like a rain garden, so to speak, and we’ll put different marshmallows in them, and put little different colored rocks around it. We’ll match the rocks to the flowers out of their presentation on the table, and we make homemade marshmallows.
John: So, people can cook their own marshmallows right at the table?
Chef Ned: Yeah, yeah. Try making marshmallows sometimes. It sounds daunting, but it really isn’t that difficult. It’s a nice rainy day activity to do with your children some time. But, we’ll make homemade marshmallows, and then we’ll have different types of toppings on them. Not just your melted chocolate, but different types of chocolate. Personally, my favorite thing is we make our own turtles, where we take a salted pecan and we put it in a miniature muffin tin, and we put a piece of bittersweet or melted milk chocolate on top of it, and then homemade caramel sauce. You warm it up in the oven at about 150 degrees for about 10 minutes, until it melts down. Then, you just take the whole tray, you put it in the freezer, and it firms up really, really well, and they pop right out. Oh my gosh, they’re the best snack ever. So, you can experiment and do things like that.
We’ve put candied fruit in there before. In the springtime, I’ll do things with sun-dried strawberries. In the fall, I like doing them to make them like a chunky chocolate bar. Where the heck did those things go anyway? We used to love those things. So, we’ll put different types of fruit in there, dried fruits, and a little pinch of sea salt always seems to make it taste pretty darn good also.
Guests Get a Choice for Dessert
John: Right. So why is it that you think that interactive dessert stations are a good idea? What is it that people really like about that?
Chef Ned: They get to make what they like. Instead of just being served a piece of wedding cake, and they go, “Oh my gosh, I hope when they cut this cake I get the one that has a cannoli cream in it, not the strawberries.” You get to have what you want. You get a decision on what you’re going to consume. You’ve already had a great day already, let’s finish it off with something really wonderful, and let’s be interactive. Plus, the fact I think people always have a natural curiosity, especially when it comes to the culinary arts, “What’s that chef doing? How does he do it? I want to talk to this person. Even if I’m shy, I can ask him to make me something I like.” And if you get to do that, you open up this convivial conversation, you feel more relaxed about it, you know that the person’s looking you straight in the eye. “This is the man that just made my meal, or lady, and he’s going to continue to do so until I have to go home. This is an awesome experience.” So that’s what we try to bring to every wedding we have at the Essex Room.
John: And that’s what couples really want, is for people to leave their wedding and go, “Wow, that was a great experience.”
Chef Ned: Right. It’s just something that’s unexpected for the guests that comes through the door. They know they got the invitation, they already said yes, they’ve made their choice, they’ve checked off their box for their principle plate at dinnertime. They don’t know about the rest. So, this gives us an opportunity to make their guests happy, to make them happy. Let’s face it, you’re only as good as your last review. So, every time I get an opportunity to shine, it is when I am going to try to do my best.
John: All right. Well, thanks again for speaking to me today, Chef Ned, about interactive dessert stations.
Chef Ned: You’re welcome.
John: For more information, you can visit the Essex Room website at EssexRoom.com, or call 978-768-7335.