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 wedding dessert choices. Welcome, Chef Ned.
Chef Ned Grieg: Hi, good morning.
John: So, Chef Ned, how have you seen wedding dessert choices change over the years?
Chef Ned: Oh, my goodness. From the first day I worked here six years ago, desserts were always seem to be wedding cakes, wedding cakes, wedding cakes — cut and serve.
John: So that was really the focus, yeah.
Chef Ned: That was it, and not so much anymore. A lot of our brides and their grooms are doing ceremonial little wedding cakes and making one cut and taking it home. Hence what it has given us is there’s a tremendous big move now in plated desserts as well as an association with many selections or miniatures that we’ll put out on tasting tables for people. When we try to do them here, we try to hit the three different food groups. If we do miniature presentations, we try to do something with fruit, we try to do something with chocolate, and we try to do something with custards and creams, and we make them all into one bite size pieces.
Over the weekend we just did a wedding for 200 people and literally they ate everything in 15 minutes and we went on the premise of like two and a half pieces per person and people were literally, I mean honest to goodness, they were piling up 10 pieces on a plate and they were gone in 15 minutes.
Chef Ned: And Maureen, our director of operations comes, says “oh my gosh Ned, do we have everything?” I said “they ate everything. What are we going to do?” So, we moved forward and put out some other things that we had and they just consumed everything.
Miniature Desserts are Gaining in Popularity
Chef Ned: It was a little bit unusual that it happened that way. It usually doesn’t, but these people were, they had ravenous appetites, to say the least. And that’s something you really can’t plan for. You can only make your best guess and judgment on it, and you certainly don’t want to leave your guests not having something to consume when they’re expecting more, but also there is a profit margin that you have to be concerned with. So, making good choices are important. So, we try to make sure that we provide the right quantity of food, but also, we will just release it in different types of ways as it goes out, so there doesn’t look like we’re going to run out of something.
But miniature desserts seem to be a very popular thing right now. We do things from petit fours to little miniature ice cream sandwiches to different types of bars and things. Chocolate truffle brownies. Everybody seems to like a little chunk of chocolate at the end of the evening. But what I’m trying to focus on more than anything else, I would prefer to do a serve dessert to somebody, something that’s a little bit more substantial.
Serve Desserts Add Class to a Reception
John: So, maybe give me some examples of those serve desserts and what that might be.
Chef Ned: One of the serve desserts that I’ve been working on with the other chefs in the kitchen is doing what they call semifreddo desserts and we, instead of making a zabaione with marsala, we make it with three different types of fruit juices: lime juice, lemon juice, and a sour orange, so you get a variance in three colors on the rainbow scale. And we’ll put these into little containers and vessels and we freeze them and we can take them out 15 minutes before we have to serve them so they’re not totally frozen, but they’re partially frozen. And then we’ll serve it with like a gluten-free macaroon and fresh berries. That seems to be something that works really well.
If they’re going to do cakes, I have a tendency to move toward petit fours these days. It’s an old classic dessert that the French came up with a long time ago and they seem to make a lot of sense right now.
John: And that’s sort of like a sheet cake that you would make and then you cut it up into these little tiny squares and then cover it with some sort of a coating, is that right?
Chef Ned: That’s correct. And then you cover it with, it’s basically like a simple sugar syrup that looks a little glossy, translucent over the top. But I’m not doing classic petit fours though. I’m not just doing like white chocolate, white cake or a chocolate cake or something like that.
One I’ve been working on recently is taking candied carrots and lemon peel and putting it into a cake and then pressing it just as it comes out of the oven. So, it has a nice firm texture and it’s flat all the way across. And obviously the trick is when you cut these things, as they can be a real pain in the rear end to cut, you freeze the cake and cut it with a really sharp knife so that you don’t have any loose edges.
But petit fours are really fun, I mean like it’s a little miniature cake. The word means ‘little oven’ in French, which doesn’t make sense to me how that got translated that way, but it does not have to be just desserts. It also means a little savory item as well, but most people consider the fact that a petit fours is something that’s a pastry and is sweet.
Miniature Desserts Give Guests Choices
John: So why is it that you think that people are liking all of these little miniature desserts over that traditional sort of wedding cake or something like that? Is it because you can put up multiple ones of these and then there’s a variety for people to choose from?
Chef Ned: Yes. From a culinary background, if you look at it in an industry, we’re looking at how much can somebody consume over a period of 45 minutes. Are they going to eat a quarter of a pound? Are they going to eat a half a pound of food? But when you do miniatures that are intense and have a lot of calories in them and they have richness to them, we know that after three bites, they’re probably done. So, if we go on a premise of three pieces per person and each one weighs one and a half to two ounces each, but you can eat the whole product in one particular bite, that’s going to satiate their appetite just enough.
Hence, we also try to find the three different food groups. Another little dessert that we do a lot of, we make these little miniature tarts that we paint with white chocolate and then we’ll fill them with a custard and embellish them with fresh fruit. So, they’re getting something creamy and something fruity at the same time. It’s nice to have a variety. People just seem to like the variety and they’ll try and if they try one and they like it, they know that the other ones are going to taste good also. So, they’ll have a tendency to try different things.
John: Right. You probably have less waste that way as well. Less food waste because when you had a big piece of cake, like you said, maybe people would only take a few bites of that and then put it away and then you end up throwing away a half a piece of cake.
Chef Ned: That is true. The only people that eat all their cake are the children that come to the wedding, there’s no doubt about that. But wedding cake, if you get a really good one, it’s just like, oh my gosh, you will finish it. That’s why we’ve taken that type of philosophy, if it’s really good they’re going to eat it. So, if we do a serve dessert, they know it’s special and it’s put down in front of them and it was done with effort and it was done with a fluidness to the whole event and they know that now the dessert is done. Now I’m going to go dance, I’m going to go get myself an after-dinner beverage. So, a serve dessert is something that I think is going to make its comeback. We do try to push our guests to do that just so we can control the environment a little bit more in the time frame for it.
John: So if you’re doing the serve dessert, obviously people are sitting at the tables and then you’re coming out and serving them that dessert, if you’re doing the little miniature desserts like you’re talking about, do you do that at different stations around the room or do you do like a buffet with all of the different options available?
Chef Ned: When it’s a wedding, we usually put them out on a table, a large table, a buffet table or a tasting table, and they’ll go up and get their own. If it’s not a wedding we use, if we’re doing a corporate event or it’s a memorial service, we will make these platters and put them on everybody’s table so they don’t have to get up from their table. Usually if it’s a corporate thing, there’s a lot of speeches going on. They want something that they can grab and nibble onto while they’re listening to the guest speaker finishes pontification on whatever it might be.
John: All right. That’s really great information Chef Ned. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Chef Ned: Thank you.
John: And for more information, you can visit the Essex Room website at essexroom.com or call 978-768-7335.