Executive chef/owner Carl Thorne-Thomsen, Story, Kansas City, KS
“My wife and co-owner’s favorite dessert from childhood is German Chocolate Cake. It has become a signature dessert ($8) at Story: Dark chocolate cake with white chocolate coconut mousse, pecan caramel, toasted caramel, candied pecans and chocolate mirror glaze. The traditional German chocolate cake has been modernized with dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, fresh coconut replacing dried coconut and the traditional frosting is made with real caramel and used as a filling. A layer of white chocolate coconut mousse is added for another flavor profile and texture.”
Pastry chef Craig Harzewski, NAHA/Brindille, Chicago
Growing up, Harzewski was a self-described candy junkie and liked ice cream and frozen treats. Today, NAHA offers a grown-up spin on the traditional sundae, made with porter beer ice cream and “Nutella” Panini ($12). “We didn’t have a lot of desserts growing up, aside from prepackaged stuff. I had chocolate malt as a kid, Push-Ups, Fudgesicles and hot fudge sundaes."
The ice cream sundae is a favorite reinvented for the menu at NAHA/Brindille. Harzewski says, “The NAHA Sundae existed several years prior to my arrival. Working around it was frustrating at first, because sundaes are not as easy as they seem." His version of the sundae features porter beer ice cream and caramel-and-hazelnut praline. After the ice cream is scooped into the glass, his top-secret house-made “Magic Shell” adds a chocolate note without being syrupy or crumbly. The sweet and savory dessert is complemented by a Panini grilled a la minute, with house-made “Nutella” spread on house-made Panini bread, and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar.
Chef Giuseppe Gentile of Pizzeria il Fico, Los Angeles
We have another Nutella fan. Gentile’s favorite childhood dessert, bread with Nutella, has been reinvented for the restaurant as Crispy Ravioli Filled with Nutella ($10), with vanilla sauce and bananas. “Some of my favorite desserts from childhood are baba soaked in rhum cannoli, and bread with Nutella. I reinvented one of them, the Nutella ravioli,” Gentile says. His dough recipe combines all-purpose flour, butter, red wine, espresso and milk. The Nutella-filled ravioli are fried in vegetable seed oil (totally immersed) until they turn brown. Before serving, they’re dusted with confectioners’ sugar.
Pastry Chef Nate Meads, RM Champagne Salon, Chicago
As a child, his favorites were all the versions of apple desserts his mother made after apple-picking. “I have amazing fond memories of apple-picking in October at an orchard, stopping by the store to watch the cider being made and eating fresh doughnuts and caramel-dipped apples. I told my dad about how much fun I had as a child doing all this stuff, and he informed me that I actually hated it. Apparently, I whined the entire time and made everyone miserable. It seems my rear-view mirror has Vaseline on it.”
Chef José Gutierrez, River Oaks, Memphis
The favorite desserts of Chef José Gutierrez, a French Master Chef who trained under Paul Bocuse, revolved around two types of sweets—chocolate and macarons. On his current menu at River Oaks in Memphis are a pistachio macaron, and at Derby time, he offers a bourbon one. Other dessert creations include an open-faced macaron with strawberries. Also on the menu now is a dark and decadent Warm Dark Chocolate Fondant Cake ($7).
Pastry chef Toni Roberts, State and Lake Tavern, Chicago
Growing up, Roberts was a big fan of Dairy Queen’s Banana Split Blizzard. During the summer, ROOF featured its own banana split.
“Like most kids, I loved anything from Dairy Queen. A few of my favorites were the Oreo Blizzard, the butterscotch bar, Mister Misty Float and the Banana Split Blizzard. This summer on ROOF we featured the ROOF banana split with banana raspberry swirl ice cream, banana bread, candied macadamias and hot milk chocolate caramel.”
Chef/owner Mark Grosz, Oceanique, Evanston, IL
Grosz always loved his grandmother’s rhubarb-strawberry pie. Oceanique offers a selection of seasonal fruit tarts on its menu. He adapted his Grandmother Gertrude’s rhubarb-strawberry pie into a French pastry, Warm Strawberry-Rhubarb Tarte, currently on the restaurant’s menu.
“My Grandma Gertrude made a wonderful strawberry-rhubarb pie. I’ve adapted it into a French pastry. We serve a rhubarb-Michigan strawberry clafouti custard tarte. My mother made a fantastic apple pie. We serve an Apple Tarte with almond custard and puff pastry.”
Executive pastry chef Chad Horton, Q Roadhouse BBQ, Jackson Hole, WY
Inspired by his grandmother’s three-layer pumpkin pie and her nutmeg custard pie, he created his version of the latter, served with huckleberries.
“Two of my favorite desserts were my grandmother’s three-layer pumpkin pie, which she would serve at Thanksgiving, and her nutmeg custard pie. I wanted to create a dessert inspired by her nutmeg custard pie, so I created the Buttermilk Pie at Q Roadhouse. This dessert draws upon the inspiration from her pie as well as influences from traditional Southern buttermilk pie recipes. To give the Buttermilk Pie at Q Roadhouse a Jackson Hole flair, we serve it with huckleberries, a very popular berry in this area, as well as a dollop of whipped cream.”
Pastry chef Leigh Omilinsky, Café des Architectes, Chicago
Influenced by her health-conscious parents, the Strawberry Verrine dessert ($9) features fresh fruit. Growing up, her favorite was pineapple cake with cream cheese filling.
Chef Leigh Omilinsky’s parents made desserts such as cookies with shredded wheat and other healthy cereals in the mix for the nutritional value. One of their staple desserts was yogurt and honey with fruit. Her current menu features a nostalgic Strawberry Verrine, using a simple summer staple: fresh fruit.
Chef Melissa Trimmer, Instructor, Le Cordon Bleu, Chicago
Trimmer’s all-time favorite candy, Rolo, inspired her version of it while she was pastry chef at C-House.
“Since desserts were nearly prohibited when I was a kid, I coveted them. My all-time favorite, however, was Rolo. I just loved the combination of gooey caramel and milk chocolate. As I progressed through my career, I realized that the chocolate just wasn’t smooth enough and darned if that caramel had a dark enough flavor. As the French would say, ‘Take it to second smoke.’ So when I was executive pastry chef at C-House, I developed my version of a Rolo: Smooth Felchlin milk chocolate on the outside, creamy dark caramel on the inside with a sprinkle of smoked sea salt on top—just because I like it that way. Now that I’m teaching at Le Cordon Bleu, I continue to show my students how to make Rolos Chef Trimmer Style.”
Executive Chef/owner Susan Goss, West Town Tavern (closed in July, 2013), Chicago
“As a kid, my favorite dessert was strawberry shortcake. My church had an annual strawberry festival as a fundraiser, and I always volunteered in the kitchen to help prep the berries and watch the ladies make the biscuits. Over the years, my tastes have grown toward lighter fare, but I have never lost my love for strawberries and biscuits. At West Town Tavern, I made a layered Strawberry Trifle with homemade buttermilk biscuits, lemon curd, mascarpone cheese, white chocolate and sweet Michigan berries drizzled with a little honey. All my favorite flavors, but lighter on the palate and killer with a glass of 2012 Secco Italian Bubbles, a sparkling Moscato.”
Where do chefs get their dessert inspirations? A lot of them, it turns out, recall sweet childhood memories and figure out a way to bring those fond memories alive.
Sponsored Introduction Continue on to (or wait seconds) ×