Playing with the Palate – My journey of creating a plated dessert

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Being a student at The Culinary Institute of America has been full of surprises. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life when I graduated and then was pleasantly surprised by the many different directions I could go with my degree. I realized that there was so much more to baking and pastry than I initially thought! I didn’t have to own my own bakery like everyone assumes I would when I tell them about my degree—I could be an executive pastry chef in a Five-Diamond resort, run a world-renowned cake decorating business, or even be an executive pastry chef for a successful Michelin-starred restaurant. The possibilities are truly endless.

One area I knew I most certainly wanted to learn more about before I walked down the graduation line was the plated dessert side to our industry. I found an intriguing challenge behind creating a dish that is visually appealing and harmonious in flavor. I took my curiosity and a notebook full of questions to the best resource available at the CIA: my chef-instructor. I chose to ask my fundamentals instructor, Chef Genevieve Meli, not only because of her background in Michelin-starred restaurants but also because she had shown me the importance of beginning with the basics and having a good foundation of knowledge. In our discussion, I was able to see the journey a chef takes in creating a plated dessert and the many steps necessary before a dessert is even considered for adding to a menu. With a plated dessert, you not only have to think about the visual aspect but also the taste portion. Both are vitally important and must work together to create the best product possible.

I spoke with Chef Meli about her favorite plated dessert that she has created and the flavor combo behind it. The moment she told me the flavor profile for her dish, I was sold: peaches and cream. Something so classic that can be interpreted in an unimaginable number of ways. Given all of her knowledge, I had to ask where her plated desserts journey began. Just like me, she started as a baking and pastry student here at the CIA and went on to do her internship at one of the most critically acclaimed restaurants in New York—Le Bernardin. When I asked about her time there as a student, she told me about the staff using positive energy and creating an environment open to learning and creativity. It is through that mindset that I believe the best product can be attained.

From Chef Meli’s answers, I was able to discover how much detail really did go into the development of a plated dessert and how important every little detail can be. I asked what she imagines the next trend will be with plated desserts, and she told me that the incorporation of things such as dry ice, lights, and visual components is what she sees coming our way. Her response left me thinking of how I might incorporate this into my own desserts one day, and what to look out for. My curiosity led me to see a whole new outlook on our industry and the many more opportunities it offers.

By Payton Rae Spear

Payton Rae Spear