Why chefs love chocolate
When it comes to creating desserts that walk out the door, chocolate is a no-brainer — it’s indulgent, familiar and versatile enough to give chefs plenty of creative license. Danielle Bowling looks at three chocolate creations that have garnered cult-like followings.
Quay’s Eight Texture Chocolate Cake
One of the signature dishes at The Fink Group’s Quay restaurant in Sydney, which earlier this year took out 95th spot in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list, the Eight Texture Chocolate Cake could never be taken off the menu.
The indulgent dessert, which has remained unchanged for almost a decade, represents approximately 30 percent of the fine diner’s dessert sales, second to another iconic Quay dessert — the Snow Egg — which represents 40 percent of sales.
“The chocolate cake actually started life about 18 years ago when I was at De Beers Restaurant at Whale Beach, and it started off as a three texture cake. It was basically a chocolate base, chocolate mousse and I think it was chocolate ice cream inside. Then it went to a five texture cake, and it’s been an eight texture cake for probably about nine years,” says Gilmore.
Using a combination of Amedei Chuao dark chocolate and Valrhona milk chocolate, the cake today comprises a chewy chocolate base, a rich chocolate mousse, a chocolate caramel ganache, chocolate meringue, a chocolate whipped cream and a layer of milk chocolate with caramelised puff pastry and hazelnuts. The cake is then topped with a tempered chocolate disc, and the final element is introduced in front of the diner.
“The very last layer is poured at the table — it’s a hot chocolate ganache that sort of sinks through a little hole that we create in the cake. It gives the illusion of chocolate sinking through the cake, which is what the cake is known for,” Gilmore told Hospitality.
The dish is of course indulgent, but it’s also lighter than you’d expect from eight layers of chocolate.
“It’s interesting — when it went from five textures to eight textures, it got less rich and more complex. There are crispier textures in there that actually lighten it up. The milk chocolate whipped cream also lightens the whole thing up as well. If you removed any of the textures you would notice a difference texturally, on the palate.”
So will the cake continue to evolve? Can we expect a Nine or 10 Texture Chocolate Cake any time soon?
“I think it’s gotten to the stage now where it’s almost impossible to improve it further,” says Gilmore. “I think you could probably add too much and then it would be lost. It just seems to be the perfect balance between soft, rich, light, crunchy and a little bit of indulgence with the hot chocolate ganache. It just seems to work and that’s why it’s become a signature dish on the menu.”
Wasabi’s Chocolate Sorbet with Black Kinako Milk Gelee
Located in Noosa, Queensland, Wasabi offers an omakase menu, rounded out with one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes — a dessert comprising chocolate sorbet, freeze dried cherries and a jelly made from the milk of black kinako (roasted soybean flour).
What initially got the ball rolling — some two years ago — was a special batch of mirin.
“We got it from a Japanese supplier and the mirin is actually aged for four years, so it’s got a really nice flavour to it. That was probably the start of it, and we knew it would match up with chocolate,” says Zeb Gilbert, Wasabi’s head chef.
The dish comprises a Lindt chocolate sorbet, the black kinako jelly, chocolate meringue, barrel aged mirin gel, sour cherries that have been steeped in sake, a vanilla tuile, a chocolate snap and grated freeze dried cherries on top.
The dish also comprises organic cacao nibs, an ingredient that’s proving popular on both sweet and savoury menus around the country at the moment.
Cacao beans that have been roasted, separated from their husks and broken into smaller pieces, cacao nibs have a dual purpose in Wasabi’s best performing dessert.
“We use it as a textural element and we also use it for the bitterness, to match up with the sweetness of all the other elements on the plate,” Gilbert says.
“It’s being used a lot now, [but] I probably started using cacao nibs about six years ago … The texture is like a fine gravel, and you can grind it down to make it finer, or you can leave it quite chunky. We grind ours down a little bit more, just so it’s more palatable. But it comes in quite a chunky form — you can get it in most organic shops nowadays.”
Gilbert acknowledges that a number of ingredients listed on Wasabi’s menu would be foreign to diners, so its structure and wording is very important. The chocolate dessert is a prime example — the chocolate sorbet is listed as the first component and many are comforted by its presence around more the unfamiliar elements.
“A lot of the ingredients in that dessert, people would be unfamiliar with, so adding chocolate makes it a bit more familiar. The first thing they see would be chocolate sorbet, or chocolate elements, and I think they’re more willing to try it [because of that],” says Gilbert.
Lûmé’s Cacao Pod
A sharing dessert on the very first menu at Melbourne’s Lûmé restaurant, the Cacao Pod represents chef Shaun Quade’s determination to get diners thinking about where food comes from.
“I’d actually wanted to do a dish that was reflective of the chocolate that we were using, showing it from a bean to bar, essentially. So we were using Michel Cluizel Maralumi chocolate, which is from Papua New Guinea. The whole thing was presented as a raw cacao pod, like the actual fruit off the tree,” says Quade.
Inside the pod was a collection of petit fours. “The flavours represented the nuances of the finished chocolate. So we had ice cream made from the raw beans and caramelised milk, we had a smoked tabacco whiz fizz, diced apple which we soaked in strawberry syrup, little banana crisps, orange crema catalana, and banana cooked in a clove syrup. So all those [elements] reflected the flavour notes of the chocolate,” Quade tells Hospitality.
But it was the dessert’s presentation that made it so memorable. “We had chocolate moulds in the shape of a full sized cacao pod, so we tempered the chocolate, brushed it into the moulds to make a cacao shell and then we’d basically plate up [the other elements] inside one half of the shell, then we’d get the smoke gun onto it, get a bit of smoke in there and then put the top on and seal it off. Then it was presented at the table, we’d explain the dish and its purpose, and then smash it open with a little hammer.”
The dish was on the menu for about 14 months before the Lûmé chefs decided that despite the Cacao Pod’s popularity, they’d had enough.
“We were just sick of making it. We still have people asking for it but our kitchen runs on innovation and constantly putting new things up and trying new ideas, so I can’t think of anything worse than doing the same dish for like two years,” says Quade.
Chocolate is always on the Lûmé menu in some way, shape or form, and at the moment Quade is working on a dish that he hopes will help diners reconnect with the food they’re eating.
“We’re playing around with the idea of people eating with their hands … I’m trying to break down that stuffiness — sometimes in western cuisines we’re very prim and proper and we’ve kind of lost that connection of what food feels like and where it comes from. So I want to do a dish where basically you eat with your fingers. So the diners aren’t given any cutlery — instead of them using their fingers, I’ve actually made a mould of my fingers, which sounds really creepy, and I set ice cream in that — I’m thinking a roasted chestnut ice cream — and then that’s coated it in chocolate. That’s their cutlery,” he says
“So we’ll be serving the fingers with a bowl which at the moment I think will include pears with vermouth and a chocolate custard with roasted chestnuts as well.”
While the dish is still in development, chocolate will definitely be a feature because its familiarity makes diners more comfortable about trying more obscure flavours.
“You don’t want to alienate people. Obviously the main thing for me is that it tastes delicious … But I always try to have an element of surprise — we kind of want people to come in and not know what they’re in for.”