By Stefanie Gans
“The city may be awash, as I’ve written before, in a happy tidal wave of artisanal bakeries, ice cream parlors, and New Age doughnut shops,” writes New York magazine’s non-anonymous restaurant critic Adam Platt, “but the grim reality is that for lovers of the old-fashioned, sit-down restaurant dessert, this is the Dark Age.”
Platt’s article incites a needed conversation on the last meal of the night, and it’s already happening on Twitter (here, here and here). Dessert is an important part of the dining out experience; it is an extra act of indulgence not always allowed at home.
We dedicated the March cover story of Northern Virginia Magazine to desserts. I tracked down treats ranging from a fried cupcake to a classic chocolate mousse. We highlighted local bakeries, including one selling a faux cronu*t, and interviewed the area’s preeminent pastry chef and 2014 James Beard semifinalist, Tiffany MacIsaac. She explains the plight of the pastry chef and why so few restaurants hire full time dessert-makers. She also tells us why that slice of pie costs $10.
Why You Should Gladly Pay $10 for Dessert
“Being a chef is having a balance and ego and humility. Because you can’t just have an ego, that never goes well with staff and they won’t respect you. But you have to have enough of an ego to stand by what you do. It’s not only getting your name out there: The main reason you want to get your name out there is because it’s how you get more funds in a restaurant to have more assistants, more time and more equipment to do cool things. You can’t really quantify what exactly a pastry department brings to the business because you never really make your money back on pastry. But the reason you pay $10 for dessert is not because the dessert cost $10, it’s because it took two people make it. Only 40 percent of people get the dessert. Unless you do a tasting menu, it’s not a 100 percent.
The main thing [restaurant owners] look for is: Do people know of this pastry chef? And, do people know about the desserts they make here? You can’t see exactly how much money that brings back to the restaurant. You know that over time it does bring people through the door with the dessert. It’s not necessarily about becoming famous, it’s more about making sure that you’re a crucial part of the team.”
—Tiffany MacIsaac, Pastry Chef for Neighborhood Restaurant Group, as told to Stefanie Gans