How they do it: Pastry chef Caitlin Dysart curates the sweets for both retail market Mercato and restaurant Osteria at Centrolina. She delights guests with dishes like Budino di Cioccolato—chocolate pudding with caramelized bananas and hazelnut praline—and a carrot torta with carrot-orange sorbet with carrot cake mousse at Osteria, as well as lemon-olive oil cake at Mercato.
Steal it: “In creating new desserts, it’s key to tap into the diners’ nostalgia,” Dysart says. “People connect desserts to joyful memories. For a restaurant dessert menu, you need to have a mix of unique and interesting desserts and more straight-forward classics … and always something for the chocoholics!”
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Established: 2012 (restaurant), 2016 (bakery)
Owners: Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo
Chef: Abraham Conlon
Pastry chef: Elaine Townsend
How they do it: Claiming influence from Chinese, Macanese, and Portuguese traditions, the bakery at Fat Rice serves offerings like Pastel de Nata egg tarts, Guava & Cheese buns, and Ceylon Snickerdoodles. “I love that we can take very unique ingredients and introduce them to people in a way that they will still have a familiar connection to them,” says Elaine Townsend, pastry chef.
Steal it: “Don't worry about trying to make something look avant-garde or over-the-top, just make something good and build from there,” Townsend says.
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Genie Graf/The Midway Bakery
Owners: Ouita and Chris Michel
Chef: Josh Smouse
How they do it: For Ouita Michel’s restaurants in Kentucky, all roads from the dessert menu point back to Michel’s Midway Bakery. On the menu at Honeywood, one can find the Michel hits—chocolate bourbon pecan pie (the most popular), lemon pie, chess pie, and Kentucky bourbon cake—alongside Kentucky-made Crank & Boom ice cream and Sorella Gelateria gelato. Other desserts, like banana cheesecake with bourbon glaze, are made in-house. “It is the combination of changing special desserts and bakery icons that create a dynamic selection of desserts at Honeywood,” Michel says.
Steal it: Use simple recipes, real butter, and seasonal, local fruit, Michel says. To add special touches, look to nut syrups, fruit sauces, or caramels for complexity.
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New York City
Established: 1986 (New York)
Owners: Eric Ripert and Maguy Le Coze
Chef: Eric Ripert
Pastry chef: Thomas Raquel
How they do it: At this established fish-forward restaurant, pastry chef Thomas Raquel’s goal is to heighten flavor without taking away the star ingredient. “Anything added to the central product is there to elevate, complement, and highlight it, not to overpower it,” Raquel says. One of his most popular desserts is Apple, a brown butter mousse with apple confit and an Armagnac sabayon. “The Apple has flavors of a classic apple pie but done in a way that makes you think about it,” he says.
Steal it: What is the star of your menu, and how can the other elements you serve complement that?
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Owners: Linton and Gina Hopkins
Chefs: Damon Wise and Ian Quinn
Pastry chef: Jen Yee
How they do it: Designing a pastry program for a steakhouse, pastry chef Jen Yee stuck with the classics like pies, cakes, and ice cream, but in an elevated fashion. Local produce serves as her inspiration as she constructs cornmeal chiffon shortcakes with Georgia strawberries and a carrot cake made with Rodgers Greens and Roots’ carrots to wow guests with flavor above all else.
Steal it: “Have fun with your food. Dessert is already an indulgence. Find a way to have your guests play along with you,” Yee recommends.
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Santa Monica, California
Owners: Josh Loeb, Zoe Nathan, Colby Goff, and Erin Eastland
Chef: Erin Eastland
Pastry chef: Zoe Nathan
How they do it: Striving for pastries that involve impressive technique and the best ingredients, but also a comforting rusticness, pastry chef Zoe Nathan creates “perfectly imperfect” delights like Maple Bacon Biscuits and Blueberry Cornmeal Cake, which are made with ingredients such as organic flour and dairy, heirloom grains, and peak-season produce from Santa Monica’s famed farmers market.
Steal it: “Don’t forget the salt, and don’t add extra ingredients to a baked good if it doesn’t make it taste better,” pastry chef Zoe Nathan says.
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Andrew Thomas Lee
Owners: Julia Sullivan, Allie Poindexter, and Strategic Hospitality
Chef: Julia Sullivan
Pastry chef: Caitlyn Jarvis
How they do it: “A balance between the old and the new is definitely part of what I try and achieve,” says Caitlyn Jarvis, pastry chef. Take the ode to her grandmother’s pretzel Jello salad on the menu this strawberry season: local berries—pickled and poached—meet creme fraiche panna cotta, strawberry sorbet, and house-made pretzel sticks. “There are dishes that are more approachable, while others are there to challenge people and allow them to experience something they’ve never tasted before,” Jarvis says. And she is not afraid to break out the savory mold, either, using tomatoes, celery, and cucumbers in her sweets. “Whatever beautiful produce Nashville provides, we try to use!” she says.
Steal it: What traditionally non-pastry items could you use for a thought-provoking dessert?
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Owner: Himmel Hospitality Group
Chef: Tyler Kinnett
Pastry chef: Joshua Livsey
How they do it: Making everything from lobster rolls and sourdough to wedding cakes, breakfast pastries, and seasonal desserts like Lemon Tart paired with whipped coconut crémeux, torched meringue, red veined sorrel, coconut sorbet, and poached lemon segments, pastry chef Joshua Livsey keeps himself busy. “Once I get boxed in, my creativity starts to fade,” Livsey says.
Steal it: “Build and support a pastry team you trust and let them run with it,” he says. “I’ve produced my best results when given freedom, even from a young age.”
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Owners: Rene Ortiz, Laura Sawicki, Margaret Vera, and Tracy Overath
Chef: Rene Ortiz
Pastry chef: Laura Sawicki
How they do it: “Every dish is an opportunity for discovery,” says pastry chef Laura Sawicki. “Our desserts exist in that very special place where sweet meets savory. We take a whimsical approach to our food, tapping into nostalgia without being too cheeky.” Case in point? The bestselling Birthday Cake Ice Cream Sandwich, or “B-day Sammies,” as Sawicki calls them. She also whips up inventive desserts like Buttermilk Pie with sweet corn, saffron, blueberry, and rosemary pine nut crunch ice cream and Devil’s Food Dirt Cake with chocolate tahini mousse, buckwheat banana, kahlua gummies, and coffee coconut sorbet, combining playful familiarity with intriguing twists.
Steal it: How can you re-present a favorite dessert from your childhood?
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Durham, North Carolina
Chef/Owner: Phoebe Lawless
Pastry chefs: Phoebe Lawless and Logan Atkinson
How they do it: Chef Phoebe Lawless first made her name in pie, opening the bakery Scratch in 2010. In 2017, she turned her focus to the full-service restaurant world with the opening of The Lakewood. Of course, pie was never too far behind, with Lakewood’s location including a Baby Scratch retail outlet onsite. The two are “perfectly symbiotic,” Lawless says, with Baby Scratch whipping up everything from hearth loaves to pie slices and crostatas, and with The Lakewood’s menu offering seasonal, honest, and composed sweets. “Our dessert sales are so high (65 percent plus) that our cooks are just as excited about new desserts rotating onto the menu as the savory offerings,” Lawless says.
Steal it: “Don't skimp on labor in producing your desserts, even if you only have two or three on the menu,” Lawless says. “[And] don't rely on chocolate so much; really explore fruit.”