Desserts should be treated with dis­dain, says Tony Naylor. Or­der an­other starter in­stead – chefs will thank you

BBC Good Food - - Contents - @nay­lor_tony Tony Naylor writes for Restau­rant mag­a­zine and The Guardian.

Our colum­nist Tony Naylor says it’s time we ditched dessert for some­thing classier

Like the birth of a child or sur­viv­ing a near-death ex­pe­ri­ence, the first time you muster up the courage to or­der a sec­ond starter, in­stead of dessert, is – well, for we food­ists at least – life-chang­ing. I vividly re­mem­ber the first time I crossed that Ru­bi­con, at the Old Bore near Hal­i­fax, a pub sadly no longer with us (note: fall­ing pud­ding sales were not a fac­tor in its clo­sure). My re­quest for welsh rarebit rather than panna cotta was met with sur­prised, mur­mur­ing sat­is­fac­tion by staff. They got it.

This bloke knew his own mind. He would not be fobbed off with the friv­o­lous raz­zle-daz­zle of pud­ding.

It felt lib­er­at­ing. A new ma­tu­rity pulsed through my veins. I refuse to ac­cept the bour­geois con­ven­tion that I must or­der a dessert af­ter my main – and what of it, world? Who can stop me? Well, chefs can, if they are clean­ing down the kitchen and pas­try is the only sec­tion still work­ing. But gen­er­ally, kitchens hap­pily ac­com­mo­date my re­quests for a late-night scotch egg or cheese souf­flé.

Why? Be­cause many chefs share my dessert dis­dain. Desserts, they will tell you, lack the savoury realm’s com­plex flavours and po­ten­tial for self-ex­pres­sion. They are an easy, sugar-laden win. Mak­ing them is, whis­per it, a bit girly. Some of that is true, some of it (sex­ist) non­sense. Pas­try is ac­tu­ally a highly tech­ni­cally de­mand­ing dis­ci­pline and as Gareth Ward’s trea­cle tart at Ynyshir in Wales proves

(it is made with miso, wagyu beef fat, black­ened bread­crumbs), dessert can be se­ri­ously, gas­tro­nom­i­cally am­bi­tious. But do I ever or­der one? Al­most never.

Crap desserts have be­come a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy. In restau­rants, the re­spon­si­bil­ity for pas­try is of­ten given to younger staff or han­dled, grudg­ingly, by some­one who would rather be cook­ing the glam­orous pro­teins. Nat­u­rally, qual­ity suf­fers. Even when kitchens take pride in their desserts, they can­not get past the in-built re­stric­tions of the form. Desserts op­er­ate in a rel­a­tively nar­row spec­trum of both flavours (how far can you take choco­late and cher­ries?) and tex­tures (all those creamy dol­lops, from crème brûlée to Eton Mess). They lack the res­o­nance and evolv­ing in­ter­play of savoury cour­ses.

That’s why pas­try chefs spend so much time on the vis­ual as­pects of their craft: or­nate sugar work, end­less lay­ers, ed­i­ble gold. It is clas­sic mis­di­rec­tion. In this case from the fact that their work, as we say at Naylor Tow­ers (usu­ally about dough­nuts), ‘is not worth the calo­ries’.

Ar­guably, we have sim­ply evolved past pud­ding. In 2017, we crave light, zippy, con­trast­ing flavours. Who wants to fin­ish a meal with sticky tof­fee pud­ding?

In­ter­est­ingly, a sig­nif­i­cant mi­nor­ity of new restau­rants of­fer just one or two sim­ple dessert op­tions (tiny pas­tel de nata, say, or scoops of good ice cream). London’s Thai bar­be­cue restau­rant Kiln has ditched dessert en­tirely. Mod­ern din­ers are not that both­ered.

Per­son­ally – the glo­ries of a fine cheese­board aside –

I crave a re­vival of the savoury course, those salty, cur­ried, on-toast snacks, such as scotch wood­cock, that were served in­stead of dessert in 19th-cen­tury gen­tle­men’s clubs. When con­tem­po­rary chefs have re­vis­ited the savoury course (RIP Will Hol­land’s hot cheese tarts at Lud­low’s La Bé­casse), it has been amaz­ing.

Un­til then, I can only urge: join me. Or­der a sausage roll for dessert. Defy con­ven­tion. It tastes in­cred­i­ble.

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