Anthony Bourdain hit the nail on the head in his iconic book Kitchen Confidential, when he said, “pastry chefs are the neurologists of the kitchen.” We like things just so, and will stop only at premeditated murder, to make sure it stays this way. We are organized to the point of scary, and we guard our (often tiny) stations like junkyard dogs.

Pastry chefs like things clean, orderly, in excellent working order, and labeled. When I worked at Bolo in NYC, I would lock our station’s chinois (fine mesh strainer) in my locker and would refuse the chef’s request for it, even when he begged. I knew our pristine chinois would be introduced to garlic, or worse: a 4 oz. ladle. (If you must force something through this expensive, delicate piece of equipment, use the smallest ladle: 1-2 oz.)

As some of you know, I’ve spent the last seven days baking up a storm for a major plated dessert tasting I have today at noon. I’m working primarily out of restaurant kitchen in San Francisco, which is great because, in my one bedroom flat in Berkeley, I don’t have a walk-in refrigerator. Nor do I have a row of burners and any number of ovens for various sensitive custards and buttery shortbread.

But working out the details has been a logistical challenge. Lists and lists and lists get made, sometimes twice a day. I’m arranging time sensitive batters, freezing times, a fight for space in an extremely busy establishment, and I want the seven people eating my desserts today to taste the freshest of flavors! I’ve only been able to be in said kitchen from @ 6:30-9/10 AM a few days, and the rest of the time I’m testing components in my home. I’ve also wanted to build in time for testing, tasting and re-making if needed. Disasters always take more time than we think they will.

The trick to plated desserts is to create a menu that is all things to all people. Desserts need to be:
Both comforting and innovative, cold and hot, soft and crunchy, smooth and toothsome, sweet and a little salty, a balance of acid and fat, pretty to look at, right-sized and worth the price (don’t get me started on this), eaten only with one utensil, have a pronounce-able name on the menu, sweets the waiters like, something you want to eat after that which came before, have a plating style which matches the aesthetic of the dining room/savory food/the diner’s outfits, seasonal or mostly chocolate, flavorful or too sweet, dumbed down or esoteric and conceptual.

As you can see, it’s a tall order.

Pastry chefs are responsible for feeding you your last morsel. We can help you to leave happy or discouraged. We can save a mediocre meal or confuse a good one with awfulness. We can give you more of what you’ve been eating since the 80’s: creme brulee, warm molten chocolate cake, apple tart, lemon bars, hot fudge sundaes and mint leaf garnishes. Or we can introduce you to fruits at their peak of flavor, subtle herb infused ice creams and pot de cremes, seemingly savory ingredients infiltrating the last course, and allow your imaginations to soar as we push the envelope for you.

If you trust the pastry chef, you can take virtual trips to sights unseen and explored! Beyond your wildest imaginings…

The pastry chef’s prep lists at Coi.

To this end, I bring you a game. The Plated Dessert Menu Game.

I give you 6 mains, and a list of possible components. Each main needs at least 3 components to comprise one cohesive plated dessert. You can take creative license with one dessert and add a component that’s not on the list, but you have to say why you chose to do so.


1. Butterscotch pot de creme 2. Carnaroli rice pudding 3. Warm milk chocolate veloute 4. Ricotta cheesecake (this has no crust) 5. Pate a choux doughnuts 6. Lemon Sherbet


Crunchy poached rhubarb dice, Vanilla Egg Cream, Chantilly, Malt ice cream, Cherries, Brown Butter ice cream, Candied Citrus Zests, Mesquite flour, Rose geranium, Pecan shortbread, Warm chocolate sauce, Cherry vinegar, Double Vanilla Shortbread, Cocoa nibs, Fleur de Sel, Dacquoise, California Bay Laurel gelee, Shuna’s Famous Graham Crackers, and Swiss meringue.


Plated Desserts, A Game. 14 May,2007Shuna Fish Lydon

  • Magpie

    Mmm – I want Carnaroli rice pudding with crunchy poached rhubarb dice, candied citrus zests and double vanilla shortbread. Where do I get it?

  • Aaron

    Rice Pudding: Crunchy Rhubarb, Rose Geranium and Vanilla Shortbread.
    Cheesecake: Cherry Vinegar, Cherries and Graham Cracker.
    Veloute: Dacqoise, Malt Ice cream, cocoa nibs, Fleur de Sel.
    Lemon Sherbet: Chantilly, Candied Zest, Bay Gelee, Swiss Meringue.
    Donuts: Vanilla Egg Cream, Chocolate Sauce, Strawberry Jam. -Added Jam to make it a deconstructed donut plate. Chocolate glaze, or jam filling is applied to donut by the eater. Egg cream to wash it down.

  • Aaron

    Butterscotch PdC: Chantilly, Mesquite Flavor, Pecan Shortbread. “Down-home Southern BBQ”

  • Sara

    I don’t like or understand complicated desserts as desserts, and almost always order the simplest and the cleanest. If I order ice cream or sorbet at the end of a meal, for example, I almost always ask them not to put anything on it. I would totally eat a bay laurel flavored ice cream, and no doubt relish it; however, I would expect one small scoop of that to be a complete meal-finishing experience. Mentally, emotionally, and physically, I just can’t handle a lot of stuff after a lot of other stuff. I see dessert as a cleanser and unifier, as a bow on the package that was my meal.

    I often don’t order dessert at all, because they are usually just too much, but will instead have a sweet meal — a muffin, a slice of cake, an elaborate plated dessert meant to be served as a dessert, etc. — all by itself at an odd time of day. A friend and I once ate at a nice French restaurant in Palo Alto and only ordered three desserts to split and coffee, no “food.” The chef (probably the pastry chef, but it was too long ago for me to remember) came out to meet us. It was, after all, the dinner hour.

    Why do plated desserts have to have three components? Do all components have to touch, or can you just lay them out together and allow people to taste and then blend to follow their own creativity? At what point exactly are you proving your art? Is there a difference between an interview dessert and a dessert you would actually serve?

    But all that said, and all my ignorance listed, these are my thoughts on the goodies you’ve named.

    Call me conventional, but I’ll take the lemon sherbet with rose geranium, and nothing else on that plate whatsoever. Maybe petals on the scoop, maybe a whole blossom on the side, maybe the lightest, almost imperceptible sprinkling of some unifying spice (nutmeg?) and nothing, nothing else. Anything else would clutter it.

    The rhubarb dice, if still tart and not too sweet, could go beautifully with the butterscotch pots de creme, especially if you top both with something very light and creamy and dust that with a pinch of brown sugar. This would end in a plate with two components, the topped but not obliterated rhubarb side by side with the topped but not obliterated pot.

    I think the doughnuts need the cacao nibs; I wouldn’t be above rolling each doughnut around in them so that the first taste would be bitter crunch yielding to sweet and fatty fluff. I don’t eat doughnuts because I can’t stand that feeling of frying fat coating my tongue and teeth, and I think the cacao nibs would cut that nicely. On the same plate, but on the side, you could put some kind of thing in which to dip the cacao-coated doughnut, maybe two little dishes, one of vanilla egg cream and one of warm chocolate sauce.

    The problem with most cheesecake-ish desserts for me is that I’m done after one bite, even sick to my stomach, especially if I just ate a full meal. I love the idea of ricotta to lighten it, but I would also need something very opposite the cheesecake in texture and flavor in order to stomach more than a tiny morsel, especially at the end of a meal. Maybe the citrus rind rolled in the fleur de sel? Maybe exquisitely lightly salted cherries? I don’t know. Cheesecake is one of those things I need to eat as its own meal, like a mid-afternoon thing with coffee or tea. As a garnish or filling for something else — maybe a cacao-nib dusted doughnut — it’s breakfast.

    This is probably useless to you, but it was fun for me to think about. Thank you!

  • Sara

    Forgive me, one more:

    Assuming I had someone with whom to share it, I would order pecan shortbread topped by only a tiny ricotta cheesecake, itself topped with a helping of rhubarb dice, and the whole stack accompanied by an adjacent glob of chantilly. It would be like a loose pie or a pie sundae.

    It would be too much for dessert, and too much for one person, but fun to share, fun to fight over.

  • Anita

    Oh, this is FUN!

    – Butterscotch pot de creme
    Fleur de Sel
    Optional: Mesquite flour

    – Carnaroli rice pudding
    Crunchy poached rhubarb dice
    Rose geranium
    Optional: Double Vanilla Shortbread

    – Warm milk chocolate veloute
    Malt ice cream
    Cocoa nibs

    – Ricotta cheesecake
    Shuna’s Famous Graham Crackers
    Cherry vinegar

    – Pate a choux doughnuts
    Brown Butter ice cream
    Warm chocolate sauce
    (addition: spiced nuts)

    – Lemon Sherbet
    Candied Citrus Zests
    Pecan shortbread
    Optional: California Bay Laurel gelee

  • H.Alexander Talbot

    Butterscotch pot de creme
    dacquoise, pecan shortbread crumble,chantilly

    Carnaroli rice pudding
    cherries, cherry vinegar, brown butter ice cream

    Warm Milk Chocolate Veloute
    malt ice cream, fleur de sel, vanilla egg cream

    Ricotta Cheesecake
    famous graham crackers, rhubarb, rose geranium

    Pate Choux Doughnuts
    warm chocolate sauce, cocoa nibs, mesquite flour

    Lemon Sherbert
    swiss meringue, bay laurel jelly, candied citrus zests, vanilla shortbread
    (the lemon sherbert is draped in meringue, bruleed and served on top of the jelly and accented with the citrus zests)

  • Lori S.

    I don’t know if moderation still has my comment or if it disappeared. I was coming to add onto it anyway, so what the heck. Plus I broke the rules last time, with only two components per.

    I’d pair the rice pudding with the chocolate nibs and the rose geranium.

    For the cheesecake, graham crackers (traditional but yum) and the crunchy poached rhubarb and Bay laurel gelee.

    Pate a choux donuts, brown butter ice cream, chocolate sauce, fleur de sel.

    Can I pair both shortbreads with the butterscotch pot de creme? Plus cherries, to cut all that richness.

    Milk chocolate veloute and malt ice cream dacquoise with chantilly. (If it were dark chocolate, I think I would go for brown butter ice cream and cherry vinegar.)

    Lemon sherbert with candied citrus zest, Bay laurel gelee (yes, I know, twice!), and cherry vinegar. (Or, rose geranium, again.)

  • Susan

    Oh this was such a fun way to take a break from work (I have post-its everywhere on my desk now)!

    Cheesecake: rhubarb, candied zests, pecan shortbread (alt to shortbread-a nice flat piece of fortune cookie…have you ever had the fresh fortune cookies from the factory in SFs Chinatown?? so good)

    Veloute: brown butter ice cream, nibs, fleur de sel

    Pot de creme: chantilly, dbl vanilla shortbread, fleur de sel

    Sherbert: meringue, rose geranium, dbl vanilla shortbread

    Pudding: cherries, gelee, graham crackers

    Donuts: vanilla egg cream, nibs, cherries

    Good luck!!

  • tkw

    (i tried to post this earlier this morning…)

    i had more fun thinking outside the rules so i did.

    1. saltine or pita chips, cherries, saffron chantilly. for crunch, salt, acid, spice.

    2. toasted coconut, salted plum compote, candied macadamias spiced with curry and kaffir lime leaf. going with the rice = asian idea.

    3. dacquoise, malt ice cream, shot of hot cinnamon/ancho tea. simple is best, the shot gives the eater an option.

    4. graham crackers, candied citrus peel, rose geranium. should never get too crazy with cheesecake (or creme brulee).

    5. mini-pots of raspberry jam, orange curd or marmalade, peanut butter mixed with maple syrup. don’t want to overwhelm the donut’s egg flavor, also don’t want to distract from the tender, flaky texture.

    6. cherry vinegar (reduction?), laurel gelee, warm blueberry muffin or slice of banana bread. i had a buttery muffin + apple sorbet combination at aqua once, it was amazing. there should be a law.

  • Kung Foodie Kat

    i’m a diehard…i WANTS the DONUTS…rolled in “you know what” with a side of brown butter ice cream please. open wide. let it slide.

  • Sam

    I play games all day. It’s called work so please forgive me for simply wanting that butterscotch pot de creme unadorned.

    Hope it went well for you.

  • Brett

    I’m in NYC and it’s too late for me to play this delicious game right now. What caught my attention was the caption under the last pics: “The pastry chef’s prep lists at Coi.” Any meaning there?

  • jade

    Butterscotch pdc with pecan shortbread, fleur de sel, chantilly

    Carnaroli with cherries, cherry vinegar, vanilla shortbread

    Veloute with malt ic, dacquoise, graham

    Ricotta cheesecake with rose geranium, mesquite flour, rhubarb

    Pate a choux with choco sauce, vanilla egg cream, nibs

    Lemon sherbet with bay gelee, candied zest, meringue

  • Alice Q

    Here’s mine, and I posted about it too – with links!

    Warm Milk Chocolate Veloute topped with Toasted Swiss Meringue, served with Shuna’s Famous Graham Crackers and Fleur de Sel for sprinkling.

    Lemon Sherbet float made with Vanilla Egg Cream, with Cherries and a drizzle of Cherry Vinegar.

    Butterscotch Pot De Creme with Chantilly Cream and Pecan Fleur de Sel Shortbread

    Rose Geranium infused Ricotta Cheesecake, served with Crunchy Poached Rhubarb Dice and Candied Citrus Zests.

    Pate a Choux Doughnuts stuffed with Malt Ice Cream, Sour Cherries and Warm Chocolate Sauce

    Carnaroli Rice Pudding with Mango Dice, Coconut Dacquoise and Boba Milk Tea

    I cheated – I know. I added three elements to the last dish because I wanted to use all the mains, and I didn’t want to duplicate. Really though, it all sounds good to me!

  • Trace

    1) Butterscotch pot de crème
    Pecan Shortbread,
    Vanilla Egg Cream,
    Fleur de Sel

    2) Carnaroli rice pudding
    Plump Golden Raisins – because it would just do that much more for the texture to have a chewy fruit with the soft rice
    Cherry vinegar
    Candied Citrus Zests

    3) Warm milk chocolate veloute
    Malt ice cream

    4) Ricotta cheesecake (this has no crust)
    Double Vanilla Shortbread
    Rose geranium

    5) Pate a choux doughnuts
    Brown Butter ice cream
    Warm chocolate sauce
    Cocoa nibs

    6) Lemon Sherbet
    Shuna’s Famous Graham Crackers
    Crunchy poached rhubarb dice
    Swiss Meringue


  • Aaron

    It must be weird to see the things people are coming up with. Once I made “my menu,” I haven’t been able to imagine other peoples’ combinations. And I haven’t even cooked my menu!

  • McAuliflower

    I couldn’t help but think this could be a great ploy for picking up someone…

    the game and the desserts!

    Playing the game…

    Carnaroli rice pudding
    – dusted with Mesquite flour, studded with Candied Citrus Zests and swirled with the Rose Geranium steeped in simple syrup. Maybe the Chantilly to lighten it up?

    And riding the waves of a wonderful lemon truffle I had recently:
    Lemon Sherbet
    – nestled next to Malt ice cream, on a nest of Warm chocolate sauce, stabbed with the Double Vanilla Shortbread… (in the gazebo?)

    And yes, the Ricotta cheesecake is screaming for a pool of the Cherry vinegar, Cocoa nibs and Crunchy poached rhubarb dice.

    Butterscotch pot de creme
    – nestled under Swiss meringue with tangy Cherries and Shuna’s Famous Graham Crackers to scoop it up with… all dusted with Fleur de Sel.

  • gene

    Butterscotch Pot de Creme
    Swiss Meringue
    Warm Chocolate Sauce

    Carnoli Rice Pudding
    Pecan shortbread
    Cherry Vinegar

    Warm Milk Chocolate Veloute
    Malt Ice Cream
    Fleur de sel
    Graham Crackers

    Ricotta Cheesecake
    Candied Citrus Zest
    Brown Butter Ice Cream
    Mesquite Flour

    Pate a choux Doughnuts
    Cocoa Nibs
    Rose Geranium

    Lemon Sherbet
    Double Vanilla Shortbread
    Vanilla Egg cream
    Crunchy Poached Rhubarb


Shuna Fish Lydon

Shuna fish Lydon was whisked and baked in San Francisco but served and eaten in New York City. She’s had a 16 year tumultuous love affair with professional cooking and has BFA in photography from CCAC.

Working with and for some of the best chefs in NYC and California, Shuna’s resume reads like the who’s who of cooking today. She identifies as a fruit-inspired pastry chef and calls the many local farmers’ markets her muse.

Currently “at large,” Shuna spends her time teaching baking and knife skills classes, consulting at local restaurants and writing for a number of outlets about deliciousness.

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