Design a dessert menu that complements dinner items with expert insights from Chicago’s Executive Pastry Chef Chris Teixeira.
Creating an innovative and fresh dessert menu means complementing a restaurant’s concept, atmosphere and entrees. To make a statement, it must be done with precision, detail and imagination. And, of course, one must consider the season. It’s a difficult enough fete to accomplish with one restaurant; but Executive Pastry Chef Chris Teixeira, with The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group, oversees the growth and development of a whopping four pastry programs at four downtown Chicago restaurants: West Town Bakery & Diner, Steadfast, Homestead on the Roof and Portsmith.
“It’s like dealing with four different people,” says Teixeira. “They each have their style and own personality. Most of the time, I walk the space and get a feeling of how I want the desserts to look, or how I want the menu to be presented. I also try to identify the style of the savory chef to ensure that the menu is seamless throughout the entire meal.”
At Steadfast, he introduced a timeline to take people through the 1900s via sweets. Portsmith recently launched desserts based on the seven largest bodies of water. Desserts at Homestead on the Roof embody nature, or “rustic elegance.” He has the most fun at West Town Bakery, however, where color and playfulness is the name of the game.
Among his four restaurants, Teixeira doesn’t like to repeat desserts. To stay fresh, he uses themes to drive his inspiration. “Creating menus like the ‘Desserts Through the Decades’ or ‘Seven Seas’ helps a lot because the menu, in essence, tells me where to go next,” says Teixeira, who was named one of five “Under-the-radar pastry chefs whose names you ought to know” by Chicago Tribune’s Phil Vettel in 2013 and included on Zagat’s “30 under 30” list in 2014.
“I know that I need a chocolate dessert on the menu, but the others are up to whatever is in season or that stands out flavor-wise. So instead of creating 18-24 new desserts every quarter, I look to nature and the season to guide or inspire me.” Teixeira evoked the sense of nature quite literally with his latest creation: dusted cotton candy served on a real cotton plant.
“I knew I wanted to use cotton candy, but I figured that why not present it in a way that resembled how it actually grows?” Another dish combines beets and buttermilk to make sorbet. While keeping current on food trends and diner demands—which is easier to cater to when rotating dessert menus every season— Teixeira cross-utilizes ingredients with the lunch and dinner menu where possible. “While the dessert may not be the same, the flavors are, so you can prep for both menus at the same time,” he says.
When it comes to marketing, Teixeira lauds the power of storytelling, especially when sourcing local ingredients. “People also like to know what chefs are thinking about when creating dishes,” he says, noting those “behind-the-scenes” stories should be branded on the menu, if possible, or relayed by the server. “We try to have a story behind menu items—or at least a reason for them—other than ‘because it’s in season.'”
Teixeira earned his degree in Baking and Pastry Arts from the Culinary Institute of America in 2007; three years later, he earned a degree from the Culinary Institute of America in New York with a concentration in Hospitality Management, where he spent two years as a fellow focusing on pastries and breads. His professional credits include Pastry Chef de Partie at the four-star dining landmark Sixteen, inside Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago.
The son of Portuguese immigrants, Teixeira was coated in flour since he can remember. Watching his mother work in the same bakery for 25 years sparked his interest in pastry creation. For young aspiring chefs like he was, his best advice is: don’t rush it. “Everyone is trying to be a sous chef or a chef right out of culinary school, but you need to learn as much as you can from several different chefs,” he says. “It’s not good enough to just be a bread baker or chocolatier. Having a well rounded skill set will get you far.”
As for seasoned chefs looking for inspiration, he has three guidelines: good ingredients, good technique and passion. “Generally, using those will lead you in the right direction,” he says. “It won’t necessarily be perfect right away, but that makes working toward the end goal even more fulfilling.”