The New Yorker Deconstructs Modernist Desserts


Adam Gopnik expounds upon the origins of modernist desserts and the future of the sweet course in The New Yorker this week. Gone are the familiar forms and yummy, comforting confections of yore. In their place are oft-intimidating, not-always-sweet, highly Spanish-influenced creations.

Creating some of the best foodie prose in recent memory, Gopnik writes:

It was as if the dessert chefs had given up on dessert, too, and produced something else in its place. At even a moderately upscale establishment, you would invariably get what I had come to think of as the Portman Plaza plate, since it so closely resembled the model that a developer would have proposed for the center of a crime-wracked mid-sized city in the seventies: three upright cylinders–small towers of something wrapped in something–with the tops sliced at an angle; a crumbly landscape of some kind; and a reflecting pool running around the edge. The plate would be advertised as, let’s say, a chocolate-peanut-butter mousse cake with walnut-balsamic crumble and a sesame sorbet with Concord-grape foam. But the effect was always the same: not enough of a cakey cylindrical thing, too much of a crumbly thing, far too much of a gelatinous thing, and an irrelevance of an off-key runny thing. Without surrendering sugar, dessert had surrendered all its familiar forms–the cake, the soufflé, the pudding–as the avant-garde novel had surrendered narrative, character, and moral. Losing our faith in art is, in a secular culture, what losing our faith in God was to a religious one; God only knows what losing our faith in desserts must be.

Although the article primarily focuses on Gopnik’s Spanish treks, during which he must have consumed bazillions of calories, he does briefly explore what’s happening in New York City and pays a visit to Dan Barber ‘s Blue Hill and wd~50‘s Alex Stupak (full disclosure: I apprenticed at wd~50). And one interesting tidbit comes out: Stupak enlightens Gopnik that he doesn’t even like sweets but became a pastry chef because it gave him autonomy and represents a way in which he can create a wholly new food. Makes you wonder, if that’s the case: Why is he in the process of opening a taqueria? Or, more importantly, what kinds of desserts will shine at Empellon?