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Pushing the Pastry Envelope

Tobacco meringues? Pliable chocolate pudding? Dessert menu designers are challenging our taste buds, and we asked four of the best what gets their creative juices flowing.

Photography: Grant Kessler
Alex Stupak
Alinea (1723 N. Halsted St.; 312-867-0110)
C.V.: The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York; Tru
Creative philosophy: “We approach pastry as a sophisticated form of texture manipulation.”
Weirdest ingredient ever used in a dessert: “To us nothing is really weird. We’re serving a dish using Chinese sausage.” Recent innovations include a pliable chocolate pudding made with sorbitol, a sugar alcohol.
Currently working on: A frozen capsule of coffee-flavored ice with a center that does not freeze. “I’m trying to serve something that’s seemingly impossible.”
Elissa Narow
Custom House (500 S. Dearborn St.; 312-523-0200)
C.V.: The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago; Trio, Blackbird, and Blue Water Grill
Creative philosophy: “I adapt to the chef I work with, so the desserts follow the menu and the concept of the restaurant.”
Weirdest ingredient ever used in a dessert: “Tiger nut, which I guess is used mainly for horchata. I’m working on making a panna cotta with it.”
Favorite kitchen tool: “If I can’t pick my hands, I would choose my offset spatula.”
Unique menu item: “I created a dessert sides category similar to a side-dish category on a dinner menu. Right now I have chocolate peanut butter fudge, macadamia brittle, and s’mores bars.”
Photography: Grant Kessler
Photography: Anthony Tahlier
Tara Lane
Blackbird (619 W. Randolph St.; 312-715-0708)
C.V.: Le Cordon Bleu of Western Culinary Institute, Portland, Oregon; François Payard, New York City; the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Creative philosophy: “I work with little kids, teaching them how to cook desserts, at Common Threads. It opens my mind to not have boundaries with my own work.”
Weirdest ingredient ever used in a dessert: Eggplant in cake; tobacco in meringues; house-made bacon (which appears in her signature dessert, waffles with milk-chocolate semifreddo, meringue, and bacon).
Currently working on: Fennel granita; she also wants to use beets in a dessert.
Cindy Schuman
Kevin (9 W. Hubbard St.; 312-595-0055)
C.V.: After spending several years working in advertising, the self-taught pastry chef was offered a job at Highland Park’s Carlos’ and took it. Schuman has also worked at Aubriot and the Four Seasons Chicago.
Creative philosophy: There should always be a crowd pleaser-usually chocolate. “Right now I have a chocolate maracaibo-which is a more bitter chocolate-mousse with a caramel center. [It’s] served with a caramel mango rum sauce and mango sabayon.”
Weirdest ingredient ever used in a dessert: “I’ve worked with carrot sorbet, and made things with corn meal. I do things with rosemary vanilla ice cream, so I’ll play with herbs.”
Favorite kitchen tool: “A brown bowl scraper that I’ve had since day one. I’m pretty possessive about it. Everyone teases me about it.”
Photography: Courtesy Of Cindy Schuman


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