According to Cody Middleton, newly appointed Pastry Chef of the Polo Club of Boca Raton, determining what pastry garnishes to purchase versus make comes down to savvy menu management.
The value of a garnishing is significant to chefs both savory and sweet. Gone are the days of putting something on the plate just because. Today, garnishes are used to add height, drama, elegance and whimsy. They can hide a flaw, highlight a part of the dish, or spotlight the main flavor profiles to the member or guest.
An appropriate garnish can truly transform a dessert into an exciting, memorable course that members rave about (assuming the dish being garnished lives up to beautiful presentation).
It doesn’t matter how over-the-top a slice of apple pie looks. If the apples are closer to apple sauce and aren’t surrounded by a buttery, flaky crust, the dish is a failure.
Every pastry plate must deliver in terms of taste, texture, and all other qualities that are expected. Enhancing those elements with a visual component like a garnish, can really maximizes a member’s overall satisfaction.
The types of garnish available are as wide and varied as the foodservice industry. What used to be humble sprig of mint has turned into chocolate décor, sugar work, herbs, nuts, berries, edible flowers, fruit chips, and dried meringues. The list is truly limitless and begs the question: What garnishes should be purchased instead of made in-house?
A little online shopping will show you how effortless and entertaining it can be to find products that you could envision on your next dessert or buffet display. And it can be hard to justify spending extra cents on something seemingly trivial. (Especially, during times when the club isn’t very busy and there is a plenty of staff.)
But for me, I have found it beneficial to keep a handful of certain purchased garnishes on hand all the time and reserving special ones to be made in-house. There won’t always be the exact size/design for every situation, but this strategy works for my club.
Products like transfer sheets and stencils make it more convenient and eye appealing to make garnishes in-house. Products that are clean and timeless like a striped chocolate cigar or a chocolate plaque that has club’s logo on it are always on our shelves. They can fit virtually any circumstance and are the go-to when we need a quick garnish.
I prefer to purchase fruit chips, like pineapple, pear, and apple. Not only are the bought chips, consistent in size and degree of caramelization, there is no risk to employees of getting injured while trying to cut the fruit on a slicer or mandolin. (Just imagine how long it would take and the number of pineapples that would be needed to get 500 perfect chips for a large banquet.)
Balancing purchased with handmade allows us to focus our attention and energy in productive and efficient ways. It reduces waste while still allowing pastry team members to hone their skills and further evolve.
The way and type of garnishes chefs use today have come a long way from the days of Escoffier. They range from simple and straightforward to complex and show stopping. What to buy versus what to make will vary tremendously for each club and circumstance. But I assure you, there is room for both within our kitchens.