If the admonishment “no dessert until you eat your vegetables” still haunts you from your childhood, you’ll be happy to know that you can indulge in an after-dinner confection guilt free when you dine at New York City’s Gramercy Tavern or at a handful of other mostly upscale restaurants.
That’s because a few pastry chefs, like Gramercy Tavern’s Miro Uskokovic, often choose fresh veggies to star in — or at least play a supporting role in — some of their tastiest desserts.
Celery root, carrots, parsnip, arugula, sorrel, potatoes, beets and tomatoes all have graced the dessert menus at Gramercy Tavern, Uskokovic said.
A celery and apple dessert sorbet and a tomato sorbet with olive oil and cumin sea salt are a couple of his veggie dessert offerings.
“I really love tomatoes in a dessert,” Uskokovic said, especially heirloom varieties, which tend to be juicier, meatier and have a more complex flavor.
In the fall, he makes a concoction featuring pears, bleu cheese and arugula, and he also has a strawberries and cream treat that he described as a whipped cheesecake with fresh strawberries and sorrel ice.
“We choose the sorrel — a salad plant, pretty much — and turn it into ice (or granité),” he said.
One of his favorite desserts was inspired by a dish called gomboc, a potato stuffed with plum that Uskokovic enjoyed in Northern Serbia, his homeland.
“We use delicious butterball potatoes sourced locally from New York and make potato mousse out of it,” he said.
It’s served with fresh plums and plum granité and topped with honey-glazed potato chips.
“It’s very nostalgic and brings back memories of home,” he said.
Although still a novelty in America, using vegetables like potatoes and yams in desserts is fairly common in other cultures, Uskokovic said.
Uskokovic said he was inspired to create veggie desserts by a mentor, celebrity chef Johnny Iuzzini, former executive pastry chef at Jean-Georges restaurant in New York City.
“He was the one who taught me to be adventurous,” he said.
Uskokovic, who has headed Gramercy Tavern’s pastry department for about seven years and has been in the industry for 15 years, also said he likes the challenge.
“It’s not always easy to use vegetables in creating desserts,” he said. “It pushes me to become more creative and to work harder.”
Today, few of the dozen or so options on Gramercy’s two dessert menus feature vegetables.
Uskokovic expects to add vegetable desserts as more local product becomes available during the summer.
While more chefs may use veggies in dessert recipes today than in the past, Uskokovic doesn’t think the idea will take the industry by storm.
“It’s kind of been lingering for a while now,” he said. “I don’t see some big craze of using vegetables.”
The trend likely will be confined to some higher-end restaurants that can afford to experiment, he said.
Customers at those establishments “expect to be a little bit surprised by unusual things,” he said.
But Uskokovic doesn’t believe the trend will reach mainstream dining establishments.
“When guests go to restaurants that are not fine dining, they expect to eat something that is a little more familiar — or comfortable,” he said.
But social media could change that in an instant.
“It’s hard to predict these days with Instagram what will take off,” Uskokovic said.
“If you’re a chef, you’re going to have to keep an eye out and an ear out and follow Instagram and see what’s happening.”