Our city is fortunate to have a number of great chefs. We may not have the numbers you’d see in a metropolis like Chicago or Houston…but for our size, we make a pretty respectable showing. What we still don’t have is a lot of great pastry chefs. That’s just a fact. There are a handful…and these folks are put to good use in this town. But their numbers are few.
Some restaurateurs would have you believe that the traditional pastry chef is becoming a thing of the past. That single person, dedicated to a single restaurant, devoting all their time to a handful of desserts to end the diners meal…those people are definitely less common in Little Rock, and probably many cities across the country. Maybe it’s profit margins, maybe diner preferences…maybe something else altogether.
But some chefs (thankfully) continue to give pastry and dessert the respect it deserves. It’s not something every chef is familiar with, not something every chef even likes to eat, but pastry has its place…and that’s something I hope never changes.
One man in this town deserves more credit for what he’s accomplished with pastry. Chef Scott Rains of Table 28 has been serving up remarkable food from his home base in the bottom floor of the Burgundy Hotel in West Little Rock for just over 2 years. He’s proven himself well in the field of savory plates, and on his rotating menu, you’ll find some of the more intriguing and creative dishes in town.
But since day one of Table 28’s opening, Rains has not only spearheaded the dinner menu’s savory items, but he’s personally been dreaming up fantastic desserts that deserve as much attention as anything else on the menu. This is uncommon, indeed.
Rains relates, “I think there is generally an intimidation factor and time factor to preparing pastry for non-pastry chefs, lack of confidence or experience may play a role as well.” To Rains, dessert and pastry are essential parts of any successful and complete menu. “Desserts play a huge part in any modern kitchen. They are a must on the menu, so they need to be as good as the savory portion…but I think they should be even better.”
It’s clear that sweet items are not simply an afterthought at Table 28. From my personal experience, I’ve been surprised numerous times by the skill with which Rains and his team are able to execute this finishing course. There’s never been a pastry chef in the house. Rains does it all. It’s always impressed me since my first visit to his restaurant.
He served me my first “sticky toffee pudding” in Little Rock…with hazelnut, blackberry, and housemade cream. It was phenomenal. He’s making brittle and other confections, he bakes his cakes from scratch. He churns out house made marshmallows and graham crackers for his deconstructed s’mores. He’s making his own ice cream and serving it with housemade versions of popular candy bars. I could go on.
But it’s not a simple undertaking. Rains explains, “I take more time, mentally, when I’m baking and preparing pastry. There is some chemistry involved when making cakes or certain doughs, so measurements have to be precise.” He continues, “Savory is more natural cooking…always tasting your food to make sure it is to your liking. It’s different with pastry…if you miss an ingredient or your measurements are off, it can be a disaster.”
With a busy kitchen and a sizable, often complicated, savory menu, you wonder why Rains continues to put so much personal effort into dessert. “Because it comes from my heart,” is his simple yet understated answer. And that’s as good a reason as any, really.