Many people think of dessert as an afterthought. However, I have a different philosophy, “There’s always room for dessert when it’s first!”
Of course, this principle can be attributed to my profession as Owner and Chocolatier of Cocoa Belle Chocolates, but also in part from a tradition my husband and I started 13 years ago. As self-proclaimed foodies, my husband and I often dine at restaurants just for dessert, along with a cocktail and maybe coffee if the conversation lingered.
My husband and I went back to where it all started, the Capital Hotel, to visit with One Eleven’s Pastry Chef Jiang. This talented young chef honed his skills at some of Shanghai’s hotels including the prestigious five-star diamond Peninsula Hotel. We are fortunate that he has called Arkansas home for the past four years.
When Jiang told his mother he wanted to pursue becoming a chef she was very supportive. “She told me you may not make a lot of money, but you’ll never go hungry”, Jiang said jokingly. Chef Jiang started his career studying traditional Chinese culinary cuisine at the age of 17, when his instructor asked if anyone was interested in the pastry arts. This piqued his interested which developed over the years to something extraordinary.
Now at the age of 32, Jiang often draws inspiration from desserts he’s seen on from around the world. Fortunately, Capital Hotel’s Executive Chef Joel Antunes, has a vast library of recipes for Chef Jiang to discover. “My chef will give me new recipes to try. From there, I may add new flavors and think of beautiful ways to display the desserts,” says Chef Jiang. The collaboration between traditional desserts and his whimsical presentation is a crowd-pleaser.
Chef Jiang brought us into the kitchen to talk about a few desserts currently on the menu at One Eleven.
The Chocolate Victorian Cake is a slice of chocolate decadence. The generous portion of cake gave me the impression of heavy richness, but the texture is surprisingly light and airy. The dark cocoa flavor is complimented well by the pillowy, chantilly cream. I was astonished to discover this mouth-watering slice of heaven is gluten-free. This would have paired perfectly with a dessert wine or cocktail.
The Noisetier with Sea Salt Caramel is a layered work of art. Encased in a gold hand-painted milk chocolate shell are layers of hazelnut cream, vanilla sea salt caramel, caramelized hazelnuts, and a gluten-free hazelnut biscuit. A deliberate crack on the top of the dessert revealed beautiful layers of creamy goodness. Each delicate flavor and texture playing off the other. Sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy all in a harmonious treat. I would suggest ordering a coffee or espresso to compliment this chilled delight.
The Gateau de Crepes with Grand Marnier Ice Cream and Suzette Sauce is a show-stopper. This warm, multi-layered cake of crepes and vanilla pastry cream is topped with a burnt brulee crust that balances the sweetness harmoniously. A small cup of Grand Marnier ice cream and orange-caramel suzette sauce brings a cool, citrusy brightness to the dish. This dessert has a combination of southern comfort and sophistication that will have you coming back again and again. I guarantee you won’t want to share.
These delightful desserts at One Eleven range from $12-$15 each.
I’m certain this journey is just beginning for Chef Jiang in the United States. “I want to compete at the World Pastry Cup one day but I have a lot more to learn. If I win that would make me very happy,” says Chef Jiang.
Go ahead, I dare you; eat dessert first! Take a walk on the dessert side. Rest assure, the desserts at One Eleven are worth seeking out. Chef Jiang is an artist and craftsman whose creations are not only visually stunning, but also palate gratifying.
Tales of the Traveling Chocolatier is an exploration of the desserts in restaurants and eateries across the state. It’s my hope to not only highlight the desserts but also true artisans and creators right in our backyard.