Dessert. The culinary cherry on top of any dining experience.
It’s Friday night, you’ve just finished a stressful week at work but here you are, laughing with your favourite friends, sipping fine wine, and hooking into the current delicacy you find on your plate. The weekend forecast is sunny, just as you’d expect on the beautiful central coast, and you sit back in your chair and let out a satisfied sigh of content.
This is modern Australian fine dining at its best, and you’ve found yourself in one of the best restaurants in town. What could possibly go wrong? There’s really only one answer: at some point, it has to end.
Every restaurant experience you are destined to have, you will be faced with the same dilemma, and it’s just downright awful in our books. Thankfully, we humans have found a resourceful way to delay that awful moment, and in one of the most delicious ways known to humankind:
Where did dessert come from?
In short, the answer is simply sugar. But it took our European ancestors a while to move that sweet substance into the array of treats we have now and in the order we have them.
Around the 1500s, sugar was expensive, and so to sprinkle some sugar on your stew was seen more as a power move – a symbol of high status – than something delicious to eat. Sugar was used in savoury dishes, which made them look and taste rich, but not necessarily delicious.
It wasn’t until the 17th century when a young Frenchman, (of course the French were going to be responsible for le dessert!) François Pierre La Varenne, wrote in Le Cuisinier François that putting sugar in savoury dishes was out of fashion! This coincided with the industrial refinement of sugar and so the status and price of sugar plummeted.
The ground was laid for something new.
French bakers and artisans began experimenting with all sorts of single portion, sweet treats, and a plethora of tarts, èclairs and you-name-it’s began appearing all around French society. At the same time, a Russian style service called ‘service à la russe’ (service in a Russian style) came to the fore.
This service style is what we now know as à la carte – the idea of dishes being served one by one rather than simply having everything laid out on the table. For reasons unknown, the decision to finish this ‘service’ with a fine sweet treat was made, and it carries on to this day.
“To clear the table”
The french word desservir means literally “to clear the table”. As the divide between savoury and sweet spread throughout Europe, the order of eating became more and more established and the sweet treat found itself to be the final destination of the dining experience all across Europe.
By the late 1700’s the idea and word had been adopted by the English and the Americans and so “dessert” became a meal all on its own!
We probably all owe a word of thanks to those strange Frenchmen back then whose obsession with status and power actually led us to be able to extend our treasured dining experiences for just that little bit longer.
Speaking of a “little bit longer”, and just in case you really want to keep the good times rolling, us clever humans have invented something called the digestif. Which is really just a fancy word for dessert cocktail. We don’t really mind what it’s called, because the longer and more pleasurable the fine-dining experience is, the happier we are.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the answer is yes, we absolutely serve dessert.