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Introducing Artisan Desserts to Your Menu

Today’s dessert menu must avoid being a drab afterthought filled with the staples of the Reagan-era, such as a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a slice of lemon meringue pie, and flan….oh yawn. Customers need to be drawn to your dessert offerings; they should be saying to themselves, “Why didn’t I save room for…?” or “Wait…I think I have a little room for…!”  Your dessert menu should leave a lasting impression on your clientele. A little spark before the check will lead to invaluable word-of-mouth advertising as your patrons describe to their fellow foodies the experience they enjoyed.

Artisan Ice Creams

---- Ice Cream (thumb)Chefs today are creating signature desserts that set their establishments apart by using local items like regional beers, coffees, and spirits to flavor and market their creation. Portland icon, Hopworks Urban Brewery, features desserts using their Organic Survival Seven Grain Stout. Incorporating in-house menu items to your dessert menu is excellent way to create a signature dish.

Selecting key regional ingredients is a bit like name-dropping in a way. Coffee ice cream sounds good and all, but include the name of the local coffee company to it and you have justified a price increase and “local flavor” to your menu. Fifty Licks features a Stumptown Coffee ice cream that has a huge following. The bounty of local ingredients is dumbfounding and chefs are only limited by their imagination (and sometimes the growing seasons).

The daily specials sheet is an excellent place to test new creations. See what moves and what needs further work. Ice creams are a comfort food to most and a forgiving canvas to experiment with. Chefs will use everything from Earl Grey tea, to bacon and maple syrup in their ice creams. “Spice Creams” have made a charge in recent years with notes of ginger, cardamom, and even basil. Preparations can be made the classic way with rock salt and churning or even using new methods like liquid nitrogen. Sweet, savory, spicy, and tart, ice creams, sorbets, and gelatos run the full spectrum of flavor profiles.

Artisan Chocolates

Since coffees are a traditional way to end the dining experience, why not include some artisan chocolates? Again, the flavor spectrum is wide open with chefs and their chocolate creations. Chocolate covered bacon, nuts, fruit, and even cheese. Sea salt and caramel are high on a lot of lists.  Your artisan chocolates need not be isolated to the dessert menu; they are a welcome treat, complimenting a glass of red wine.

So, you are not a chocolatier or you don’t have time to perfect the signature white chocolate key lime truffle; no need to fret.  You have many choices at your fingertips. In Portland, Moonstruck Chocolates has many choices, as well as Rx Missionary Chocolates. Many chefs utilize the offerings of ChefEx, a gourmet gallery of high-end and unusual culinary tools and edibles spotlighting small boutique chocolates from around the world, like Expressions Fine Chocolate, Chocolates El Rey (Venezuelan), Chuao [chew-wow] Chocolatier, Dobla, Varda (Belgian), and many more.


Chocolate and ice cream usually hit the crossroads when it comes to chocolate sauces. A chocolate sauce is a welcome side-kick to most desserts and an unusual entry to this field would be the dark chocolate balsamic from Portland’s Benessere Oils and Vinegars. Fine olive oils and balsamic vinegars have been enjoyed for decades atop ice cream throughout Italy.

Depending on your establishment’s table top etiquette, desserts can be marketed by a special board, special sheet, table tent, or the grand daddy of them all, the dessert tray.

Like Dylan Thomas once said, “Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night.” Leave your customers with a lasting impression. Go bold and creative with your dessert menu, be not vanilla. 

Popular Ingredients for Ice Cream

           Local Coffees & Espresso

           Local Chocolates

           Local Fruits

           Local Wines, Beer, Spirits, and Sodas

           Teas – Like Earl Grey, Chai, Black, Green, and Thai



           Herbs & Spices like Saffron, Ginger, and  Cardamom

           Olive Oils & Balsamic Vinegars

           Salts (smoked and otherwise flavored)

Popular Ingredients for Chocolates

           Blood Orange

           Mexican Chilies

           Sea Salt

           Hazelnuts & other local nuts


           Herbs & Spices like Tarragon, Cinnamon, and Curry

           Local Fruits

           Local Honey

           Local Wines like Cabernets, Pinots, and Syrah

           Vanilla Beans

           Meyer Lemon

           Chia Seeds



Want help getting on trend? Bring in an expert from your food service distributor partner; a Sysco Marketing Associate is backed by a foodie army of experts, and they have the ingredients and solutions to help you offer memorable endings to your delicious meals. For more, great artisan ideas and plenty of local, sustainable options, contact your Sysco Marketing Associate or the Sysco Portland Business Resources department.

Article information gathered and written by Erik Brock, Foodie editor at Sysco Portland, with the expertise of Chef Jeff Garcia and Chef Kenny Morgan.

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