PHOTOGRAPHS BY BECCA DILLEY / HEAVY TABLE
This story originally appeared in the June 10 edition of Heavy Table’s Tap newsletter. Back the Heavy Table on Patreon to subscribe to exclusive food and drink content.
The best dessert I’ve tasted in years is the Stonefruit Pavlova at Edwards Dessert Kitchen in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis. Even when taking into account my bias toward pavlova (fueled by a trip to New Zealand and therefore substantial), this is a dessert for the ages.
“There’s this crunchy marshmallowy meringue and umeshu roasted plum jam… and nectarines that are macerated in a simple syrup with vanilla,” says EDK Executive Chef Jasmine Weiser, walking us through the components. “And this is a toasted rice apricot creme; it adds your creamy element.” No high profile dessert is complete without a finishing flourish; the pavlova has a couple of them. “I have a white peach sorbet that goes on top […] And then you bring it out and do a little pour of the syrup that we macerate the nectarines in.”
Watching Weiser plate the dish is a show unto itself; she adds element after element, stacking and layering, creating a dish that lets a diner build a different beautiful mouthful every time they direct their fork toward the plate.
The finished dish incorporates flavors that are light and subtle and flavors that are tart and intense; textures that are creamy and yielding and textures that are crunchy and delicate; visual elements that are bold and striking and visual elements that are retiring and calm. It’s a freaking galaxy on a plate, and it all works. Hunting for the next tasty combination is compelling work, and there are no wrong answers.
EDK reopened to the public early last month after closing for the duration of the pandemic to focus on its catering business. The restaurant is an oddity: a stylish, Instagram-ready dining room owned by Schwan’s, a multi-billion private company founded in 1952 and known for its frozen food and home delivery service.
“It’s kind of crazy,” says Weiser of the restaurant’s pedigree. “It’s kind of a passion project of the CEO, he felt like Minneapolis needed a late-night dessert spot. But it’s also kind of a test kitchen for the company.” Through Weiser’s often experimental cooking (think matcha vegan snickerdoodles or a black sesame sorbet) the company can bounce niche flavors off the general public and see what clicks. Schwan’s, says Weiser, has access to lot of data on how people react to desserts that are chocolate or vanilla – but not much that engages with flavors like lemongrass or yuzu.
FROM STARS TO TARTS
Weiser, like so many chefs before her, came to her career by way of astronomy and physics.
Ah, hang on, that sentence needs a little tweaking. Weiser, like possibly zero chefs before her, came to her career by way of astronomy and physics. She ended up studying the cosmos despite an initial interest in the culinary arts that was spurred in part by her dad’s excellent cooking and in part by episodes of the original version of Iron Chef. “You watch the Japanese version and you think… ‘I can’t even imagine what that would taste like!’ So that got me really interested in it. I remember for one of my birthdays, I asked for a microplane.”
The study of the stars didn’t take, and Weiser found herself working at gaming stores, organizing Magic: The Gathering tournaments, and line cooking on the side.
“I decided that the only thing I enjoyed was cooking, so I decided to go to culinary school,” she says. “I was probably 25 or 26 at that point. I didn’t even know you could go to school for pastry. I went in for the interview at the school – at Le Cordon Bleu – to understand what the process was, and they asked: ‘Well, do you want to do pastry, or do savory?’ And I was like, I’ve never been asked that question before. And since I didn’t know anything about pastry, and I liked to learn things, I went that route.” Pastry, she thought, would be less competitive, and have more forgiving hours than the late nights that the savory route promised.
And this is how she ended up working at Patisserie 46 in Minneapolis, waking up at three in the morning, working until 11, and then attending school through the afternoon before turning in for bed at 6 p.m.
“It was pretty rough at first,” she recalls. “I was on the cake station, so I was doing all the petit gâteau and helping with all the tartlets, and that’s kind of where my base knowledge for what we do here comes from. After that I went over to Marin – then it turned into Mercy. I was there for two years as the dessert chef, and that’s kind of where I developed my plated dessert style.”
Weiser followed Chef Christina Kaelberer from Mercy to Edwards Dessert Kitchen, rising to executive chef after Kaelberer’s departure.
A LIGHT TOUCH WITH BIG FLAVORS
Weiser has made boundary pushing a staple of her tenure at EDK. She challenges herself by working on plant-based and/or gluten-free items, putting them on the menu when they work but keeping them under wraps if they don’t come together. “For instance, we have a vegan matcha snickerdoodle,” she says. “And we tried to make it gluten free, and it just didn’t taste right, so now it’s not gluten-free.”
And she injects global flavors into the menu with real abandon. Before we agreed to head out to EDK to interview Weiser, she sent over an assortment of desserts including a Raspberry Mousse with a coconut Thai basil ganache (above). The deep herbal kick of that ganache worked skillfully with the earthy tartness of the raspberry and it caught our attention without feeling like a gimmick. It’s a new way to present a classic dessert, and it works. All of EDK’s desserts manage to be pleasingly sweet without being syrupy or excessive, and many of them take unexpected twists. “We have an anise-rhubarb custard ice cream pie that’s vegan and gluten free,” says Weiser. “And I have a new one that’s strawberry with lime leaf and shiso. Somebody could interpret that dessert as strawberry shortcake, but it’s not really.”
The strawberry dish – which, fittingly, looks like a bigass fancy strawberry – includes a sesame sable cookie beneath a strawberry and sesame seed chocolate-enrobed ladyfinger with lime leaf shiso strawberry cream, shiso syrup, and lime leaf shiso compote.
The whole thing is surprisingly understated, with lime leaf, shiso, and strawberry all working quietly together to present a flavor that is like eating a strawberry out in the field in summer – bright, deep, earthy, and herbal, all at once, a taste of the whole strawberry accented by the crunch of sesame seeds, wrapped up in a single cute-looking package.
After all is said and done, Weiser cites a surprising source of her strength as a dessert chef: “I’m not a dessert person. I call it ‘dessert for adults,’ because I feel like there are so many places where everything is sweet sweet sweet. I think my experience as a line cook has helped me have a balanced palate.”
Edwards Dessert Kitchen, 200 Washington Avenue North, Minneapolis, 612.800.0335, THU-FRI 4-10pm, SAT-SUN 12-10pm, MON-WED CLOSED