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It’s amazing how many restaurants and even diners treat dessert as an afterthought. It should be the coda of a meal, and to stretch the musical comparison further, a symphony of notes and textures, as Mark Welker, Executive Pastry Chef for the Make It Nice group (Eleven Madison Park, the NoMad), explains.
“[The perfect dessert] is one that’s not too sweet. It has to have balance: sweet, salty, sour; and I like textures a lot. It’s got to have a crunch, some bite to it ... hot and cold together,” he says.
We meet at the Identita Golose 2017 food conference in Milan, several weeks prior to EMP's win at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017. At the time he’s coy about their chances – “No matter what happens, we’re focusing on just being the best restaurant that we can be” – but he knows that they’re in a better place than ever, especially pastry.
Above: Milk and Honey, a version of which is also on the menu at Eleven Madison Park
"When I first got there we were trying to find our voice and a lot of it was, what's the latest technique? So our desserts would change and there were some that had 13 components on the plate, and two people plating with tweezers, and all these fluid gels and weird techniques. And then the next dessert would be a simple chocolate dessert, glazed in a glasage, with a chocolate twirl and gold leaf. Two totally different things; they were all delicious, but it just didn’t make sense.”
The four fundamentals by which all EMP dishes have to adhere to now – beauty, deliciousness, creativity and intention – can be seen in signature Welker desserts, such as his Milk and Honey, which consists of dehydrated milk foam, shortbread with honey, and buckwheat, finished with salt (all EMP desserts are finished with salt). But you won’t find a glut of science equipment in Welker’s section.
"Molecular gastronomy just isn’t delicious,” he says. “You’re making food based off the techniques rather than using the techniques that you learned during that time to elevate a classic dish – that's what we do."
"We like to think of a meal as a cohesive experience,” he continues, “there are ups and downs, but there are also book ends – we start with a black and white cookie and we end with a pretzel. We want the dessert to be just as important as your appetiser. So I’m very fortunate to work in a restaurant that views it that way, but I know there are a lot of restaurants out there that aren’t the same way.”
@markwelker, the Willy Wonkian, joy-providing, sugar genius of both #elevenmadisonpark and #thenomad. A true child at heart, this man begins his day before sunrise in order for thousands of guests to end their evenings with the most magnificent, memorable sweets. That final bite -- he owns it. His intense work ethic, boundless creativity, and marvelously bright charisma are infectious. It is absolutes impossible not to admire his loyalty to the craft and especially to his team. I respect his ability to always see the "YES, I can do that" in everything. He is an imagination giant. He is a leader. He's a teacher. He's family. So happy to be on this journey with you brother! #makeitnice