Chocolate molten cake with sea salt and pistachios and vanilla crème brulee made with Madagascar vanilla beans may sound like avant-garde desserts served in an upscale restaurant, but both sell for five dollars out of a truck parked on St. Mark’s Place. The DessertTruck is the brainchild of former Le Cirque pastry sous chef, Jerome Chang, who graduated from The French Culinary Institute. Chang creates restaurant-style sweets that have earned the attention of publications, like Food & Wine as well as the New York Times. With summer in full swing, Jerome helps customers cool off with a chilled milk chocolate and peanut butter mousse topped with caramel popcorn as well as a more unusual concoction of coconut tapioca with pineapple, cilantro “pearls,” and mojito granita.
I am in a committed relationship with a beautiful chocolatier.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
First, I don’t think I’ve grown up yet (believe me, I’m trying to), and up until I decided to enroll at FCI several years ago, I had no clue what I wanted to be. I ended up practicing law for one year so I guess I was like a drifter in a suit for a while.
What was your first job in food?
My very first job was a very brief stint in the pastry kitchen of The River Café but I left in order to learn under my mentor, Michael Zebrowski, at the Westin Governor Morris.
What inspired you to create the concept of gourmet desserts from a truck?
Chris Chen, co-founder of DessertTruck, and I really got a kick out of discovering amazing food on the streets of Taiwan so we were always kicking around ideas for great street food in NYC ranging from yakitori to burgers to papaya milkshakes. But the idea that really stuck was having a truck sell top-notch desserts. It didn’t hurt that I knew something about pastry. Additionally, we were and continue to be very passionate about changing the notion that cheap desserts only include brownies, cookies and sundaes.
The truck used to be parked on University Place and 8th Street. What inspired the move to St. Mark’s Place?
Once the NYU summer session began, there wasn’t enough foot traffic at the old location, and some complained that it was too far from the subway, too far removed from the bars or too difficult to find. We came to agree – it’s a bit of a no-man’s land over there…not quite West Village, not quite East Village.
Your most popular desserts are the warm chocolate bread pudding and the molten chocolate cake. What have you added with the advent of summer?
We’ve included two homemade sodas, rhubarb and spiced pineapple. We’ve also included a pavlova with fresh berries and thyme pastry cream, rhubarb soup with crème fraiche, goat cheese cake with rosemary caramel, a chilled and crunchy dark chocolate parfait with cocoa nibs. Some of those items are already off the menu since we’re always trying new things. We only have three staples: chocolate bread pudding, molten chocolate cake, and crème brulee.
You use “econtainers” for many of your desserts – are there any other eco-friendly aspects to Dessert Truck?
We take the steps that most restaurants take to be eco-friendly – recycling and minimizing waste are the biggest ones.
What are the pros and cons to working out of a truck as opposed to a small restaurant?…
The pros: lower start up costs; being able to move; many find a charm in buying something from a truck; lower overhead so we can pass the savings on to you!
The cons: exposure to the weather (it’s usually too hot or too cold); having the truck humiliate and punish us for our lack of mechanical know-how; being cramped; having to drive in New York traffic to get to work; limitations in kitchen-equipment
You employ everything from rosemary to cilantro to bacon in your savory-sweet desserts. Where do you get inspiration?
Like many chefs, my inspiration comes from everywhere; it can be from nostalgia, chatting with friends, walking through a market, or from the repetition of making a certain food. Specifically for the goat cheese cake, I was inspired to create that recipe after a goat cheese tasting at Murray’s Cheese. I know that goat cheese either inspires love or hate, but I happen to love it and rosemary and goat cheese is a near miraculous combination. The brightness of goat cheese, and the floral-lightness of the rosemary caramel naturally invited thoughts of summer.
If you could have dessert at any restaurant other than in your truck (of course,) where would you go?
It’s not a restaurant, but I’m fanatical about Christopher Elbow chocolates.
There are many dessert-themed trucks in New York City – how do you differentiate yourself and are you feeling any pressure to stay on top now that you were awarded Best Mobile Food by Time Out New York? As far as I know, we’re still the only truck serving restaurant-style desserts. People seem to understand who we are and what we do. It just takes a glance at the menus of the new food trucks to see how we’re all very different from each other. We always feel pressure to put out a consistent and high-quality product everyday and that pressure is self-imposed. The pride and pressure is there regardless of whether we win accolades or not.
Address: St. Marks Place (Eighth Street, at Third Avenue)
Until we eat again,
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