When Marcel Desaulniers appears at the Baltimore Book Festival this weekend, it will be a first for him. "I've done a lot of cookbook things, but never a book fair per se," said the executive chef at the noted Trellis Restaurant at Colonial Williamsburg.
However, expect Desaulniers to have a ready audience for his demonstration of rocky road fudge, for the man who might be called the Chief of Chocolate has attracted an avid following for his recent dessert cookbooks, "Death by Chocolate," "Desserts to Die For," and the new "An Alphabet of Sweets." In fact, so ingrained is the connection between Desaulniers and dessert that it has changed the way he operates at the 16-year-old restaurant.
So many people are coming in wanting just dessert that he has opened a dessert-to-go kiosk at the front of the restaurant, and he's negotiating with his landlord for more space to open a
Desaulniers, whose first book was "The Trellis Cookbook," will be just one of the cookbook authors appearing at the "Food for Thought" portion of the book festival this Saturday and Sunday. Others include Nancy Baggett of Columbia ("100 Percent Pleasure," with Ruth Glick); Marlene Sorosky, of California ("Entertaining on the Run") and Baltimore native John Shields ("The Chesapeake Bay Cookbook"). They'll be signing books and demonstrating some of their recipes. (See accompanying box for list and schedule.)
There was no question about including a cookbook segment in the event, said Rob Hennessy, public relations and marketing assistant in the Baltimore Office of Promotions. "If you walk into a bookstore, one of the largest sections is cookbooks. We wanted to appeal to everybody -- a broad range of segments -- and cooking was one of the most popular ones."
When the committee planning the cookbook segment of the festival got together, they drew up a short list of the region's best and most noted chefs, Hennessy said. "They chose Marcel and he accepted. He has an international reputation, he's a great addition to our festival."
Nancy Baggett, author of "Dream Desserts" and "The International Cookie Cookbook," among others, and occasional rival, said Desaulniers is notable for the popularity of his cookbooks. "He's fun," she said. "A nice guy. And much more down-to-earth than his name would imply."
Desserts that Trellis diners have been lining up for include death by chocolate, a stunning concoction of cocoa meringue, chocolate mousse, chocolate brownie, chocolate ganache mocha mousse and mocha rum sauce ("Death by Chocolate," Rizzoli, 1992, $29.95); fallen angel cake with golden halos and sinful cream ("Desserts to Die For," Simon & Schuster, 1995, $30); and caramel peanut chocolate chunk ice cream ("An Alphabet of Sweets" (Rizzoli, $15.95).
Desaulniers credits his mother's brittles and fudges for creating in him a lifelong passion for chocolate in all its forms, a passion that lasted from his early days in Rhode Island, through his days at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. (he graduated in 1965) and to his stints as a hotel chef in New York. Although the chocolate passion was temporarily replaced by the desire to stay alive during his tour as a Marine in Vietnam, it was rekindled when he went to the Trellis, where, he writes in the introduction to "Death by Chocolate," he "enlisted the pastry chefs to create some devastating concoctions from chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate."
Diners, he says, began to time their reservations to the appearance on the dessert menu of death by chocolate. His career as the Guardian of Ganache was launched.
Along the way, Desaulniers has won a James Beard Award (1993, for best chef, mid-Atlantic region), a Julia Child Award (1995, for "Desserts to Die For" in the best cookbook, baking, category) and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Culinary Institute of America (1996; he delivered the commencement address to, among other graduates, his daughter Danielle).
The deep desire for dessert is one of two trends Desaulniers currently sees occurring in the restaurant industry: There's "the indulgence thing" and the "good for you thing."
"People are eating desserts a lot more," he said. "Somebody asked me, is it because of the millennium?" And he laughs. "That would be a great thing for restaurateurs -- 'Let's party now.' "
But he sees it more as a function of expectation. "People who come to a restaurant like the Trellis have certain expectations," he said. "They perceive it as an occasion, and they want dessert."
At the same time, he said, "People want to choose what's good for them, but they're going out to eat." One reflection of that trend is the number of vegetarian choices on his menus: 8 to 10 percent at dinner, and as much as 20 to 30 percent at lunch.
One thing Desaulniers is trying to stick to, however, is the restaurant's tradition of regional cuisine.