The dessert menu at Chef Kwame Onwuachi’s Kith & Kin offers some approachable options for a sweet finish, such as a tropical fruit parfait and a hot chocolate rum cake with caramel ice cream. Less expected is a dish named for the habanero pepper, a vegetable best known for adding some serious heat to cooking.
Devouring a plate of mouth-scorching hot peppers for dessert sounds more like a dare cooked up by the hotel staff than a dish most guests would jump to order after a meal. There’s no reason to be skittish here though, as this twist on habaneros come with all the flavor and none of the heat. In fact, they’re not whole peppers at all.
Kith & Kin sources its habanero peppers from a farm in Ohio, which produces a strain of the peppers without capsaicin, leaving only their fruit-forward profile. Onwuachi, who credits his pastry chef Michael Brown with turning the dish into reality, knew he wanted to incorporate the pepper into his cooking at Kith & Kin, which is built around his family heritage and his upbringing with food.
“The habanero pepper, or scotch bonnet pepper, is such a significant ingredient in Caribbean and African cooking so I wanted to do something to honor that,” Onwuachi says.
To create the final dessert, the habanero peppers are first cooked down to a paste that is then pureed. White grape is then added to the pepper puree to create a mousse.
“We pipe this habanero mousse into habanero molds, place a small dot of the habanero fluid gel into the center and then freeze them," Onwuachi says.
Once they molds are frozen, they get a white chocolate glaze and are placed atop an elderflower and saduchi (a small Japanese citrus) “snow.” The final product looks like a stuffed version of any habanero pepper you’d find in a grocery store produce aisle. Chef also recommends resisting the urge to pop them by hand, suggesting that a spoon is the way to go. They make for a cool, refreshing, and fruity bite that’s not too heavy or too sweet.
As might be expected, it’s hard to shake the reputation of the habanero not being for the faint of heart. Those who take the leap though are rewarded.
“Customers are usually afraid to try it,” Onwuachi says. “But once they get into it they are pleasantly surprised. It’s refreshing and light.”