Best of Phoenix

Flavor Maven

First sin of the day: scarfing down a buttery, sugary brownie, laced with cherries and topped with thick, homemade pistachio ice cream. Before 9 a.m. The early morning binge is made possible by Tracey Dempsey, the mastermind behind the occasionally offbeat, always decadent dessert menu at three of Scottsdale's favorite restaurants: Cowboy Ciao, Kazimierz Wine Bar, and Sea Saw. At work every day by 6 a.m. (hey, we said gluttony, not sloth), Dempsey and her team of pastry chefs churn out everything from ice cream and cookies to more adventurous enders like Sea Saw's green-tea-flavored cheesecake. Don't be fooled by her honest face and charming Midwestern demeanor -- if given the time, this woman could put you into cardiac arrest, and she'd love to get dessert listed first on every menu. She'll yank your favorite comfort sweets out from under you, for your palate's own good, and hit you upside the head with something so odd you just can't resist. Consider this: She's been known to spike the ice cream with bacon.

The Proof's in the Pudding
When I first came here, the bread pudding had been here since the beginning. It was a big deal to change the bread pudding, but that was one of the first things I did. I teach a cooking class at Sweet Basil, and I would hear my students complain about it. First I changed it to blueberry, then to apples and ancho chiles. Now it's dry pineapples and coconut. And I'm gonna change it again.

It's All About Her (Kind Of)
I focus on flavors I like. It's selfish, but most desserts on the menu reflect what I like. I'm really into citrus and vanilla. I like to play on the creamsicle. I focus on that and make something where people eat it and it tastes familiar and all these childhood memories come back. When I first started, it was really exciting, the creative freedom. I have toned it down because I have to remember it's not about me, it's about the guests.

Good Sin
My most decadent dessert is Tracey's Brownie Blast. It's a toffee crust, a really dense brownie that's equal parts butter and flour, brandy-soaked cherries, sour cherries and dry cherries, with a cream cheese swirl on top. Then we gild the lily with white chocolate pistachio ice cream, which is all kinds of cream and fat.

Adventures in Ice Cream
My husband and I were talking one day about wouldn't it be fun to put meat in dessert. But how? Bacon brittle seemed natural because when you toast pecans, to me, they taste like bacon. It was essentially a peanut brittle with bacon and pecans. I had extra bacon left over, so I thought, "Why not throw it into my ice cream base?" [Another time] I did a celery root ice cream that ran with a peanut butter cake and had raisins sprinkled on the plate. Remember that snack ants on a log? It was a take on that. That didn't go over well. I don't think it made it past the wait staff.

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Megan Irwin
Contact: Megan Irwin