Marcel Desaulniers is neither French (born to French Canadian parents in Woonsocket, R.I.) nor a pastry chef (he says when he studied at the Culinary Institute of America, the only thing he liked about pastry class was the dough fights).
He and Donald Mack, his pastry chef at the time, created Death by Chocolate ("a dessert, not a cake") in 1982, after being inspired by a recipe printed in Gourmet magazine called "Dying for Chocolate." His own title came before the recipe was created. The dessert was an immediate hit at Trellis, his restaurant in Williamsburg. He served it several times a week and then discovered that people were specifically reserving tables on the nights when it would be served.
In 1992, when the "Death by Chocolate" cookbook came out, Trellis started serving the spectacular dessert every day, lunch and dinner. Desaulniers says now "it is the tail that wags the dog" at the restaurant and that "it is not pretty when we run out." To avoid that, the restaurant assembles 10 to 16 "Death by Chocolates" every day.
The dessert is so rich that you can get 20 thin slices out of it. To make a more dramatic presentation "like a battleship," Desaulniers slices just 10 magnificent servings out of each dessert (a bargain at $6.75 a slice; the ingredients alone set me back more than $100).
Oh, by the way, each assembled dessert weighs 10 pounds -- and that's without the pan or the sauce -- 1 pound per serving.
When I called him to ask about my troubles on making it, he was amused. He says out of all his cookbooks and recipes, this is the one he gets the fewest questions about: "I don't think that many people have made it over the years."
-- Peggy Girshman