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Culinary creativity on full display at Girl Scouts' Dessert First event

Jake Yergensen isn't your typical pastry chef.

Oh sure, he can whip up dozens of loaves of banana bread or miniature key lime pies in the kitchen at the Don Cesar Hotel without so much as glancing at the recipe. But the typical fare – while inviting and tasty – isn't really where he shines.

Get the New Tampa resident to talking about the upcoming Dessert First event — the annual fundraiser for the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida — and you'll get a peek at Yergensen's wild side.

Take, for instance, his first entry for the 2015 contest: (which requires participating chefs to create unique desserts with Girl Scout cookies) a Samoa-flavored popsicle with a Thin Mint-flavored jelly.

"I thought it was in the bag," he said during a recent interview in the lobby of the historic hotel. "Everybody said it was good."

Good, yes, but not a strong enough showing to win the night's top prize, the Golden Whisk.

The dessert — think strawberry crunch Good Humor bars with a dipping jelly — may have been too much of a headscratcher for patrons.

Humbled, Yergensen decided last year that he'd go back to basics and choose a classic combination of flavors for his entry, peanut butter and chocolate. It proved to be the right move.

The Peanut Butter Crunch Bar — a decadent blend of Do-Si-Do crust with a Tagalong-flavored mousse atop a raspberry glaze, a la PBJ — knocked judges off their rockers and made them name Yergensen king of desserts.

Next week, Yergensen will return to defend his crown at Dessert First, which takes place at the Tampa Airport Marriott. Can he pull off another win?

Yergensen, who attended culinary school in Oregon and has worked in top kitchens in New York City, Los Angeles, and the Bahamas before coming to Florida, said he's going to do his best.

"This year, I said, 'Let me challenge myself,'" he said. "I like to do more fun stuff."

That means using ingredients and whipping out techniques that may be a bit outlandish for making desserts.

Liquid nitrogen? Check.

A meringue that tastes like his favorite Girl Scout cookie, Samoas? Check.

Raspberry caviar? Check.

Wait – caviar?

Yep. In short, it's a puree of the fruit with grapeseed oil that, through the manipulation of temperatures and textures, results in droplets that mimic fish eggs.

Yergensen's entry will be another crunch bar, but featured a Thin Mint-flavored pudding poured into a chocolate shell made of crushed Thin Mint cookies and garnished with the berry caviar.

There's no recipe; it's purely a product of Yergensen's creativity, years of training and practice, and – again – using a classic flavor combination.

"I come up with the idea with my camp first and then go from there," he said. "The only hard part is tempering the egg yolk."

On Friday, 200 or so lucky supporters will get the chance to sample Yergensen's sweet treat while helping the council provide programming for about 20,000 young women in an eight-county region, said Jessica Muroff, the council's chief executive officer.

Last year's event raised about $80,000 that funded camping trips and other experiences that help build girls' socialization and leadership skills, Muroff said.

But Girl Scouts is more than camping and badges; it also offers girls career exploration and introduces them to different hobbies, she said.

Yergensen and other chefs participating in Dessert First help ensure the council can continue its mission.

"It's a special night to celebrate Girl Scouts … with our iconic cookies," she said.

Contact Kenya Woodard at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

IF YOU GO

Dessert First

The Girl Scouts of West Central Florida stage its annual Dessert First fundraiser at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 17 at the Tampa Airport Marriott, 5200 George J. Bean Parkway. Tampa Bay chefs craft one-of-a-kind desserts with Girl Scout Cookies. The evening also will feature cocktails, buffet dinner and silent and live auction items. Individual tickets are $125. For more information, visit gswcf.org/en/events/dessert-first.html.

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