These Spicy Chengdu Churros Are the Dessert Mashup You Didn’t Know You Needed
Louis Tikaram, the Aussie-born executive chef at West Hollywood’s buzzing E.P. & L.P., is known for his bold flavor mashups. Tikaram, who has Fijian, Indian and Chinese roots, serves food that’s influenced by his heritage, travels and meals he’s eaten in the Los Angeles area, from truck tacos to San Gabriel Valley dim sum.
At E.P. & L.P., Tikaram serves globally-minded dishes like Baja Kampachi sashimi with pickled fennel and turmeric and coconut curry with clams and soft-shell crab. Dessert, though, is where Tikaram has the most fun. When he makes savory dishes, he thinks more about “specific regions or flavors.” After all, when you serve something like dan dan noodles, you’re at least committing to using noodles and pork. But the way Tikaram sees it, he and his staff—none of whom are trained pastry chefs—get a blank canvas when they create sweets.
One of E.P. & L.P.’s latest desserts is a crazy, deep-fried concoction that certainly doesn’t follow any rules: Chengdu Churros. Rather than taking the form of a long, thin handheld dessert, the mound of fried dough is circular and served in a bowl. Crispy on the outside and wonderfully airy on the inside, the massive churro cluster is topped with star anise sugar for an Asian kick. But it’s the fiery chocolate sauce that offers a jolt of the mouth-numbing mala that fans of Szechuan food love.
Tikaram and Zen Ong, a sous chef who works extensively on desserts when he’s not making curries, working the wok station or grilling, started with a traditional French-style milk chocolate ganache. They added Szechuan peppercorns and then melted everything into a sauce to pour over the churros.
The result is a sauce that softens the churros’ exterior and makes your mouth tingle without overwhelming you with spiciness.
“We like to do twists on classic desserts,” says Tikaram, who was playing around with the idea of a profiterole and the possibility of using Chilean chocolate before landing on a Mexican-Szechuan crossover. (He came up with the name while on a trip with his staff to the popular Szechuan restaurant Chengdu Taste.)
The chef, known for his untraditional techniques, loves that nobody on his team has pastry training.
“I really think that adds another level of dimension to our desserts because we think of the desserts like a savory course,” he says. “We’re serving Asian, family-style share plates.”
For this reason, Tikaram and Ong always make their desserts so that four or five people can have a bite with the same exact flavor combination.
One dessert they've served, a jelly-ice-foam-pineapple-melon dish that resembles a halo-halo, was inspired by a photo. They had seen a picture of a similar dish at Thai Town restaurant Ruen Pair, but it was sold out when they tried to order it a couple times. So, they reimagined the dessert without even tasting it.
Their current dessert menu includes the E.P. & J, which doesn’t have peanut butter but does have salted peanuts, roasted white chocolate and honeycomb with strawberry jelly.
“It’s cool and nice for customers to end with a little bit of fun, a lighthearted touch,” Tikaram says, adding that he’s amused when people try to classify what he’s doing.
“When I came to L.A., everyone wanted to have a title for what I was cooking,” he says. “’Are you cooking fusion? Are you cooking Pacific Rim?’ I was like, ‘What the fuck is Pacific Rim?’ It’s just modern Asian. Basically, whatever is tasty goes on the menu. It doesn’t matter if it’s Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian or even Mexican.”