The lava cake goes viral
Moving to Restaurant Lafayette in 1987, Vongerichten, then 30, was making 500 moist chocolate cupcakes from his mother's recipe for a private party, but amateurishly failed to adjust for putting that many cakes in an oven, which significantly decreases the temperature.
"After we served them, the maitre d' came running to me shouting that the cake was not cooked," Vongerichten recalls in a phone interview. "So I cracked open an extra cake and sure enough, it was oozing in the middle. I couldn't believe I had just served raw cake!" But at the end of the night, he was invited into the party for a standing ovation. The Chocolate Valrhona Cake, named after the chocolate Vongerichten used, became a permanent fixture on the dessert menu the next day.
At just four ingredients, Vongerichten's recipe is one of simplicity. While Bras' temperamental coulant involves combining components at multiple temperatures, Vongerichten's only requires melting butter and chocolate together, combining that mixture with egg yolks beaten with sugar, and baking it off in the oven until the outside is cooked but the center is still a bit raw. As Yard told me recently, "One cake is like a triple Salchow with a twist, and one is more of a simple somersault." Both cakes are incredibly good, but Vongerichten's is more easily understood. Always paired with ice cream, his was the dessert that kicked off America's obsession.