“The first thing most people do when they see one of my desserts is ask if it’s really to eat,” says Tarciani Harger, the pastry chef at Soby’s New South Cuisine in Greenville, South Carolina. From fanciful trees made of chocolate to orange cake bird nests to edible terrariums, Harger’s creations draw on the theme of the occasion, personal inspiration, and, often, the foodways of her home country of Brazil.
“I’m a fashion designer by training, and I like to bring that to pastries,” she says. After attending university, Harger opened three retail stores and designed her own clothing in Brazil, and baking was her constant hobby. After she and her husband moved to the United States in 2016, she found herself baking more and more for church events. Less than two years ago, she landed a job with Soby’s as a back sauté cook, and it wasn’t long before executive chef Shaun Garcia promoted her to pastry chef, where her creativity shines.
Each dessert begins with a brainstorm, then with a drawing on paper that recalls her days designing dresses. “I always ask myself how I can surprise people, first on the eyes, and then on the palate,” Harger says. “If I’m creating something for a special event, I research and find elements that tell a story.” For Harger, every day in the kitchen is a gift. “This is my passion; I am living my dream,” she says. “And it makes me so happy to think that I am helping commemorate a birthday or an anniversary, and making a night special for the people who eat here.”
Here, Harger walks us through a few of her creations.
For a special event, the executive chef asked Harger to deconstruct Soby’s beloved white chocolate banana cream pie, which has been on the menu since 1997. “Normally, I don’t touch this recipe,” Harger says. “But this time, I got to put my face on it.” To make the tree, she piped white chocolate into an ice bath by hand—it took her five hours to make twenty—and added a banana brulée topped with fresh banana on the side.
This pinecone—actually a chocolate cake layered with caramel and hazelnut—is an homage to Harger’s adopted city of Greenville. “I love to run on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, and I wanted people to think of our city and its greenery and pine trees when they see this dish.” Crumbled chocolate represents the soil, pistachio the moss, and a warm river of chocolate sauce surrounds the scene.
“In Brazil, our desserts aren’t all just pure sugar,” Harger shares. “I am always looking to mix textures, balance sugar with acidity, so that when you put it in your mouth, there’s a response.” For this edible terrarium, a creamy chocolate mousse sits below spots of passionfruit gel, pistachio sponge cake, toffee, and tiny flowers. “I call this one Sweet Greenville. It’s inspired by the city in springtime.”
“This dessert is for my mother,” Harger says. “When I decided I wanted to make an orange cake, I thought of her because it’s one of her favorite types of cake.” The design mimics a bird’s nest (“because I am my mother’s little bird”), complete with a petite chocolate branch dabbed with orange cream.
Harger created this martini truffle drink turned dessert for a special event, using a dark chocolate cup to hold a brigadeiro—a Brazilian confection traditionally made with condensed milk, butter, and cocoa powder. Harger fills her version with a martini cream and a crumbled pistachio coating. “I love to add a touch of my culture whenever I can,” Harger says.
Made for another private event, Harger created a scene of a camping trip to honor the host, an avid outdoorswoman and camper. “I love to represent someone’s story. I wanted to put all the elements of a camping trip—the tent, the leaves, the flowers you see.” When you cut into the “tent,” it’s filled with chocolate, and the leaf provides crunch.