When Tarciani Harger talks about food, passion shines in the dark eyes of the bubbly Brazilian-born chef. Her natural creativity led her to earn a degree in fashion design and subsequently open three different retail stores in Brazil—including one that carried coats that she designed—“but always the food talked to me,” she says. Back in Brazil, encouraged by her husband, she took a class in pastry arts and launched a side hustle called Frozen Chef, making frozen sweets and snacks. “For me, food and fashion are connected,” shares the petite pastry chef, who before she devises a dessert, asks herself, “What is the crazy thing I can put in this dish to surprise people?” Surprise is the name of the game when Tarci (as she’s known) is in the kitchen.
As she would if she were designing a dress, the chef first sketches out her dessert ideas on paper. The finished products are luscious showpieces, often inspired by nature. “I love to run on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, and when I run, I get inspired to put natural elements and colors in the dish,” she explains. Recent examples of her work include a chocolate “terrarium,” and a deconstructed version of Soby’s signature banana cream pie, complete with a white chocolate tree rising from the plate.
When she started at Table 301 a year and a half ago, Tarciani worked as a back sauté cook, but Executive Chef Shaun Garcia recognized her talent for the final course and recently promoted her to pastry chef, responsible for crafting confections for Soby’s, Soby’s Loft, and special Table 301 events.
“I put my heart, my soul, my joy into my food,” declares Tarci, who loves nothing better than delighting diners with her desserts. Her face lights up as she adds, “And I always have a smile in my pocket.”
A few of Chef Tarci’s favorite desserts:
Diplomate Mousse Pine Cone Cake
Layers of chocolate cake, gooey caramel, and hazelnut crunch reveal themselves when you cut into this chocolate pine cone.
Crumbled chocolate “soil,” pistachio “moss,” and a warm chocolate sauce complete Tarci’s favorite dessert on the spring menu. “This is the most fun to make,” she says of the labor-intensive cake.
“It’s my style: it uses lots of techniques, and it’s crazy.”
Pretty in pink, the lofty cylinder of strawberry semifreddo is capped with a seasonal local berry compote and finished with an English toffee crumble. The chef created this gluten-free recipe when she was living in Orlando, where it won first place in an annual dessert contest.
Brûléed Coconut Cobbler
Tropical flavors play well together in Tarci’s take on a Southern cobbler, which is based on a recipe from her late grandmother. A sprinkling of toasted coconut chips and a scoop of house-made pineapple ice cream garnish a moist layer of cake studded with coconut flakes and covered with a crunchy brûléed top.
Photography by Paul Mehaffey