Bravotv.com: Have you ever tasted Shinmin’s desserts? What is her reputation in the cake industry?
Shinmin Li is known as a true artist, and has a reputation throughout the cake world for precision, perfection, and brilliance. She works magic with her ingredients and like a sorceress, conjures them into stunning pieces you cannot believe are actually delicious cakes. I drool over her website, www.IDreamofCake.com, and marvel at the jade Buddha toasted almond cake, chocolate reproduction of a famous painting, and sugarwork shoes. Unbelievable stuff.
Bravotv.com: Why didn't anyone taste the edible bouquets?
The edible bouquet Quickfire was actually more about creating a visual masterpiece, a showpiece to delight guests as decoration at a wedding or party. Yes, the bouquets needed to be edible, but they were more a feast for the eyes. This tested the chefs’ ability as visual artists, which is a skill they’re often called upon to use for events.
Bravotv.com: Zac has soo many great one-liners. Is there one in particular that you remember?
Who can pick just one Zac-ism?? Would it be his description of Shinmin, “She may be pretty but that girl breathes fire!” Or, how about, “A flower blossoms at the disco!” I think maybe this week it was when he poured a gallon of melted butter into something and cooed, “Just a little bit of butter. Just a liiitle butter.”
Bravotv.com: Which arrangement would you have chosen to give to your husband?
I would have picked Yigit’s tropical roses and leaves. They were mysterious, romantic, and otherworldly. A lot of my husband’s favorite treasures are imperfect but character-filled pieces from our travels, and the exoticism and personality of Yigit’s piece would fit right in.
Bravotv.com: What went through your mind when Morgan accidentally broke Yigit’s sugar vase?
Some of Morgan’s comments throughout the season have driven me crazy, but I think in the case of the vase he actually felt terrible, and it was a total accident. I admired the way Yigit handled it, focusing on moving forward with his work rather than yelling, and I felt awful he had to do without the delicate, almost creature-like vases he’d envisioned.
Bravotv.com: What celebrity couple would YOU have picked? What dessert would you create?
I just watched, probably for at least the 34th time It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, so I am inspired to go with Charlie Brown and Lucy Van Pelt. Sure, they never actually got it together as a traditional couple, but come on, they’re eight, and they clearly love each other. What do you think all that football business is about? We only tease the boys we like.
So since Lucy is such a pain in the tush, I’d make mini-mini lemon meringue tartlets. They would be bite-sized, delicate, and ladylike enough for a tea party, but as tart as Lucy’s attitude, round, with light and flaky crusts (an homage to her flaky football-holding ways?) Our man Charlie Brown is always a little blue, and blueberries and lemon are a delicious combination, especially appropriate at a tea party, and I’d want my treats to complement each other perfectly. So for him I’d do a version of a honeyed yogurt and blueberry bar with a crumbly ginger crust I learned in Food & Wine magazine, in a shameless attempt to kiss up to Dana Cowin!Bravotv.com: What are your thoughts on the chefs not being allowed to use chocolate?
Having to work without chocolate made total sense in this challenge, because you don’t usually find it as an ingredient in many tea party treats, and by the eighth Elimination Challenge, of course there had to be a twist. Chocolate can be seen as a crutch for some of the chefs. Doing without forced them to adapt on the fly, which is a hugely important skill when working in a restaurant kitchen or with picky clients.
Bravotv.com: Yigit seemed beyond overwhelmed when he presented his desserts to the judges. Were you surprised that he underperformed in this episode?
Poor Yigit really fell apart this week. One of the hardest things about being a judge is having to focus on the dessert in front of you and put aside your thoughts about how talented the person might be in general if they give you something subpar that day. We’ve seen so much good work from Yigit, and he’s usually so composed and relatively calm, that seeing him walk out covered in food and clearly upset about what he’d made was surprising, but then again, he’s only human, and it’s a really, really tough competition, so of course it wears on everyone eventually.
Bravotv.com: How are Dana and Shinmin’s judging styles different? What insights did they bring to the Judges’ Table?
Watching this episode instantly took me back to the day of the celebri-tea party and how very, very much fun it was. The space was curated by this really talented, quirky artist, and felt like something out of Alice in Wonderland. I want to throw another party there! It really set the mood.
Dana and Shinmin each have such lovely, effervescent spirits, and extremely warm personalities, so I think it sometimes surprises people how meticulous and tough they are when they get down to the business of food. Dana has taught me that you should be able to get everything you need to judge a plate in one perfect bite. That she wanted more of Morgan’s citrus macarons said a lot! Shinmin knows firsthand what is possible in the pastry arts when care, precision and extreme creativity come together, so she could put herself in the chefs’ shoes in evaluating their treats and considering whether they’d used the time wisely. We all talked a lot about each and every morsel the chefs presented, and both Shinmin and Dana were fair, firm, and focused.
Bravotv.com: It seemed like the Judges didn’t love Danielle’s dessert when they tasted it, but she still was in the top three. Was there more to it that the viewers didn’t see?
When we film each episode, there are of course always hours and hours of conversation that the viewers don’t see, which for the most part is a really good thing, because no one would ever want to watch a 22-hour episode! We discussed Danielle’s strawberry layer cake and “sidekick” cookies in painstaking detail, and each judge was very honest in his or her critique. There were pros and cons to that Conan cake. The kick of jalapeño was pretty well-balanced by the sweet strawberry jam and moist cake layers, and the cookie was really yummy, even if the icing wasn’t necessarily the perfect match. When it came down to it, Danielle followed the parameters of the challenge we presented very well and had great ideas.Bravotv.com: Of the top three desserts, which did you like the best? Were there any aspects of the two that didn’t win which you found especially appetizing?
I liked Zac’s Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards concoctions best, especially because they were each delicious on their own, but even better stacked and eaten together. That was a smart approach to a “duo” challenge. He really embraced the task on so many different levels. His flavors rocked: The grapefruit flavor in his pavlova was so refreshing and sparkly, and the crunch of the Cap’n Crunch perfectly contrasted the cheesecake’s creaminess. They looked like exactly what you’d want to serve at a fancy tea party. Morgan’s Reggie-Bush-inspired almond sponge was incredible. Moist and just screaming with flavor.
Bravotv.com: Can you go into greater detail as to why Yigit and Eric were in the bottom? What was it in particular about their desserts that you didn’t like?
The two chefs on the bottom were the ones who had been set on using chocolate and couldn’t adapt … they let what should have been an annoying but surmountable surprise completely derail their efforts. They lost their confidence, and it snowballed throughout the day … they were tired, unsettled. and just beat down.
Eric was so flustered that he decided on two shortbreads, and he knew from the beginning that was a mistake, but didn’t turn back. So his choice of items was problematic, but if he had produced the most delicious, well-baked shortbreads, we might have overlooked that. As it turned out, the shortbreads weren’t very tasty. The apricot compote was awesome, but it couldn’t save his uneven baking and lackluster presentation. He knew going in that it wasn’t his best effort.
Yigit also worked and presented with the nagging knowledge that he wasn’t doing good work. His yogurt cake didn’t really taste like much, and the wiggly texture was pretty unappetizing.
Bravotv.com: Eric seemed really upset at Judges' Table. At this point in the competition, were they starting to feel the pressure?
We can’t understate the intensity of this competition. The chefs are living together, removed from the real world, barely sleeping, tested day in and day out, and eventually, that’s going to get to anyone. Eric worked perhaps harder than anyone to overcome not being a chef who works daily on plated desserts, and he was just worn out.
Bravotv.com: Were you sad to see Eric leave?
I was really, really sad to see Eric leave, and maybe I’m a total sap but I actually cried watching this episode when he shouted, “I’m a chef! I’m a chef!” He came so, so very far … he really did transform himself from “just a baker” to a pastry chef, and that journey was awesome to behold.