Hello, dessert people of the world! How’ve you been? Fabulous and enjoying autumn, I hope. I’ve been swamped with all kinds of work projects (definitely a very good problem!), but my favorite part of this and every week is previewing our latest episode and cooking up the insider scoop I think you’d find most interesting. As always, I welcome your comments as to whether I’m doing so.
Let’s dig right in, starting with our esteemed guest judge, Sherry Yard. Sherry is one of the most serious forces in pastry, actually, in food, in the country, as the executive pastry chef of Wolfgang Puck’s extensive empire. She not only has a depth and breadth of tactical knowledge that could fill 12 encyclopedias. She is one of the sweetest, most engaging, and most fun people I’ve ever met. She had us in stitches on the set. One of the things I found most impressive is the way Sherry delivers information and teaches. She knows exactly what went right or wrong in the execution of a dessert, but conveys it to you clearly, succinctly, and kindly. Did you notice how she let the chefs know in very concrete terms how she felt about their products, but with grace and a smile? As she critiqued, she taught and encouraged. That’s the way to be.
Now, the Elimination Challenge. I bet I know what you’re thinking. “It’s Top Chef, not Top Fashion Designer. Why did pastry chefs and bakers have to make dresses?” I hear you. First let me tell you that as an editor at DailyCandy, I love fashion and have written a lot about it over the years, so I was definitely excited about the nature of the challenge. It was visual, it was sensual, it was over-the-top (all important attributes of good desserts, by the way), and it tested the chefs on an entirely different set of skills. As for the very natural concern of whether looks or taste were more important in judging, I can wholeheartedly assure you that although the visuals of the edible fashion got a lot of air time (and why wouldn’t they, they were gorgeous), the judging really came down to who worked the hardest as a pastry chef, and to the flavors of the petits fours. What we tasted made the biggest impression. If someone had hand-sewn an elaborate frock and spent hours embroidering it with scallions, but didn’t incorporate some serious dessert elements, they would not have been successful in our eyes.
A good proof of this is Heather H. In my mind, her edible fashion, or wearable dessert, was the most exquisite. It was simply gorgeous. The suppleness of her draped chocolate was beyond belief. The colors she used, and the fine detail and careful technique made it shine above the rest. However, her lemon curd macaron was nowhere near as tasty as Morgan’s, and her almond cake with passion fruit caviar brooch lacked flavor. Morgan’s petits fours tasted the best, and his hot little black dress fit the parameters of the challenge well because it not only looked like something you’d want to wear, it was a showcase for his talent in the pastry arts… and that was the most important thing any of them could have highlighted in how they chose to design their dresses.
Heather C.'s departure was expected. She seemed confused most of the time. However, Danielle's confections were also lacking. Her dress was a mess. It looked worse than Heather's. I think they both should have been shown the gate.
Thanks. It did seem to me that the chefs in the previous two challenges -- who focused too much on a showpiece or on the dress -- were at a disadvantage if they didn't focus on the flavors of their desserts. However, if that is the case, it seems like it's almost a distraction to include a showpiece or a dress.
Thanks for acknowledging that.
Also, I know on regular Top Chef, it seems like a lot of the time, the cheftestants are able to ignore the rules or the spirit of the challenge to some degree and as long as their food tastes good, make it through to the next round (e.g., amuse-bouche anyone?). Honestly, sometimes they even win (e.g., Ariane winning for her one-pot holiday meal quickfire a couple seasons ago when all she did was use a pot to cook something, wash the pot and then use the same pot to cook something else -- not really a one-pot meal in the spirit of the challenge, but she won annoyingly). So, I'm glad that TC: JD is holding the chefs to the requirements and spirit of the challenges.