So for this inaugural season of Top Chef: Just Desserts, I have been asked by Team Top Chef to take a slightly different role in my blogging responsibilities. Instead of a traditional recap and explanation of the challenges I will help open the door to the clandestine world of pastry. I will help explain the challenges a bit if they have some sort of additional significance to a pastry chef, as well help give a few definitions of some of the more remote and bewildering terms used during the season. I also will help give a little background into some of the chef judges over the course of the season. With that being said, lets get this party started with our head judge himself.
Johnny Iuzzini, realistically is one of the top ten most important and relevant pastry chefs in the world today. His career has been studded by the “Who’s Who” of the New York pastry world. With stints early on in his career under such giants as Eric Gouteyron at the legendary River Café in Brooklyn and Francois Payard at both Restaurant Daniel and his eponymous store in Manhattan. With this experience in addition to his Culinary Institute of America diploma, he had all the building blocks needed to be successful at a high level. He was then given the opportunity to be the Executive Pastry Chef at the world renown Restaurant Daniel. He then moved to the now Michelin three-star Jean-Georges where he still is today. In his time there he has sculpted a unique style, integrating modern technique with classic sensibility. He is a true scholar of the world of pastry and it shows, that in addition to having himself in the mix of forward thinking desserts, he is a perfect fit for the head judge on Just Desserts.
With regards to some terminology used, there were a few specifics from the first two weeks brought to my attention that could use a little clarification.
First off is “Cremeux.” Due to the fact that there are several spellings of the term it can become confusing but with the original spelling it comes with a literal translation from French to the word creamy. While there are many ways to garnish and flavor the item it should essentially have the components of eggs, cream, and sugar. It can be cooked in a water bath, think an un-browned cream brulee, or it can be cooked in a pan and chilled in a mold or form. It is then served cold. Over all it has a smooth rich consistency. So far the chefs have been using it as fillings and garnishes for main components on dishes.
The next two can be kind of lumped together for this application. We have “Agar-Agar” and “Carrageenan.” These are both food additives, often in the form of easy-to-use powders known as hydrocolloids, which are derived from seaweeds. They have similar properties in that they cause a gelling effect. One of the most interesting behaviors of agar-agar is that its melts at a higher temperature than traditional gelatin. This allows for the chefs to have a “Hot Gel” so to speak. Agar-agar as well as carrageenan both have a somewhat more brittle texture than of conventional gels. This isn’t to say it’s crunchy, but less super-flexible and more soft but breakable.
The last is a “Granita.” Traditionally it is from the southern Italy, specifically Sicily. It is fundamentally a flavored and sweetened frozen ice. Think the ancestral inspiration for a snow cone. Many cultures have variations of granitas but the term has become sort of ubiquitous for shaved ices. Most of the chefs who use them will make a flavored water and freeze it, then shave it down to a consistency ranging from very chunky to almost smooth and sorbet like.
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I can't believe that even the most rudimentary food novices who haven't watched a smattering of food shows couldn't know these terms ... but tyvm anyway! Good job!
Blah, blah, blah...I don't care how many schools and awards these people have. I'll bet not one of them can hold a candle to my great grandmothers seasonal fruit pie or her Chocolate Cake w/taffy frosting. Those are the deserts that are truly memorable! This stuff looks pretty. A really good desert to me, is going for the second helping.
Cool blog post... Had heard granita and knew exactly what Agar-Agar was, but wasn't sure exactly what Cremeux was and had never heard Carrageenan (not sure I really remember where in the episode it was). I tend to watch these shows for the cooking more than the drama or anything else, so its cool to see blog posts focusing on these kinds of things; I found the contrast between normal gelatins and hydrocolloids particularly interesting, since I have wondered what the advantages these additives provided over regular gelatin were in the past. Was really looking forward to seeing some of the technical aspects of pastry chefs, but the episodes have been so focused on the contestant's interaction... Hopefully, these chefs will spend more time talking about what they are doing and how they are going to do it as opposed to what's being shown now in the episodes so far. Thanks for the explanations.
I appreciate learning about the background of the judges as well as having a glossary of terms. Just makes it more interesting when watching. I will be looking forward to your blogs. Thx
Thank you so much for the definitions. I didn't know if the cremeaux was the sauce, the filling or the ice cream looking lump on the side. Even though we hear words like gelee or coulis, we don't necessarily know to what they're referring. It would be better if they did a subtitle thing with a definition. We don't all know culinary terms.
Eli ,, thanks for the descriptive input,, it will be helpful as the season progresses. Some viewers may already know some of these pastry terms, but many do not. Your blog is going to add to the show's interest.
Thanks, appreciate he explanations.
What would be great, as Tom often does in his blog, is also explaining some of the principles. What makes a dessert easy or hard? What was tricky about something a chef did? Should the chef have run out of time because they were doing too much, or were they just inefficient?
Eli if you have input would you consider asking Gail/other decision makers to use Halvah? I grew up in Bradley Beach, NJ and thought everyone knew and LOVED this wonderful product. Only years later when I began moving around the country did I realize that most Americans were CLUELESS about this fantastic confection. I have heard that enormous Turks in Brooklyn beat the crap out of sesame seeds to formulate these mouth watering bricks/bars/nuggets. I have to use Netgrocer to get it since I would not even attempt to make my own. Maybe the TCJD patissiers can do a better job? I know what network types will say- too Jewish/Middle Eastern? Too bad - I want to see Halvah made, I want to see Everyone eat it and describe their experiences! Thanks, Eli - I have a feeling that YOU know what I am talking about?
Thank you for the terms, Eli! I was coincidentally rewatching your season this weekend and your comments always crack me up. I knew about agar-agar because we use it a lot in Asian desserts, but carrageenan I've never heard of so thanks for that! I look forward to more of the rundowns over the course of the season, thank you!
Long-time fan, first-time caller... (I've always wanted to say that)!! Seriously though, what is that Kaliedoscope-like tool Yigit looks into/through during the Quickfire candy challenge in Ep.02 "Cocktail With A Twist"?
That instrument measures the "Specific Gravity" in a fluid and it is widely used in wine making and medical testing. In a pastry context, he's probably trying to determine the sugar content.
I have been a fan of anything related to food on TV... and have enjoyed learning the terms, watching the chefs prepare dishes and input from all who are in the know. Now, if I could only put what I have seen on TV to practice in my own kitchen, my dreams would come true.. I'll keep watching, learning and trying to be more than a spectator!