Gail Simmons

Gail Simmons shares a personal story ... about souffles.

on Oct 13, 2010

Gail Simmons: Hooray! Its Souffle Day! Here’s a little story about why I love soufflés. My very first job in a professional kitchen when I left culinary school was at Le Cirque 2000 when Jacques Torres was the pastry chef, and I was in the savory kitchen. I was cooking on the hot appetizer station, which it was very grueling work. At the end of the day I would be so emotionally and physically drained and once in a while I would sneak into the pastry kitchen around midnight or 1 in the morning and, if I put on extra charm, the pastry
cooks would slip me a soufflé. At the time at Le Cirque there was a special soufflé flavor every day, so one day I would get blackberry or one day it would be chocolate with espresso cream, or lemon or vanilla bean. They were the best treat at the end of a night, the ultimate luxury. Those soufflés came to epitomize a reward for a job well done in the kitchen. So as you can imagine, Soufflé Day was very exciting for me on Top Chef.

Soufflés are really tricky -- you need to eat them within seconds of them coming out of the oven. They fall so easily, they’re a very delicate balance of egg white, sugar and custard. Chocolate souffles are fairly common, but Yigit actually won with a chocolate soufflé.
GS: He did because his was beautiful and it wasn’t just chocolate -- he had this passion fruit vanilla bean ice cream, and he presented it beautifully with a playful chocolate tuile, which showed expertise. You need to make the egg whites stiff enough so they hold up and are a little bit sturdy. He was able to get and maintain that height. It was just made with proficiency and it had a stunning, modern flair. Sherry Yard didn't seem to care for Zac's frozen souffle.
GS: He kind of piped it into the bowl. It didn’t look as good as we hoped it would, and it was quite dense. It was a great idea, but he could have executed it better. Any of the other ones stand out to you?
Danielle's had a really bright, lemony flavor. Morgan’s was nice too. Overall both of them did a great job. Sherry Yard was guest judge. She's kind of a big deal.
GS: Sherry is whacky, in the best possible way! She’s one of my favorite people, and although I had met her before the show a few times, we had never really spent time together until I came to LA to shoot this season. We ended up hanging out quite often while I was there. Obviously she spent a few days with us on this episode, then we went out to dinner a few times after that. She actually consulted on building the Top Chef: Just Desserts pastry kitchen. She worked with the Magical Elves on what they needed in terms of equipment and stocking the pantry. So she was on set a few times with us for that as well. Also, because we had all these extraordinary pastry chefs coming through our set as our guest judges from across the country for each episode, they all wanted to visit Sherry too! Sherry is the most famous pastry chef in L.A. She knows everybody! Everyone loves her. The ironic thing about her is that she married a dentist, which I find hilarious! They make the best couple in the world. On to the Elimination. This was where fashion met dessert. What are similarities between fashion and cooking?
GS: I think they are both crafts that take years of practice to perfect. They are both forms of high art which most people really don’t know or see the skill and the talent required to produce them well. I think they are both all about balance, in fashion it may be between fabric and design, classicism and modernity, there’s a very fine line between cutting edge and over-the-top. The same applies to pastry. So I think there are a lot of similarities between the pastry kitchen and the fashion studio. The chef had to make edible ensembles, and then make the two petits fours as accessories. Let's talk about the unsuccessful outfits.
Eric’s cave woman outfit: I think it was really clear on the show, that Eric knew exactly what he did wrong. He was insecure about it from the beginning and it fell apart. Johnny made a great point about this at Judges' Table: we were most disappointed in the cookies. He’s a cookie maker, and his cookies are some of the best in New York City, so we know he can make a good cookie. He won an previous challenge making his crispy chocolate bake sale item! So I think in this case, he just let his nerves get in the way of his talent.

The two women on the bottom - Danielle and Heather C: not that they needed to use chocolate by any means, but they didn’t even use anything pastry-related. I’m not saying vegetables can’t be incorporated in some way, but they kind of forgot that they were pastry chefs. And it was one thing not to use any pastry
on their form, but also there was no connection between the dress and their accessories. I understood how, for example Danielle’s purse matched her shoes, but it had nothing to do with her outfit, there was just no organic connection there between her flavors and her theme. Her petits fours were good, but her dress had nothing to do with either the shoes nor the petits fours. So that was unfortunate.

Heather, poor Heather, she has had a run of bad luck. I don’t think she’s great at thinking under pressure and she really struggled with putting her thoughts together for this challenge. Some chefs perform differently, they need to work things out, they need time, they need to test and retest, and its not unusual to work that way in pastry. Unfortunately I think she just started an idea which went too far down a difficult road, and she couldn’t recover. Her dress not only looked sort of sloppy, but it also had no relation to pastry whatsoever. Her petits fours were pretty but the chocolate in her chocolate clutch, although tiny and beautifully tempered, was incredibly thick and disproportionate on the bottom compared to the shell on the top, which is a sign of inconsistency in the way that is was molded. The combination just made us feel like she it was her time (again) to go.

I think people might think that we were leaning toward Eric being eliminated in this challenge, and some may wonder how we chose Heather instead? The flavor of Eric’s petits fours and the work that went into creating his entire outfit was far greater. It looked as if Heather literally put peppercorns on a belt and stuck some lettuce on a dress form. He at least went to the trouble of sticking with the challenge of using the ingredients of a pastry kitchen, baking cookies, trying his best to drape chocolate. We didn’t see any attempts from Heather to do that. And besides, his petit fours were delicious.