Gail Simmons explains what happens to the chefs at this point in the competition, and what celebrity duo may have inspired her in this challenge.
Bravotv.com: We'll start with the Quickfire Challenge, where the chefs had to design sweet flowers. What did you think about this challenge overall?
Gail Simmons: I was pretty excited for this challenge, partially because, for the first time in all of shooting Just Desserts I didn’t have to eat anything during the Quickfire, and I needed a sugar break.
Bravotv.com: Why didn't you guys taste the food? Was it just the nature of the challenge?
GS: The flower arrangements were really meant to be show pieces. They're all edible, but it wasn't necessary to break them apart and taste them. It was really about the artistry. This specific challenge was the first challenge I think we've ever done in Top Chef history, besides the relay races, that wasn't about flavor. It was about technique only, and seeing what they could create. Doing anything like that in three hours is really difficult, delicate, and exciting. There was just such diversity between what they all did. This is an area of pastry arts that shows, just because you are a pastry chef or a baker doesn't mean you have sugar work experience. This is a very niche area. If you work in a hotel, or if you do elaborate catering, you might have some advantage, but otherwise this is not something that pastry chefs in restaurants do very often, and it's certainly not anything a baker would do. It is why Yigit and Morgan were at a bit of an advantage and did so well. Yigit works for a very upscale company that caterers very high end and complicated events where they do things like this, and Morgan works in a hotel, so he would have experience with a show-piece that would go on a dessert buffet or something like that for example. But the rest of them, like Zac and Eric, as you can see, had certainly never done this before. If Danielle had, it didn’t show. Hers was playful and had pretty elements, but there was also some misguided moments in that bouquet.
Bravotv.com: Yigit said that he thought he would have won if his vases had worked out...
GS: Yes, absolutely. I would agree with him, because from what you saw they were modern, and beautiful, and that takes a lot of effort and a lot of knowledge to be able to pull that kind of work off. He probably would have won. But the cases didn't work out, and well ... that's how the cookie crumbles. Morgan showed great sugar work, great chocolate work, but his design was very traditional, not very innovative in its sensibility. But, overall because of how it played out, his was the strongest final piece. And we can only judge on the final piece.
Bravotv.com: For the elimination they had to cater a tea party for Dana based on celebrity duos. What did you think of the choices?
GS: I was actually sort of taken aback by this challenge overall. When they first told me this was the challenge I was skeptical. I loved the idea of doing high tea, but the celebrity aspect I thought was a bit of a stretch. In the end it added an element that made them have to think a little more. So it gave us a great spin. The celebrity choices were random, but that's because the chefs all sort of worked backwards. First of all, they all had no chocolate so they all had to adapt and they needed to really reach and stretch and find celebrity couples that worked for their desserts. But that kept things quirky and interesting and I thought there was some inspiration to be found.
Bravotv.com: What celebrity couple would you have used for your inspiration?
GS: Good question! Maybe Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller. Or Lucille Ball and Desi. Or if I wanted to do something a little more modern, maybe Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks characters from Mad Men. I know that they aren’t necessarily a couple, but they are a duo with a lot of style.Bravotv.com: I wondered why no one did fictional couples.
GS: Well they could have. The question was to do a celebrity duo, and so that duo, could have been anybody, like Danielle's choice of doing Conan and Andy Richter. A very timely choice I might add...
Bravotv.com: Danielle's funny!
GS: She is. She's totally quirky, and let's just say, over the course of the season she really grew on me, in terms of understanding her style. The first couple of episodes she was in the bottom a lot and we didn't really get what she was trying to do, but we came to realize that not only does she grow a ton over the course of the season, but she has this amazingly quirky style that we all came to enjoy and appreciate.
Bravotv.com: Eric's duo of desserts got him sent home.
GS: I think Eric was just at the end of his rope. He was out of ideas. He had been beaten down a little bit in the Quickfire, and he didn't come into this challenge with a clear head, he just froze. I think it was really difficult for him, when it should have been an easy challenge. Remember: it was a baking challenge -- it wasn't an elaborate plating challenge. I think he had some great elements. The idea of the pecan shortbread was fantastic. The apricot filling was delicious. There were just too few layers to his dessert in terms
of concept and innovation as well as skill, and at this point we were expecting more.
That said, I am so proud of him! I admire him so much. He came into this competition at somewhat of a disadvantage, as sort of the underdog, being a pure baker and never having plated a dessert in his life. I think it's so true what he says at the end of the episode, that he became a chef. I sound cliche but in my books he really is a winner. He has so much talent and was willing to learn. Because of it he was really successful with so many of the things he baked for us. I can't wait to see what he does next.
Bravotv.com: Yigit kind of bit it in this challenge, and we find out at Judges' Table that Heather's exit really effected him emotionally.
GS: You know what? Shake it off. Get back in the game. That's what I say. Things happen in a professional kitchen everyday. People get fired, they get sent home or they do not show up for work. You simply can't be so affected. Your work cannot suffer because of it. If I came to work in my office one day, and said, "I'm sorry I can't fulfill my duties for the magazine because the person I like the most left" that's just not going to fly. I understand that it was devastating. The whole show is so emotional, and they're such emotional
people, that's why they are such great artists, that's why they're so talented. But he knows better than that. He just slipped up. Everyone has bad days. That's exactly why this competition works: because you might be the best at what you do but that doesn't mean you win every single time or that everything you do is absolutely perfect. Yigit had a bad day. It happens, it's OK. We still felt that between him and Eric, what he put in front of us was more creative, more elaborate, had more layers of flavor, and was more innovative in terms of the celebrity story he told.We surprised ourselves in making Zac the winner that day, not because it wasn't the best, he certainly won because he deserved to win, but because at the on-set his wasn't what we thought would take the day. Everyone had such a hard time that day. He won because his story came from the heart. He wasn't randomly picking two people he really had no connection to, like Oprah or Kim Kardashian. He sincerely believed in his story and it was so well-executed: Blake Edwards as the pink macaron. Julie Andrews with the Captain von Trapp
Crunch, and the spoonful of tarragon sugar. The flavors really carried through, and they were all the perfect sized bites. He thought about how we should eat them. He thought why they went together. It all just worked.
The challenge was a lot of fun. I'm particularly glad Dana Cowin, my Editor-in-Chief at Food & Wine, was there with us. She always brings a great sense of balance and knowledge to the set. And Shinmin as well. She was so inspiring because she knows so much about design, art, and of course baking.