Bravotv.com: For the Quickfire Challenge, we’re introduced to guest judge Michael Laiskonis. Can you tell us a little about him?
Johnny Iuzzini: Michael is amazing, a true blue technician. He has such a strong grasp on both tradition and technology that he really is a force to be rekoned with. I love his style and the seriousness yet playfulness of his palate.
Bravotv.com: In the Quickfire Challenge, the chefs are tasked with creating savory desserts, and some of them say they never work with savory ingredients. Did this surprise you?
JI: That is really surprising to me -- I work with savory ingredients al the time. I'm sure if they thought about it, they work with savory ingredients more than they think or at least could substitute them pretty easily. We work with butters aka fat, so why not render the foie gras or bacon and use its fat in place of butter. Plus, last I checked, carrots were a vegetable and a savory ingredient. I am surprised we didn't see more use of them, also parsnips, parsley root etc. Eggplant would have been another. I saw peppers, tomatoes, etc. Why not make a sweet gazpacho? The possibilities are endless, and I think you really show your skill set or lack thereof if you say that you can't work with a non-traditional pastry pantry in order to make a delicious dessert. Seriously, how hard is it to make a sweet corn dessert? I don't get it. They should have been excited by these ingredients.
Bravotv.com: The chefs could also only use one pot — how much did this complicate the challenge? What kinds of desserts might you have made?
JI: Now this is where the difficulty comes into play. You really have to think ahead about your order of operations. Think about what needs to be cooked first and can hold, and what should be cooked last-minute. Also try and utilize ingredients or techniques that utilize little to no cooking. The second twist to this challenge is that they cannot use any other kitchen equipment as well, blenders, ice cream machine, juicers, ANYTHING! Definitely makes it more difficult. If I were competing I would definitely focus on ingredients that could be cooked quickly and with minimal manipulation. I would focus on the corn, beets, bacon/foie, or any fatty meat. I would start by rendering the fat, then reserving it. I would then not wash the pot, add some sugar make a caramel, add the cut corn and cook until tender with the butter. Meanwhile I would make a cake batter, similar to a popover and fold in the corn and rebake quicky. Serving it warm with a simple dollop of creme fraiche, salt, and pepper. (Editor's Note: Yum!)
Bravotv.com: Did any of the Quickfire dishes stand out to you (obviously without tasting.)
JI: I really liked Yigit's -- it looked like a really refined dessert. I have made very similar desserts like this particular one in the past. It was smart and showed skill. Zac really came through this time. His choice of bold savory flavors coupled with a traditional steamed cake was clever and really worked to his advantage. Danielle's sounded interesting, but I guess it sounded better then it tasted, but the idea was great as a pre-dessert. Morgan's sounded like it had a lot of great texture. As we all know, I am a texture junkie.
Bravotv.com: For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs must work in black and white, which you reiterated is difficult for a chef because color is usually important. What was the key to making this successful?
JI: This is super-hard; food doesn't just come in black and white, so it becomes a matter of figuring out a way to capture the flavors of food without using their colors, or even moreso figuring out how to maks the colors without muting the flavors. I immediately think the way to capture flavors without colors would be through infusions of flavors through dry ingredients like spices, teas, etc. -- this is the way to keep the white color of cream pure white, for example. As far as for the black color, I was surprised we didn't see more chocolate and beets. I would have loved to see some black rice and black beans used -- it's very easy to incorporate these ingredients into a sweet application.