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. Bravotv.com: Which dishes were most successful/least to you?
JI: Yigit's dish was multi-textural and visually appealing. Unfortunately his compote was overcooked. Erika on the other hand, did not stay focused on the challenge. Simply black and white, she essentially had a purple dessert. Plus her ice cream was definitely her downfall in this composition. In theory Zac had a great idea; he did something no one else did, something fried, hot, crispy, and gooey. Great for a party, a great way to stand out. Although for me, it was way too sweet, and looking at the main component, it was neither black nor white. Morgan's block and columns idea was pretty cool and well thought out. You immediately understood what he was going for and his choice of flavors. It was interesting with the banana and anise, but the cake was a bit dry due to his problem soaking it. Heather H. is just so damn stubborn. I warned her about the ingredients and colors she was using when I did my walk-through. I understand her point of wanting to incorporate the flavors, but she could have been smarter about it and incorporated them in an invisible way, either inside the cake like a soak or infusion. It bothers me that she is so defensive and feels a need to try and argue why she is not wrong. BLACK AND WHITE??? GET IT. Eric killed it on this challenge. It was definitely black and white and it looked clean and well put together. It was definitely a crowd-pleaser. Danielle made more of a petit four plate and although they were great finger components for a party. They just didn't add up to anything delicious or special.
Bravotv.com: Heather H. seemed to think that Morgan stole her white chocolate krispy treats. Any conspiracy theories you might want to share?
JI: I really don't think anyone in this group would purposely sabotage or steal or hide anyone else's mise en place. Seems ridiculous. Morgan is competitive, just like the rest but he is so (over) confident that he doesn't believe he would even need an advantage. Again, just my opinion. I have been wrong about people before.
Bravotv.com: Erika was very shocked by the comments about her ice cream, which she said she’s known for. She seemed pretty annoyed with Dannielle’s “soap” comment. What was her biggest mistake with that element of the dish?
I really didn't like her ice cream and she continued to defend it. I believe she can make ice cream very well, but i think her infusion went a bit too long, and especially when dealing with floral notes it is really easy to go a minute too long and ruin the delicate flavor you were going for in the first place. There is no masking that and when dealing with flavors like citrus, jasmine, lavender, chamomile, etc., those are all very commonly-used in soap and cleansing products. So you need to be especially careful when dealing with them. Maybe if she had added some citrus zest or oil to the base as well it would have brought out the flavors more -- it was really muted and reminded me of dishwater. I have made many mistakes in my career because of rushing and not tasting it at every singe point of production. The problem is if you taste it and still defend it, even though four people are telling you it tasted bad, then there is a deeper issue then just a mistake.
Bravotv.com: Morgan has had enough with Team Go-Diva. As a viewer, what do you think of this clique forming?
I think it is already really hard to be in a house full of strangers with such different type A personalities, but then when groups/ teams start forming it just makes it worse. I could definitely understand how annoying, frustrating, distracting it could be. You have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, it is in your face all day and all night long. I just hope he can keep his cool and focus on why he is there in the first place.