Something Unsavory

Johnny Iuzzini doesn't understand why the chefs were so flustered by the savory Quickfire Challenge.

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.

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The Agony and the Ecstasy

Gail Simmons elaborates on the judges' agonizing final decision.

 

Bravotv.com: So we’re at the finale, and you introduce the three MOFs. What was the reaction in the room?
Gail Simmons: I should explain what an MOF is, because we keep calling them MOFs, but I don’t think we actually say what it stands for! MOF stands for Meilleurs Ouvriers de France. In France, it is the highest honor, the highest award given in a number of different occupations, for being the master of your craft. For a pastry chef to become an MOF, you have to do very rigorous training, and then you have to compete. Chefs train all year for it. If people want to learn more about it, there’s a film called Kings of Pastry, about Jacquy Pfeiffer’s preparation for the competition, and the incredible lengths he goes to reach this goal. In France, it really is considered the greatest height of someone’s career. 

So, we wanted to emulate the competition for our chefs, but obviously they don’t have any way to prepare for it and it was on a much smaller scale. Similar to how on Top Chef we did the Bocuse d'Or challenge, this is sort of the equivalent in pastry. We asked them to make a sugar sculpture, a bread, a plated dessert, a bon bon, and an Entremet (a layered mousse cake). We brought the three MOFs to the Top Chef: Just Desserts kitchen to assist us and to assist our finalists, and then Jacquy and others were at the final tasting, which is sort of amazing. They really are the gods of pastry in this country. Another interesting thing about MOF status is, once you’re honored with this award, you are no longer ever allowed to compete again. You cannot enter competitions, you cannot be competitive because your job is now to teach and mentor, only. That is why we didn’t have the chefs specifically assisting one contestant or specifically competing against each other. Instead, they alternated between the chefs and just gave their overall, general help and assistance any way they could. I wish there was more of a chance to explain all the things the chefs were doing in more detail because their work for this finale was really quite extraordinary. I mean you get to see a little of it but the process is so fascinating to watch. 

Then the second day of their work they were given two sous-chefs from eliminated contestants, one that got picked at random through a number system and one that they chose themselves.Bravotv.com: What was it like hearing their backstory, because you guys never really hear that until you watch the episodes later, but these pieces were supposed to be pretty personal, so they finally kind of exposed themselves?
GS: Yes, they were very personal, and actually I don’t think the way it was edited the viewers heard even close to what their full stories were, especially Chris’. They were all so moving and it really showed how personal the process or cooking and baking can be. When you create something unique and artistic, that creative process takes so much out of you emotionally and physically, and it really is such a personal expression. All three of them did a great job. 

Matthew took on an extra challenge because he’s a restaurant chef, always has been. He’s never really worked with showpieces, but he chose to do it all himself, regardless of his sous-chef. Plus, he made it out of sugar, which is a very difficult thing to do. It’s very delicate, and temperamental, and temperature-sensitive. He used very warm, bright red tones that stood out from everything else in the room, all for his wife and his daughter. I also loved his Key Lime bon bon. His bread was a focaccia. It was lovely and delicious, but in the spectrum of bread dough and bread-making, focaccia is a pretty basic dough. Although he did a very good one and certainly there is a difference between a bad and a good focaccia. It was moist, and it had a great olive oil flavor, and tasty coarse salt on it. But it was not anywhere near as complex as either of the doughs for the bread items that the other two chefs made. His entremet was very good too. It looked great and tasted great, but it was not as precise as the other two either. His flavors were excellent though, and the passion he has for pastry was literally oozing out of him. You could just see how hard he worked. It’s an amazing feat that he accomplished all that he did with such thoughtfulness and creativity. I hope he's proud of it!

Bravotv.com: His plated dessert was kind of abstract. . .
GS: His plated dessert was very abstract. It was a lovely concept. I just don’t think he was able to fully realize the idea in his head, and he wasn’t able to translate it properly to the plate. It was all for his daughter. He wanted to make it like a playground, where you jump around, go in one direction and then another, and you can skip from one taste to the next. But the idea of that hominess and childlike comfort that he kept talking about wasn’t there. Also the idea of the chocolate cookie he described wasn’t there. There were so many different components that you couldn’t figure out how they all worked together. It’s just one of those desserts that if he had more time to work out, he could probably make perfect.

I’m such a Matt fan, and I think he’s so talented. I’m a big fan of both of his restaurants. I think Matt is a really terrific pastry chef who has a huge career ahead of him.Bravotv.com: So then there’s Sally. . .
GS: The competition was so close! Sally did a fantastic job in many respects. Her entremet was magnificent. When I was watching the episode this week I thought that slice of her entremet they showed was drool-inducing: mango, chocolate, caramel… yum! Her showpiece was also beautiful -- I know that’s going to be a big issue with people, that she did not make her showpiece herself. She had Orlando do it as her sous-chef. However, she’s allowed to. That is the point. That’s why we gave them the sous-chefs. If we wanted them to make everything themselves, we wouldn’t have given them assistants. She was smart to assign people work based on their strengths and what they’re most capable of. It was her concept, and it went very well with the rest of her work and her vision. Her bonbon was well done. But in my memory, I think it was my least favorite of the three. It was very pretty, but just a little bit more ordinary compared to the other two. I’ve seen salted caramel, milk chocolate bon bons before. Her bread by far was the best. It was amazing and complex. You could see the skill that went into making it. Her plated dessert, flavor-wise was excellent. The coffee, the cream, the cashews -- those are all great in combination. The story about her mother and her sister, which you didn’t hear all of, was really inspiring, and she accomplished with it that sense of personal emotion that Johnny wanted them all to feel. But there were pieces of her dessert that were messy, and at this level, we just can’t accept that. The sphere that she made wasn’t glazed and wasn’t clean. There were a lot of layers to her dessert, so it was pretty dense and rich. Our final decision really was so close though. We agonized over it...

Bravotv.com: And there was Chris…
GS: Chris had very few flaws. Yes, a couple of pieces of his bread fell off his showpiece, but it did not detract from the immense amount of work and the stunning quality of that showpiece. It overwhelmed the room when we walked in. It was so powerful and strong, and then it had these delicate flowers on it. It really made a huge statement and told his story well, which he followed through with throughout his entire presentation, including his plated desserts. It had an industrial quality, which I loved. Reading into it, the story showed how he needed to be strong and separate his emotions so he could come to this challenge and not worry about his sick child at home. This idea of needing to be like these steel beams that he created so that he could muster the force to keep going every day he was away from his family. At least that is how I saw it. His entremet was spectacular. The textures, flavors ad layers were lovely. His bon bon was exceptional -- the shape, the flavors. His bread was good, but not as good as Sally’s. It was more interesting than Matt’s. He made a bacon butter with it, but I wish he had put that flavor into the bread itself. His plated dessert was by far my favorite of the day. It looked very simple. When I first saw it, I was surprised. I thought he would do something much more complex, much more over-the-top, modern, in presentation and style. But it tasted exactly how I hoped it would t. It had great texture. It had great flavor, and it gave me this amazing sense of satisfaction. It was warm and sweet, but not too sweet. It was balanced. Bravotv.com: And now, we have a new Top Chef.
GS: I was actually with Yigit this weekend, and I asked him if he was ready to give back his tiara, and he said, “No.” Hopefully we can make Chris an equally beautiful tiara. Chris is an outstanding pastry chef. From the very first day, he worked exceedingly hard to get to where he is. I’m so grateful that I had could work with all three of them. All three of them are so talented, but that day, judging from the three presentations that we saw and ate, Chris’ deserved to be in first place. 

Then, right after we shot this finale, I took off my cocktail dress, put on a pair of cowboy boots, and headed to Texas with Tom and Padma! And that’s where I’ll see you all next week! Thanks for a truly wonderful season.

 

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