Sugar High

Taking the Cake

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Best in Show

Grande Finale

Nobody's Perfect

The Final Four

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Puff Piece

Big News!

Bon Voyage

Carlos vs. Orlando

Life is a Carnival

"Sugar is Not a Flavor"

Original Sin

Strong Competitors, More Insecurity

Civilized Conversation

Rest in Peace, Coco Chanel

Time to Make the Donuts!

I'll Be Back!

Must Love Chocolate

Sugar Rush

Brothers from Another Mother

Everybody Likes a Fried Chicken Skin

Too Sweet to Be Sour

Finger Lickin’ Good

Ad-Rock, Light Up the Place

Top Banana

Splish Splash

Wet and Wild

Like Family

How Melissa Could Have Saved Herself

California Girl

Scary Good

No Whangdoodles or Hornswogglers Here!

Glaze Me a Doughnut

A Chocolate Lake?

Fair Fare

On Wednesdays, We Wear Pink

Glass Half Empty?

Gone to the Dog

If Only Katzie Would Have Won!

Sugar High

  • Our fabulous judge, Dannielle Kyrillos, gives us her take on the decadent and drama filled premiere (and makes a few puns while she's at it). 

Well, hello there!  Wow! The first episode of the first-ever season of the brand-new Top Chef: Just Desserts is super-duper exciting for so many reasons, not least of which is that we are finally giving pastry chefs the attention they deserve.  I promise I'm writing this before my daily dose of sugar; it just feels like lots of exclamation points and superlatives are in order when talking about this fantastic new show, the incredibly talented twelve chefs competing in it, and the chocolate-y first elimination challenge.

Dessert is such a big deal.  Can you think of a special occasion that hasn't involved a lovingly prepared sweet treat?  From birthday cakes to romantic chocolate creations to gifts of candy brought back from long trips to ice cream after a swim meet, dessert is how we celebrate.  But we have largely ignored the people who've devoted their lives to making it for us.

For so long, pastry chefs have unfairly played second fiddle to savory chefs…I mean, think about it: dessert is the last bite you have at the end of a memorable meal.  It's the restaurant's goodnight kiss to you, the final taste of a restaurant before you walk off into the night, and it's the pastry chef who created it.  But the savory chef is the one who gets his or her name on the door and so much of the credit.  You can see how this could make you a little nutty if you were a pastry chef. 

So it's no surprise that our twelve chefs have such distinct and awesome personalities.  They're artists, they're mad scientists, they're feisty and funny, fiercely competitive, and they all have something to prove.  Even meeting them for the first time and talking to them about their chocolate indulgences, it was totally clear we were in for one wild ride.

When we arrived at the chocolate tasting, the room was festive and elegant and the guests were all dressed up and seriously ready for the huge amounts of pure chocolate ecstasy that were about to unfold.  The chefs seemed pretty nervous, seeing as how it was the first elimination challenge and Mr. Chocolate himself, Chef Jacques Torres, was in the house.  It was my first time meeting all of them, and the first bites of their food I tasted. 

Everyone had clearly thrown themselves into their work in their own ways (see: Eric's Zen Buddha folding ceremony), and everyone but Tania seemed to feel good about what they'd produced.  It was clear from Tania's first word that she knew her mousse's texture just hadn't worked.  But she put on a brave face.  I think all the other chefs had been so focused on their own work, each one thought he or she had a shot.  You have to, right?  You do your best without comparing yourself to anyone else, you sell the judges on what you came up with, and the rest is out of your hands. 

We got a tiny feel for the chefs' personalities, and I remember Morgan winking a lot, and Zac, covered in his now-famous disco dust from head to toe, whimsically blowing the stuff all over his plates.  He's so cute it didn't instantly strike me as grody, but Mr. Chocolate was not amused.  And once he expressed his extreme displeasure, it sank in that Zac's dust distribution might as well have been sneezing.

Each of the desserts had its merits, of course.  Eric's brownie was masterfully moist and dense, like a good brownie should be, and it had a really nice spice to it. I think he chose a brownie because hey, for many, many people, brownies are chocolate at its best and most decadent.  Actually, typing this, I wish that brownie would appear beside my keyboard.  But I digress.  Once you compared Eric's brownie to some of the more complicated and nuanced desserts, had he really done enough to win?  Then again, Morgan was so eager to impress us, and to not feel like he could have done more, that he ended up doing too much.  That gelatinous cube he called milk chocolate flan that he hoped Johnny wouldn't notice had separated (really, Morgan, really?) had nothing to do with the rest of his plate, and it just kind of sat there quivering like a weird alien about to breathe its last.  So, finding the sweet spot (ugh, really, Dannielle, really?) of easy simplicity, masterful complexity, and just the right flavors is tough.

Ultimately, Zac, Heather H. and Seth hit it just right.  Their dishes were surprising and left you wanting more, even after you'd already had twelve desserts.  By the way, even if you just take a bite or two of twelve desserts, your heart beats so fast you might feel like an alligator is chomping through your ribcage.  And yes, by "you," I mean "me."

It was so hard to see Tania go, after such a short time, because it's clear she is a truly gifted and experienced chef, she just had a bad day.  But just like Top Chef, Just Desserts is about the dish being judged, and only that dish.

My job as an entertaining expert and editor at DailyCandy for more than eight years has been to uncover all the stuff that makes life sweeter, from new fashion designers and artists to restaurants, family-run bakeries, and specialty food artisans.  My favorites are those with great stories behind them, about people with great passion taking a chance and following their dreams.  Kind of like contestants on Top Chef: Just Desserts, right?  So I bring an editor's perspective to the judges' table, that of someone whose job it is to know what looks good, is well-constructed, delicious and likely to become popular.

So, next week is the inimitable Hubert Keller's turn at judge's table (we alternate episodes), but I'll see you here at  Trust me when I say, all the hints of drama you saw tonight only get bigger and nuttier.  Each challenge is more magnificent than the next, and no one is safe from the pressure.  Until next time…

Follow me on Twitter @DKyrillos


Grande Finale

Hubert Keller explains why Chris ultimately edged out Sally for the win.


So here we are, at the grande finale, as they say in France. This is where the culminated talents of our chefs are put under a microscope and the strongest overall performance by the most confident chef prevails and wins the competition! This is the final round, the final challenge, and finally, we will have a winner!

The stage is set, and Matthew, Chris, and Sally are waiting nervously to hear what Gail and Johnny have to say about the final challenge.

The challenge: to prove that they are the most complete pastry chef by creating a show-piece, an entremet cake, bonbons, a form of savory bread, and a dessert that focuses on a special person in their life!

Wow!  So much to think about, so much pressure… and just after Johnny shared an emotional moment, expressing the joy he has knowing that he was able to present his mother with a home-made birthday cake he baked for her just before she passed away; and you could start to see tears well-up in the cheftestants' eyes. Suddenly, their frowns became overwhelmed with a surprised excitement. They were all astonished to see MOFs Jaques “Mr. Chocolate” Torres, Sebastian Cannon, co-founder of the French Pastry School in Chicago, and Stephane Treand, owner of The Art of Pastry, walk into the kitchen to help assist in their final challenge! Gail informs our competitors that our guest pastry legends would be sitting down as diners when all is complete to taste and help critique their final presentation. With their jaws dropping to the floor, they quickly scurried over to meet these pastry icons and without hesitation, and the competition began!

Sally confided in Sebastion Cannon and admitted that she was uncomfortable with the showpiece element of this competition. She went over her plan, which seemed well thought-out and moved forward with her ideas, determined to use assertive, exotic flavor combinations and the inspiration of her mother and sister, to win the hearts of the judges….

Matt told “Mr.Chocolate” that his wife and daughter would be the motive for his dessert presentation and he would try to impress his way into the winner’s circle by choosing to take risks and using combinations of items and ingredients he has not really worked with before, such as sugar as the base of his show-piece. Matt hoped to prove to the judges that he is not afraid to gamble, and to get out of his comfort zone and push himself to new-heights! A gutsy move, but would this come back to bite him in the sugar-bun, at the end of the challenge?

Chris went over his plan with Sebastian Cannon. Chris wanted to have a clean and well thought-out presentation, that connected his showpiece idea with the rest of his dessert. His theme: mechanical, industrial, and impressive. Would he impress enough?

So, after one day of putting their ideas together, and getting input from their culinary heroes, they were back to the grindstone to continue the final round, only to find out that all the eliminated TCJD2 cheftestants were in the kitchen waiting for them!

What was this new curveball going to be? Come to find out, our final three chefs had to pick a number, and whichever of the previous cheftestants had the number, taped to the back of a very large un-edible cookie that they were holding; that person, randomly, would make up part of that chef’s team. They got to choose one more former cheftestant to make up teams of three individuals… the plot thickens, and the cookie crumbles!

The Teams:

Sally chose Orlando to help her with her showpiece; a great move! She got stuck with Van as an assistant by drawing the number he was holding. He made a nice cheerleader in the kitchen while the other two were hard at work! Sally discovered that her entremet-cake had been layered incorrectly and had to re-do it with time running out. She put the gas on and was able to produce one of the most beautiful desserts of the whole competition! Orlando, with Sally’s vision, pretty much built that show piece on his own, while Sally got caught-up from her mistake from the day before. A great effort, Orlando built an elegant, towering showpiece out of chocolate. Sally had a chocolate mousse, mango vanilla cream, caramel cremeux, lime, and almond sponge as her entremet. Parkerhouse rolls with bacon, green onions, gruyere, and bay leaves, for her savory bread, and salted caramel milk chocolate bonbons. She killed it! Everything was bursting with flavor. I love Sally’s work! 

Matt drew Megan and called upon Carlos to be his wingman in the kitchen. They put out a hazelnut dacquoise, passion fruit gelee entremet, focaccia with olive oil and malden salt with fresh thyme for the bread loaf, and keylime ganache and speculoos bonbons. Great flavor, great passion… nice job, Matt!

I must say, I was surprised that Matt didn’t go for a spectacular chocolate showpiece since that is his forte, but the light, playful color of his sugar piece did show well!

Chris had Rebecca from the pre-challenge draft, but with both arms available, he still didn’t really let her participate; and he picked Amanda, someone who seems to be very helpful and takes orders well historically throughout this competition. His entremet was delicious: a chocolate mousse with vanilla cream and raspberry jam. His bread was a classic brioche with a maple butter and bacon and salt, and his bonbons were coffee infused ganache with a very thin crunchy shell. Chris and Sally had the best bonbons!…And now it’s time for the plated desert!

The plated dessert was very important and really showed us who put the whole package together!

Sally’s plated dessert was a white chocolate espresso mousse with chocolate cremeux, cashew nougatine, and ice cream. Inspired by her mother and her sister, the flavor’s that Sally put together were again, simply put, the best! Unfortunately, the presentation was missing the glaze, and her dessert, to the eye, wasn’t as alive as it was on the palate. She lost a little of that finesse that had become her trademark in this competition. In the last round, we saw that Orlando edited himself and by doing so, he shot himself in the foot. I thought by not glazing her dessert for the final Judges' Table, Sally did the same. 

Matt was inspired by his wife and daughter and made a whimsical playground of chocolate chip cookie with raspberry ice cream… if it were a piece of art, it would have been Picasso; colorful chaos on a plate… very cool and edgy, but maybe not the right choice for the grand prize. And as "Madame Chocolate” mentioned, I think some people at the Judges' Table really wanted a chocolate chip cookie.

Chris did well! He made a very vibrant butter almond cake with mango sauce, banana ice cream, and continued his structural design from the showpiece as an accent on his plated dessert… a cool touch. Johnny was right, our whole table devoured his dessert. The flavors were well balanced; a home-run!

It was a tough decision… flavor-wise, for me it was Sally; although I thought Chris deserved to win. It just was unfortunate that Sally fell a little short in the final, but I’m sure she’ll move on to be quite a success anywhere she decides to go!Matt brought some exciting ideas to the table and put some wonderful flavors in our mouths, but it wasn’t his best night either. The way he sets his high standards for himself, he too will be a star in someone’s kitchen, maybe even his own!

Chris deserved to be crowned the winner. He was Mr. Consistency, always impressing with ideas, skill, creativity, and managing ability in the kitchen, a true Top Chef! Bravo, Chris! Congratulations!

I think that these contestants in TCJD2 raised the bar to a new level this year. It was fun, exciting, dramatic, and electrifying. I was proud to see how these guys came together and grew throughout these episodes and challenges.

I hope that watching and supporting our program gave you the inspiration to have a sweeter time in the kitchen and perhaps be our next Top Chef!

Thank you!