Bravotv.com: For the Quickfire Challenge, the chefs are tasked with creating, essentially, edible arrangements. How often do you have to do this? What’s the key to making successful edible flowers?
JI: It depends in what genre you work. I am sure pastry chefs that work in hotels and do large banquets or has a serious amenity program for the rooms will do this much more often then someone who works in a small restaurant or bakery. I personally don’t think I have ever had the request to make an “edible” display like this. I put edible in quotes because I think that not everything that was presented you would necessarily want to eat. I liked the fact that some of the chefs like Eric made flowers that could actually be eaten pleasurably. I don’t think anyone would enjoy eating Morgan’s sugar bow. I think if they had more time we would have seen a bit more creativity and refinement from them. When working with an ingredient such as chocolate, it really doesn’t like to be rushed to set up. You will get maximum shine and strength if it sets up aka crystallizes at its own pace. When it is forced it could become finicky and work against you. I was surprised Daniellle was the only one to make a bouquet of assorted cookies that were cut and decorated to look like different flowers. I felt in general some were just a bit too abstract.
Bravotv.com: Yigit had some problems with how delicate his sugar vases were. Any advice for next time? Do you think Morgan “accidentally” broke the vases, or was it a little more deliberate?
JI: The technique Yigit used to make his cases was developed by a very famous Spanish chef named Paco Torreblanca. It is truly a beautiful technique that demands patience and skill. If I were Yigit, I would not have left them on the same table as someone else who was working and pulling sugar and is known to be a bit of a “bull in a china shop.” He should have moved them somewhere else safer in the kitchen. He really can’t blame Morgan. It was an accident, and I don’t believe he would intentionally destroy someone else’s work.
Bravotv.com: Whose flowers did you want to eat? Whose didn’t work for you, visually?
JI: To be honest, as much as I am not a fan of buttercream, Eric made the only showpiece I think you would want to eat. Its base was a giant vanilla cupcake and covered with buttercream roses (as well as gum paste -- not so delicious). While I agree with Shinmin that It didn’t really stand out as a showpiece compared to the others, I wonder how she would have judged if she had to take a bite of each one. Danielle’s idea to use fresh ingredients was great. Unfortunately once it was all said and done, looked a bit wilted and beat up, as well as one-dimensional. When she turned it around you really saw how rough and unfinished the piece really was.
Bravotv.com: Tell us about Shinmin Li.
JI: Besides being a MILF (ha!), she is very serious about what she does. You can tell by her demeanor that she is a perfectionist and doesn’t have a high tolerance for error or sloppy work. She is a true artist and has an incredible style and eye for detail.
Bravotv.com: Onto the Elimination, the tea party. What modern celebrity couple would have inspired you?
I thought it was cool to see which celebrities the chefs chose. Of course Zac picked Julie Andrews, no brainer there. The fact that Morgan ran to grab a gossip mag off the rack was genius. Yigit and Madonna, no surprise there. Gay men love their Madonna. I was surprised that Eric chose Oprah and her beau. That was a hard one to execute. Danielle also made a pretty funny choice of Conan and Andy. We understood where she was coming from, albeit, they were a bit large in size. She did a good job and had some nice detail. If I had to chose a celebrity couple to inspire me, I think I would have taken a similar route as Danielle. Maybe Laurel and Hardy.
Bravotv.com: Which desserts stood out to you for better or for worse?
JI: I was pretty disappointed with Yigit’s and Eric’s. they have both shown us so much more in the past challenges. There flavors were both weak and unfortunately for Eric, Yigit's just looked a little bit cleaner and was somewhat more interesting. What amazed me the most about Eric’s was that it was a shortbread sandwich essentially and the two shortbreads were cooked differently than each other? How did that happen? Separate batches? Morgan again with a macaron? Is this the third or fourth challenge we have seen him do this? I will say I liked how he thought on his feet and tried to make the blond sacher sponge. Cocoa powder and chocolate are very difficult ingredients to replace or mimic, and the fact that the sponge worked out at all amazed me. Finally Zac nailed a challenge. His cakes were the right size, the story behind them made everyone smile, and they were pretty tasty even though a bit sweet.Bravotv.com: How is cooking for a tea party unique from the other challenges?
JI: When cooking for a tea party, or any event for that matter, you always have to take into consideration who you are cooking for. When speaking of a tea party, these were usually attended by well-to-do women. Meaning, you need to plan out well, not only the sizing of your portions, that it is all inclusive (one or two bites, hand-held), and must be able to sit at room temp for an extended period of time without melting or deteriorating at all.
Bravotv.com: The chefs were denied chocolate this week. What kind of handicap is that?
Removing chocolate from the pastry chefs would have been such a big deal had they known about it before they went shopping, but because they found out afterwards it they had to improvise with what they had. It obviously worked out better for some than others. In general, I would say chocolate is definitely one of the most used ingredients in a pastry chef's pantry. Not only because of its flavor but because of its versatility. It can be manipulated into just about anything -- cakes, cookies, mousse, ice cream, drinks, show pieces; the list goes on and on. So much so that it may even be considered a crutch of sorts, and that was what the challenge was trying to exploit.
Bravotv.com: Yigit kind of lost it this week, and people might think he should have gone home. Why didn’t he?
All the chefs are tired both emotionally and physically. Yigit was definitely shaken up when the chocolate was taken away and it took him a bit longer to adapt and come up with a new game plan. It is true -- his desserts were definitely not my favorites, but truth be known I was measuring Yigit against himself and what he had given us in prior challenges. When it came down to who should go home, It was a tough choice, but in the end Eric had more problems with his desserts then Yigit, not only technically with execution but general lackluster flavor. I actually thought Yigit's Guy Richie cake wasn’t so bad. Plus he at least did two different desserts rather than the same dessert garnished two different ways like Eric did with his shortbread.
Bravotv.com: Were you surprised that Yigit gave Heather H.’s elimination for the reason he was so frazzled. What did you think when he said that?
You know, that is the danger of becoming too close with anyone during this type of competition. I think people like Morgan and Danielle are better off because they keep everyone at arm's length and make it known that they are there to compete and win, not to make friends. When Yigit brought Heather up, I was a bit dumbfounded. Here was someone who was essentially super-focused, was able to steer clear of the drama and just get the job done to the best of his ability. The fact that he blamed Heathers departure on his poor performance was a bit of a let-down. Everyone has a bad day at every level. If you make a mistake, own it, and then if given another chance, learn from the experience and try to never make the same mistake again.
Bravotv.com: Eric has grown a lot this season. How do you think he’s changed since he started?
You could see Eric’s confidence build from one challenge to the next. His true gift is his abundance of patience and ability to stay calm. He also has a nurturing quality to him that everyone respected and admired. He was always concerned that he was a baker and not a true pastry chef. The fact that he held his own so far into the competition really says a lot. He definitely earned my respect and of course he deserves the right to call himself a chef. (He always did.)
Bravotv.com: Anything else you’d like to add?
This was probably the hardest elimination round for me. I really liked Eric and secretly wanted to see him go all the way. I always kind of root for the underdog and love a big upset. Unfortunately he succumbed to the pressure and fell apart in this challenge and served an inferior dish. That is the hardest thing about Top Chef -- you are only judged by the latest dish. Anything that you have done prior is washed away and each challenge is a clean slate. I believe Eric is happy that he competed and I think he proved something not only to himself but to the world. I am proud of him.