Bravotv.com: So we have Francois Payard as a guest judge.
Gail Simmons: I’ve known Francois for a long time. He really is one of the greatest pastry chefs in this country. He’s obviously from France, but he has been working his magic in America for many, many years. He was the original pastry chef for Daniel, and then together, they spun off Payard Patisserie. Eventually, Francois opened a whole bunch of new pastry outlets of his own -- in Vegas and New York. He’s so knowledgeable and always really fun to have on the show.
Bravotv.com: The chefs had to create pies. What are you looking for in a good pie?
GS: I think that Francois said it very well: the crust really makes or breaks a pie. If you don’t have the crust, then all is lost. It needs to be flaky and light and golden and buttery, but you also want the filling and the crust to be in balance with regard to each other. Traditionally, pies can be either cream or fruit-based. Most pies have a top crust, as opposed to a tart that’s sort of open-faced. You want the flavor inside to really stand out too. Ultimately, the dough should be a delicious, flaky vehicle for a great filling.
Bravotv.com: And the chefs also had the added element of only being able to use one hand…
GS: It was cruel and unusual punishment, I have to admit. But, it made for some great television. We knew that they were capable of it, and I have to say, all things considered, they all did it well. It was hilarious to watch, and not a single person didn’t finish their pie.Bravotv.com: Matthew was out of contention for the win, and it looked like you didn’t even try his pie. Did you?
GS: We definitely did. But they just didn’t show it as he had to be on the bottom either way. It was too bad, because he made a good pie.
Bravotv.com: Sally thought she was playing to Francois’ taste with the kind of tart taste she tried to achieve, but he didn’t necessarily care for hers. . .
GS: I think she just went overboard. She wanted to play to tartness, which I agree is a great attribute in a pie. You don’t want any dessert to be too sweet. Remember, as Johnny Iuzzini loves to tell me, “Sugar is not a flavor.” You always want a dessert to have acid and have balance, you don’t want it to just be like a bomb of sweetness in your mouth. She was playing to that, so she used strawberries and plums, which are very tart fruits, a great idea, but it still needs to be balanced. It can’t make your mouth pucker. There still needs to be enough sugar with it. It wasn’t that her pie didn’t taste good, it just didn’t taste like light, juicy fruit -- it tasted a little bit too sour.
Bravotv.com: So Carlos’ was the right balance, because he had the lemon and raspberry, which could have been too tart.
GS: I liked both Orlando and Carlos’ pies very much. The berry pie that Orlando made actually was my favorite -- just because I love a mixed berry pie. I think it’s a Canadian thing -- we call it “bumble pie.” That’s was personally my favorite pie, and he did it really well. But Francois chose the winner on this one. Carlos’ pie had a little more professional pastry chef flair. He added a few elements that were really impressive, like the way he piped. The way that Orlando piped his meringue was with a special tip, in simple circles. But Carlo actually used a special technique with his piping tip to make it look that way. He just did a great job, and it showed a lot of skill, all with one hand tied behind his back.Bravotv.com: Then, you had a carnival, with your good friend Dana Cowin.
GS: It was so much fun that she came and hosted this beautiful event. It really was a spectacular setting. And, I thought the idea of elevating carnival food was excellent. It was certainly not a carnival atmosphere in terms of it being upscale -- it was in this beautiful garden. And for the most part, they all had fantastic ideas -- caramel corn, funnel cake, candy apples. It was a difficult challenge because, as with so many things, these are flavors that so many people have very strong memories of. You’re not just cooking something that has to taste good, you’re evoking a sense memory for people. And that can get very personal -- people expect certain things when you tell them that it’s based on a caramel apple. You are setting yourself up because it’s something that those people are not only familiar with, but they’re attached to. That’s exactly of what happened with the people who are on the bottom.
Bravotv.com: Sally was on top for this one.
GS: I love caramel corn, and this is an exact example of what we were talking about, done right: she used caramel corn in a really smart way and elevated it. She started with enough of the flavor and texture we expect from caramel corn (i.e. the caramel, the crunch, the peanuts, the butteriness), but then she took it so much farther above and beyond your typical carnival caramel corn. She made a pudding. She made a corn cake. It was all very subtle, but it had a ton of fresh corn flavor. It was just a really creative way to reintroduce us to the idea of caramel corn.
Bravotv.com: And then Matthew won. . .
GS: And then Matthew won with his fried apple pie. A fried pie is awesome. It evokes, of course, not just the caramel apple, but also the funnel cake, and the idea of any kind of a fried treat at a carnival. It was just made perfectly. He didn’t try to stretch himself. He made a really great version, which was appropriate for the party and used a lot of skill that made it really, well, delicious. He showed that he could do more than just whip together a pie. It certainly showed a lot of professional pastry craft. He added an accent of fresh apples, he made the cream, the cinnamon sable. There were so many elements that elevated it, yet it also was simply a great pie. It looked simple. It tasted simple. It tasted as you’d expect it to taste, only better, and that’s what you want. It’s exactly what we were looking for.
Bravotv.com: And he had a raffle.
GS: Two of my friends won, Miri and Caroline! So shout out to Miri and Caroline. They were both so embarrassed, and we all couldn’t stop laughing. But it made their day.
Bravotv.com: And then we have our bottom. I feel like fans are going to be very upset that Carlos going home.
GS: First of all, there was Chris. I think it’s clear that Chris just took on too much, and his texture was not there. It just felt too fussy and little bit unrelatable. We wanted it to be refined and elevated, but there is a fine line between that and losing your audience, cause it still should be fun and feel like a carnival – and his dessert didn’t. Specifically his agar bar was just way too thick, way too tart, solidified, gelatinous, and it just didn’t have a pleasurable texture. It just didn’t really go with where we were. It was inappropriate.
Orlando’s dish wasn’t perfect, the layers were a little off, but most of all it didn’t taste or feel like it was reminiscent of a carnival at all. He claimed that it was based on or inspired by caramel apple. We could barely taste the apple because the chocolate overpowered it. And if you’re going to say caramel apple, then I want caramel and I want apple. Because apple, in and of itself, is not a carnival treat.
So then there’s Carlos. My heart just sank for him because he had such a great idea. It looked so fun; I was so excited about it. The churros were beautifully golden, sugared, thin, perfect strips. He had his handmade soda. And he had his little slider. The whole thing was done so well -- when you looked at it. But when you bite into it, it just fell apart. I mean, the bun, that angel food cake just disintegrated into your hand because of the humidity and because of the fact that angel food cake, by definition, is super light. It’s just egg whites and sugar basically. He had such dense chocolate and sauce and that mango pate de fruits to make the cheese, that there was too much inside the burger. When you squished it with your hands and teeth to take a bite, the whole thing did not work. Also, his churros were cold because it took so long to do all of this work. He aimed so high. That’s a risk you take: you want to reach and you want to stretch, but you then run the risk that you’re “biting off more than you can chew.” I’m sure people will ask about Carlos versus Orlando, and really the execution, the fundamental operation of Carlos’ dish failed, whereas Orlando’s didn’t. Orlando’s was still a proper entremet. It still ate well and ate easily. It just missed the mark in its flavor. It didn’t fall apart. It didn’t fail as a dessert. It just failed in the specific expectations that he set up for us. And I think that’s the difference. Carlos’ actually did not work as an executed dessert, and you can’t really recover from that. I am devastated. I am a huge Carlos fan, if I’m allowed to say that. He is talented and smart, and he works so hard. He’s the pastry chef at a fantastic restaurant at The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas where I’ve eaten, but I’m going back in two weeks for the Food & Wine All-Star weekend event. The good news for me is that I get to see Carlos! I hope he makes me a banana dessert. On his terms.
Bravotv.com: It’s just unfortunate because he made those macarons in the Wonka episode. GS: I know, but this is how the show goes. Every challenge is new and every time if you’re not on your game and you don’t think things through then you run the risk of being eliminated. Someone has to go home every episode, that’s how the game is played. Trust me if I could keep these five with me -- plus a couple more -- I would, forever! But then we would not have a winner and then, well, there would be no point to the show.