Cast Blog: #JUSTDESSERTS

Carlos vs. Orlando

Taking the Cake

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Best in Show

Grande Finale

Nobody's Perfect

The Final Four

Default image

Puff Piece

Big News!

Bon Voyage

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!

Final Warning for THE CRAIG

Carlos vs. Orlando

Gail Simmons explains why Carlos' dessert was ultimately less successful than Orlando's.

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.

 

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.