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

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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.

 

Best in Show

The final three chefs compete for the ultimate title of "Top Chef: Just Desserts."

Bonjour, mes petits amis! Well, we made it. It's finale time, and wow, was it a nail-biter!

The opening of this episode gave me the chills -- the finalists were greeted by Jacques Torres and his fellow MOFs, Sebastien Cannone and Stefane Treand. I've actually heard the term "MOF" before, but I didn't know much about it. Gail recommends watching Kings of Pastry, and discusses it in her finale blog. You can actually watch it streaming instantly on Netflix -- I plan on doing so this week!

Chris, Matthew, and Sally were issued their finale challenge -- a Meilleurs Ouvriers de France-style challenge where they'd have to make a bonbon, bread, a showpiece, and a plated dessert, truly testing many different pastry skills. Each of the chefs consulted with the culinary legends, as they prepared their desserts. They were also given actual sous-chefs later, in the form of their former cheftestants. They each chose and drew some of the best competitors of the season. I was wondering if anyone would pull Craig (sorry, Craig!) and how they would utilize him. But that didn't happen. Sally seemingly pulled the best pick in Orlando, who executed her showpiece for her -- more on that later!

This challenge was also interesting in that the chefs' plated desserts had to be personal and they presented a story to the diners along with their dishes. This was the first time the judges and their guests really got to get a taste of what everyone was fighting for, what was driving them this whole season. Le's start with Matthew.

I've been saying all season how smart Matthew is, but, unfortunately he sort of faltered this time around. I thick in a lot of ways Matthew was my front-runner going into the challenge in that he always makes smart decisions, satisfying the challenge and the judges, while staing true to his style. First the showpiece. He used sugar. I honestly don't know enough about showpieces to know what was wrong with his because it looked pretty amazing to me. But, the judges seem to think that he should have used chocolate. His bonbon was well-received, and his bread, though tasty, seemed to be too simple. Then came his plated dessert, which looked abstract and messy all at the same time. Although the dish was beautiful in a way, it wasn't composed, and much like Katzie's Beastie Boys challenge dish, the diners didn't know how to eat the components. Matthew has a stunning future ahead of him, regardless of whether or not he lost. The same can obviously be said for Sally. Sally's bonbon went over well and her bread seemed to be the most well-received that evening. I would eat the s--- out of that thing! But her plated dessert, while tasty, was sloppy (she ran out of time), and her showpiece was done completely by Orlando. There was an interesting debate at Judges' Table about this, and honestly, I see both sides, but I'm glad Dannielle stood up for Sally, saying that Sally simply utilized her sous-chef. That's what they're there for, and it was completely within the rules. You can see more of the judges' discussion in our Extended Judges' Table footage.

Finally, we have Chris. First off, congrats Chris!!! Obviously Chris' showpiece was exceptional, despite some falling pieces, and he threaded his concept of industrialization through all of his dishes. His bonbon was polished and flavorful, and his bread was decent. But I really think it came down to this plated dessert, which people loved. It sounded yummy, for lack of a better word. And so, Chris got the money, and I couldn't be happier that he now has the funds to take care of his daughter. He had to step it up that day, and he did.

All I have left to say is that this session was such a pleasure to watch, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

On a sidenote, I had the pleasure of visiting MOF Jacques Torres' wife's, Madame Chocolat's, shop this past week in L.A. and she, well, spoiled me rotten. Now these are bonbons!

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Here's my friend Gina and I with Hasty!

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Look at all the loot I ended up with! I'm going to turn into a bonbon!

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If you've never had Jacques or Hasty's chocolates, you're missing out, so you should definitely stop for some next time you're in either L.A. or New York City. 

I'll see you all next week for the Top Chef: Texas premiere, Until then, Have a Nosh!