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.

 

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!