Carlos vs. Orlando

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


Nobody's Perfect

Gail discusses the best of this week's dishes, and why Orlando was ultimately sent home. We skip a Quickfire and go straight to Elimination this week!
Gail Simmons: We threw a little twist at our chefs. For this Elimination Challenge, I'm sure that they picked countries they thought they were going to have to make pastries from, but we had them instead create a dessert that looks like a savory course from that country -- a savory food in disguise. It totally threw them off. I mean, French/Italian/Spanish seem doable. But, I will admit when Sally chose Cuba I tried to get her to change. I asked her three times "Are you sure?," but she wasn't budging. So we let her keep it and then I think she got worried when she realized what she was being asked to do, and had no idea how to accomplish it using Cuban food.

As much as it seems like a challenge that's out of the blue, it actually was a great way for all of us to separate the four of them stylistically and give them all a final push before the finale to see what they are capable of. It made them think in a whole new way. Not that they aren't capable of doing it; it just requires them to step out of the box a bit, and I think they all really did a good job overall. We were impressed by their creations and it was a great challenge. I was very skeptical when I first heard about it -- I didn't think it made any sense, but once we sat down at that table and the dishes just started coming out, I realized it was a really, really telling exercise for our chefs. Were you thinking at all that Carlos actually would have been good at this challenge because it’s sort of what he did with his hamburger and fries?
GS: We all thought of Carlos' hamburger and fries for this challenge, and I'm sure he would have been great at it. However, remember: his hamburger and fries looked great, but they didn't taste great, which was the problem. But, yes, we all miss Carlos, and Im sure he would have excelled. What was it like sitting at the table with all these savory chefs? Did they bring a different perspective?
GS : Yes, the savory chefs bring a different perspective than pastry chefs do. But keep in mind Hubert is a savory chef, and I always work with him, I mostly work with savory chefs on Top Chef -- the pastry world is just one component of my TV life. But it was great to hear savory chefs talking about pastry because they rarely do. It was a nice change. I've known a lot of them for a long time. I know Michael Cimarusti from Top Chef Masters, Sang Yoon is a good friend, I'm crazy about Suzanne, and it was so great to work with Cat Cora and John. They were just a great crew because they all cook very different styles of food, John is more Latin, and Sang has a burger place but he also has an Asian place, Michael Cimarusti's restaurant is fine dining seafood, Suzanne is California with European influences. It was a great discussion because everyone brought their own taste and their own ideas to the table and everyone had very particular ideas about dessert as well. I think some people might have a problem with the fact that Chris didn't make his own puff pastry.
GS : It's tricky. First of all, we did reprimand him a bit, but it's true that we've sent people home before when they have not made their own puff pastry. In those cases it was because the dessert that they made was a terrible dessert because of it. We thought about this a lot, but there was so much other technical skill that went into Chris' dessert beyond the puff pastry. The puff pastry was one of so many beautiful components, not by any stretch the most complicated piece of the dish. So, we could see past the wrapper. There were three or four other layers that he constructed inside that puff pastry. We showed how he did it, how he baked the pastry around those ring molds, then cut the molds and rebuilt the layers inside. I mean, it's extraordinary that he was able to do that. The truth is that making puff pastry takes a lot of time and he just didn't have it. Even if he had done it right from the beginning, he wouldn't have had time to do everything he needed to do. Would we have liked better if he had used his own puff pastry? Yes, possibly if he had used his own puff pastry he would have won. But, the dessert itself was so fantastic in every other respect, the layering of the 'meat' as chocolate mousse, the different grades of chocolate, the raspberry jam which gave it acidity, the crunchy, flaky, buttery dough, and then this almond cream he used as mashed potatoes with a caramel sauce that looked exactly like gravy, it just embraced the challenge so wholeheartedly that we could look past that one layer. Matthew, with his manicotti was kind of in the middle.
GS : Matthew actually did very well. We were very impressed with Matthew's when it came out. It's just when we started tasting everyone else's, there were others that were better. I actually really loved Matthew's dessert. Visually he really went for it, and I thought was very creative in his ability to construct the manicotti, make the sauce, and the basil gelée was the perfect addition. It was just a bit monochromatic. I mean, there was more than one color -- but texturally it was all very soft: there was a soft mousse, soft cake, soft jam, soft gelée. It kind of just mushed and melted in your mouth. There needed to be one more element to give it a little complexity. That tomato would have been interesting.
Gail: Definitely! The tomato would have been interesting, or if he had done some sort of textural component, a crunch, within the mousse, if he had maybe put some sort of Rice Krispie or chocolate nib in the mousse, it would have helped a lot. It was very large -- you had three bites and you got the picture and you couldn’t eat any more. But, I was impressed with how visually stunning it was.

Sally's was so fun. I wonder if people will be upset or think that because she got it together at the last minute, she shouldn't have won. But the truth is, it doesn't matter to us. We don't know when we're sitting around that table what she went through to get there and what her process was, as long as it tastes great, looks great, and embraces the challenge. So, Sally was able at the last minute to really pull it out. I mean, she made us a full Cuban sandwich experience! She didn't stop at just the sandwich -- she made beautiful plantain chips that were sprinkled with sugar and lime, so they were also sweet as opposed to usually when they're sprinkled with salt. She also made this beautiful Asian "potato salad" that was really a fruit salad -- it was so fresh and bright and crunchy. And then there was her actual sandwich; she made her own baguette, she simulated pickles, she simulated ham, pork, mustard, I mean all of it! And the layering of flavors actually worked really well together. Her one drawback was that mousse she used for the pork at the center, because it was so soft and there was so much of it, when you bit into it, it sort of oozed out the sides, and made is a bit messy. But, again, that didn't detract from the experience. And everyone's dish had a drawback of somekind, so really this is the perfect judging conundrum: we had four people left and we really had to weigh everyone carefully against each other, because they were all good, but NO ONE was perfect. So how do you make the most informed decision? That was our challenge. I think Sally showed us that she was able to be completely creative and give us a fantastic experience based on what we asked her to do. what went wrong with Orlando's dish?
Gail: Orlando had a great outlook. He had this idea that was really smart and beautiful -- paella, which has rice that can translate to dessert easily, sweet rice exists in a lot of cultures, not only Spanish. But he went about it in the wrong way. The first issue was that he didn't cook his rice properly. The rice tasted alright with the saffron, but he cooked it in a rice cooker, it was overcooked, mushy and broken, which was disappointing. His other major issue was that he cooked all his other components separately, so it all ate totally separately. It wasn't cohesive. There was no melding and mixing, it felt like he had put down a bowl of rice and placed three pieces of beet on top, three pieces of plum, and a little tuille to make a mussel. It felt disjointed and not like a fully developed idea. His flavors were great -- plum, beets, vanilla, saffron, that all worked. The tuille that he used looked really great, but when we picked it up it also sort of fell apart because it had been sitting in the warm rice. I bet if he did it again he would do it a lot differently. Perhaps if I had eaten it alone I might have enjoyed it more, but when we sat and ate it with the other three that were so spectacular, it did not measure up comparatively.

And then there were three! Our finale is next, which is so intense and amazing! I’m so excited for everyone to see it. It’s different than any finale we’ve done before on Top Chef. Period.