Fair Fare

Gail Simmons explains why Craig's win and immunity says a lot about the fairness of the competition.

Bravotv.com: So let’s start with the Quickfire Challenge with the gum. What do you like in gum flavors?
Gail Simmons: 
I want gum to wake me up and refresh my mouth. My favorite flavor of Extra Desserts Delights gum is Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. It has a great balance of minty-ness and chocolatey-ness. 
I thought this was a fun challenge! We weren’t actually asking them to make gum, but it was to get them making desserts that were truly tiny, with the idea that they could be translated to a gum flavor. I have to say I think they all did an exceptional job. Their desserts were absolutely beautiful. They were beautiful little miniature desserts, even more so than a petit fours is, as these were truly full-blown desserts. Craig did really well! His flavor was thought through and very balanced. I was impressed with many of them that day, especially Carlos’ and Nelson’s as well.

Bravotv.com: Were you surprised that Craig won? Craig seemed surprised himself.
Here is why I liked that he won: besides the fact that his strawberry-lemon pancakes are a very viable flavor for a gum, it proved what people sometimes ask us, and the reason the guest judge is so important on the show -- they come in having never met these chefs before, having not spoken to them at all, and after 20 minutes, they have to choose a winner. They have no preconceived notions. They don’t know that Craig has been struggling. They didn’t know who was on the bottom of the challenge the night before. They have no idea. So it’s really proof of how fair the competition is. Every day your slate is wiped clean and it’s anyone’s game. How each chef has done in the past has no bearing on how you will do the next day. And that’s why it was so great that Craig won. Because Hugh had no preconceived notions and no idea of anyone’s skill level. He honest to goodness just liked Craig’s dish the best and chose him as our winner.

What did you think of Hugh as a judge? He’ll be joining you in Texas.
I think he’s great. He’s so much fun. We had a great time on this shoot together. And we certainly had fun in Texas together when we shot Top Chef Season 9 over the summer. I think he’s a great addition to our team. He’s adorable. He’s funny. He’s smart. He’s snarky! He definitely doesn’t pull punches. He’s direct, and I think that was good for the show. He’s a good chef. He’s a Food & Wine Best New Chef from 2002, so he’s definitely part of the Food & Wine family. And more than all of that, he’s a fellow Canadian!Bravotv.com: 
On to the Elimination Challenge, we had the Real Housewives invading Top Chef.
It was crazy and amazing. I have to say I had so much fun with this challenge! I was skeptical as the Real Housewives are not known for their love of food necessarily, and I had never met the Beverly Hills ladies before. But they were excellent judges. They took their job very seriously. They were a lot of fun to hang out with on set. They weren’t divas at all. They were game for whatever we threw at them. And I think our chefs did a phenomenal job presenting Lisa with beautiful dessert tablescapes. Lisa is a serious player in the L.A. restaurant industry. She knows her stuff.

They were basing what they did on what Ken told them were her likes, pink, Giggy, etc. What do you think maybe they dwelled on too much?
I don’t think the issue was that they dwelled on what Ken said too much, I think it’s how they chose to translate it that got some of them in trouble. They had meld what they perceived her personal style to be with their style of pastry and dessert making. While both teams did a few beautiful that day and both teams tables looked absolutely gorgeous, the final decision was really about capturing Lisa’s aesthetic and the elegance of Villa Blanca. Craig’s team’s table looked slightly too childish. It was a beautiful table for sure, but it would have been more appropriate for a 10-year-old girl’s princess birthday party. The desserts they served were sophisticated, but the presentation, which was such a big part of this challenge, was tipped a little bit in the Chris/ Amanda team direction because they really captured a more modern elegant feel with their design and their desserts. I think it was much more “adult.” Also some of their desserts were better executed.

Bravotv.com: Johnny kind of made a point to tell Craig that he would have gone home. 

GS: Yes, that was true. But again, it was a great instance of how the game is played.  And that’s what makes it fair: Anyone can win the Quickfire, and if you do, and you get immunity, you can’t go home. That’s the game. I thought it was great that Craig should have gone home, but because he had immunity (and he won that immunity fair and square) he didn’t. He was safe. He really was in over his head, as he has been from the beginning. And his lemonade was terrible, but he had immunity and that’s the way the cookie crumbles… pun intended.
Bravotv.com: Any specific dishes you want to discuss?
GS: I loved Katzie’s macaron with the pipette. It was a pretty and creative addition to their table. Amanda was a great team leader, and Chris made a spectacular showpiece. Everyone on their team seemed to play their role and contribute well. Their dessert’s were clearly delineated and they seemed really organized, even if it didn’t appear that way behind the scenes in the kitchen. I know the other team thought that Amanda’s team was behind, but it doesn’t matter to us because, just like when you’re at a restaurant and you don’t care what’s going on in the kitchen as long as your food comes to you well-cooked, tasty, delicious, and beautifully-presented, that is how we feel about our challenges. That’s what care most about -- the end result. How they got there doesn’t really make a difference to us. I don’t care if they were fighting. I don’t care if they weren’t getting along. They did a great job and they should be proud. And the Beverly Hills ladies were happy too.

Bravotv.com: Anything else you’d like to add?

GS: Afterwards in our break between the challenge and Judges’ Table, we had just eaten all this sugar, but we were all still hungry for some real food. So we brought the ‘Wives across the street from our studio, to this awesome German beer and sausage place called Wurstküche, and I took a picture! Here is the picture of Taylor and Kyle digging into their sausages with Hubert! 

We had a lot of fun with them. They were just great sports all around. 

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!


Here's my friend Gina and I with Hasty!


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


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!