The Cape

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

Carlos vs. Orlando

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!

The Cape

Gail Simmons breaks down the early competition, and gives the scoop on some of her premiere fashions. What makes the new season different?

Gail Simmons: Johnny and I were raring to get started with the new season, and right off the bat you’ll notice a number of differences: One, Johnny lost the pompadour. By choice. He looks fantastic -- although he always looks fantastic. And, the other thing you’re going to notice is that we demand a lot more of our chefs this year. The M.O. for this season is make it bigger, make it better, make it sweeter, make it taller. Although the first Quickfire might seem deceptively easy, the results weren’t that impressive. And the Elimination Challenge really turned our pastry chefs upside-down and made them realize this season is not just going to be about plated desserts. It’s about showing all your skills at a really high-level. And the talent this season is up for the task. Well, let’s start with that disappointing Quickfire Challenge. The chefs had to recreate or make soda shop desserts.

GS: We met them on the pier in Santa Monica early in the morning. I had a bad cold and was wondering whether I may not sound like myself. And it was colder than I expected, which is why I’m wearing a jacket. We loved that jacket!

GS: It was one of our producer’s! I was wearing a silk blue shirt underneath and we kind of got out there and it was freezing cold, so, I literally took that leather jacket off of Casey Kriley’s, our executive producer's, body, and wore it on the show! But we digress…

GS: So, we thought this would be a fun way to start off. We put them in a very traditional soda shop atmosphere and asked them to create a dessert based on a classic soda shop treat, but using all of their creative skills, and their imaginations. What we didn’t want was seven banana splits. And what we got was five banana splits and two other desserts. A bit disappointing. We were so surprised that the chefs we know are so capable of blowing our minds, gave us pedestrian food. The first challenge, especially when they’re in this very cramped little space, is always very difficult. But we had a few desserts that we liked. 

Carlos and Rebecca’s cereal bowl milkshake was fun. It had great texture, and it was different because they made a shake, so, it was just refreshing to see something in another format other than just on a plate or in a sundae bowl. Amanda and Nelson gave us the most interesting flavors, that’s why they won. Their chocolate sponge cake with pickled cherries was surprising and fresh. The cherries were quickly pickled, which really balanced out the dish. It made everything a little less sweet, it gave a tartness, and it didn’t seem pickle-y. It really added a brightness and a freshness and a little more acid to the dish, which really went well with the chocolate-y cake and the cream. On to the Elimination Challenge, which was inspired by fairytales. They’re a lot darker than maybe people remember.

GS: The versions we gave the chef were Grimm’s versions, very dark versions of the fairytales, darker than the Disney versions I remember as a child. But I think we wanted to give the chefs as much inspiration and as much room to play as we could. For the most part, I thought their inspirations were great: “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “Hansel and Gretel.” There was certainly a lot to draw from each of the stories. The most important part of this challenge was that we asked them to make a showpiece right off the bat. We really wanted them to know we were serious about desserts, and we also wanted to get them using all the skills and techniques that a pastry chef should have in their back pockets, specifically chocolate and sugar work. Most of them did a pretty great job considering this was their first challenge, they had never worked in the Top Chef: Just Desserts kitchen before, which, by the way, looked incredible this season. Our kitchen was just unbelievable.

Most of them did OK. Certainly two were better than the other two. Just talking about the show piece, Little Red Riding Hood did the best job there, although Goldilocks and the Three Bears had a lot to it as well, used a lot of texture and beautiful chocolate and sugar work. Both of them drew some really great inspiration from the story and showed a lot of detail. Jack and the Beanstalk, and Hansel and Gretel, in terms of a show piece, were not that great. Jack and the Beanstalk, at first glance, looked beautiful, but when we started to walk around it, we realized they were very rushed, there was not a 360-view that we had hoped, and it was falling apart at the seams. The Hansel and Gretel team certainly had the most flawed show piece. None of the people on that team had great experience with show pieces, and you could see from the piece that they did work as a team. It was so disjointed, and they made a lot of decisions that didn’t make sense. Also, when you think of Hansel and Gretel, you think of a gingerbread or candy house! But the house they created was a sad-looking affair. If they didn’t want to use gingerbread, they could have at least covered it with candy, they could have done so many things to give it color and texture to make it appealing to the eye, and they just didn’t do that. Some viewers could argue that Craig could have gone home—was it because his team’s showpiece turned out better?

GS: Yes, absolutely, their showpiece and their desserts turned out better. To make the decision of who goes home, first we have to choose the team that did the worst. From that team, we choose someone to go home. And, overall, the Beanstalk team’s show piece looked better, and their desserts were better. Their desserts had some flaws for sure, but were certainly better than the Hansel and Gretel team’s desserts. One we made the decision as to which team did the least well, we were choosing from those three people only. So, Craig was, luckily, bolstered up by his teammates. In this episode he got very lucky. He certainly did not show that he had the skills and the aptitude for what this challenge really required. I think he’d be the first to admit that. 

For the win, it was between Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks and the Three Bears for the flavor of the desserts, as well as for their idea, their inspiration and their execution. I think both teams did a great job, but both of the desserts the Little Red Riding Hood team made were really focused, really creative, especially the little bombolini, with the strawberry gel you injected into it. And they did a chocolate cake as well, which reminded me and Johnny of Amanda’s Quickfire Challenge dish from the day before. Similar flavors, but it made sense because it was sort of a Black Forest inspiration, and the Black Forest is this bewitched forest where a lot of these stories supposedly take place. And of course the work that Chris did on their showpiece was exceptional. The only other point of contention between the groups was Orlando telling Rebecca that she shouldn’t make rice pudding for her porridge; he suggested oatmeal, which she ended up doing. Do you think if she had made rice pudding, that would have been a mistake?

GS: No, I don’t think it would have been a mistake if she had done it really well. If all the tastes were created properly and it had the right texture it could have been great. I mean, rice pudding is very, very simple. And oatmeal’s not that much more complicated. If you do a really delicious rice pudding with a lot of flavor and spices, perhaps, she could have done it with berries and cardamom, things that she thought the bears would have eaten, if you tell a good story, and if it tastes good, why not? She just needed to trust herself. Although, it wasn’t as abysmal as I thought it was going to be in the end, there were so many things they could have done, but at least they were on the right track. On the Hansel and Gretel team, it was between Lina and Melissa, but we could have made an argument for all three of them to go home because they just didn’t work together well at all. We also thought Van did the least amount of team work. But when we looked at what Lina did, we saw she made choices that just did not make sense at all for that showpiece. She couldn’t accept and understand the input of her teammates, she didn’t really contribute much to anything else and the things she did contribute, the drink that went along with Melissa’s dessert, it was sweet and so off-balance, it didn’t work with the dish. It felt like an afterthought, as if they threw it on the plate without tasting it. So, I’m sorry, Lina’s a sweetheart, and I know she cooks at a great restaurant -- Stephan Pyles in Dallas, Texas, and I know she’s very capable, but we all agreed that she just didn’t complete the challenge the way we asked her to. 

And btw, I just want to note that I wore a cape for this episode. I was going to say, did you and Danielle fight over the red cape? 

GS: She was Snow White. She was in a blue cape. We had no idea that they were going to ask us to dress in costume. Literally only the night before we were told by our production team, that they wanted us to be in costume. Hilariously, the boys were all for it, they couldn’t wait to get all dressed up. Of course, Dannielle and I went kicking and screaming, wearing those capes. But it was fun -- I’ve never been asked to rock a red riding hood cape before!

Check out all of Gail's looks -- with a serious focus on her shoes -- this season in our "Gail Simmons: Fashion Plate" photo gallery.

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Gail Simmons elaborates on the judges' agonizing final decision. 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 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! 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 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... 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. 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.