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.

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!