Top Banana

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

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

Top Banana

Gail Simmons gives a behind-the-scenes explanation for the overwhelming use of banana in the chefs' Quickfire dishes. This week we have Pichet Ong as a guest judge. How was it working with him?
Gail Simmons: Pichet is a fantastic pastry chef. He's a lot of fun, and really, really creative. He's worked at some of the greatest restaurants in New York -- Jean Georges, Payard; he was the opening pastry chef at Spice Market. His desserts are beautiful. For the Quickfire, the chefs had the opportunity to make their own candy bars. What do you like in a candy bar?
GS: I love texture in a candy bar, and I also like flavors that complement the chocolate. My preference is dark chocolate, but I am open. I always want there to be a contrast of textures, so you break through that outer shell and there's something gooey and something crunchy. That way when you eat it all together it's a complete candy bar experience. You don't want it too liquidy and you don't want it too sweet. You need counterpoints so that you're not just getting all sugar and cocoa butter. There were three different banana offerings. Did it surprise you that so many people opted for banana in their candy bar?
GS: I kind of loved it. I'm a huge banana fan myself. What you didn't see was that behind the scenes we had running banana jokes all season. The banana you see when they do the close-up on Carlos' shoulder pocket was actually a fake banana that he kept as his good luck charm all season. The chefs were constantly playing practical jokes on us and on each other with that banana. So it certainly didn't surprise me that Carlos used banana. Banana is one of those hard flavors that when done well really complements milk, dark, or white chocolate, but you have to be careful, because if you add too much sugar, banana becomes very grainy and sticky. Bananas also need to be at the right ripeness or else they're either too sweet, or if they're under-ripe, they have this sort of tannic quality adding a "green" flavor that you don't want. I liked that so many people tried to incorporate it. Were you surprised that Orlando helped Rebecca?
GS: We weren't surprised. Everyone talks about Orlando being the villain in the interviews, in the kitchen, and in the house, but we didn't know any of that while we were shooting. When he came to Judges' Table, he was always perfectly well-behaved. I didn't know any different. And that's what a good pastry chef does. He was done, so it didn't involve compromising his own dish. He had extra time and was completely finished, so there was no excuse for him not to help her. And I'm glad he did, because her candy bar turned out really well. I like that he acknowledged he helped her, but he didn't complain that it was his work that allowed her to be on top that day. What were your thoughts on Sally's winning candy bar?
GS: Sally's was great. As Pichet said, it encompassed everything you'd want in a candy bar. There was an exotic, interesting flavor, the chocolate was tempered beautifully, the forbidden rice added a crunch and a great textural component. I'm a huge Ovaltine fan; it's something I drank growing up all my life, because my father is from South Africa, and it's very common there. It's a malt drink, which helps you sleep. For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs had to break up into groups to create desserts at a water park. Let's start with the group people may have thought would win -- Chris, Matthew, and Orlando. What were their fatal flaws?
GS: They were a really strong team, and they're all really great pastry chefs, but I think they may have become a little too arrogant about their capabilities and they didn't think outside of the kitchen. They didn't create desserts that were easy to eat; they didn't create desserts that were appropriate for their environment. They made summer desserts, which I would be happy to eat in a restaurant. It's not that their desserts were bad, but they certainly weren't perfect. Chris' dessert was a little sticky, Orlando's wasn't root beer float-y enough, it was sort of dry, and Matthew's was piping hot. If we were sitting in an air-conditioned fine dining establishment rather than a water park, they'd be great. But we were in a water park -- I wanted to pick it up and go, I didn't want a plate and a spoon with different components. I just wanted something fun, easy, and refreshing to eat before I went down the slide. Unfortunately they didn't really do that.

Then we had Amanda, Sally, and Carlos. They each had problems with their desserts individually. Their issues were very different than Matthew, Chris, and Orlando's. The problem with this team's dessert was their execution rather than their concept. Their desserts were perfectly appropriate for the venue -- funnel cake, ice cream pop, a smoothie. These were all things that seemed great in theory, but they failed in the details. Carlos' ice cream bar, which looked beautiful, had no counterpoint. It was completely sweet and fatty. There was white chocolate with thick, rich ice cream, and Fruity Pebbles. Great idea, and kids would like it because it was so sweet, but there was nothing sophisticated about its flavor at all. If he had done raspberry sorbet or really any kind of fruit sorbet in the center, it would have been absolutely perfect. But because it was so dense and rich with no balance, it wasn't refreshing at all. Sally's smoothie: I mean I can make a berry smoothie in three minutes flat, and it wasn't as if hers was so exceptional. She froze Cap’n Crunch with liquid nitrogen and blended it with a bunch of berries and yogurt. I make that for breakfast every day, minus the nitrogen. That's hardly six hours of work. I know she did it so she could help the rest of her team, but it seemed as if there was very little effort. Which is fine in a way, because that's how the game is played, its her choice if she has immunity. She could have tried to win again though, but I guess that's not her M.O. She literally decided that she was not even going to try to win, which is unfortunate.  In our opinion, Amanda's dessert had the greatest flaws. Her coconut sorbet was fantastic, her pineapple jam was delicious -- it all worked together really well. The idea of a funnel cake is so fantastic especially in terms of an amusement park, a carnival, a fair, a water park – it all works. But she just didn't make a good funnel cake, in fact, she made a terrible funnel cake. It was over-fried and sat too long, so it was cold, which made it hard. Because the funnel cake drizzles were so thin when she poured them in, they crisped up too quickly. You want them crisp on the outside but, with a doughy center. It wasn't like that at all, and because she gave it to us in a bowl with ice cream and jam with only a spoon, you couldn't cut it, you couldn't pick it up with your fingers and eat it. When I tried to cut into it, it flew out of my bowl. That was a risk she took when she chose to fry something on site, but it could have been handled differently. If you're going to take that risk, you need to follow through with it. All she had to say was, "I'm going first. My stuff is ready first, and you need to eat it right now," when we walked up to their table and it may have been a different experience. If she was worried, she didn't speak up so we didn't know it. I think Amanda is extremely talented, and she's a gifted pastry chef. She has an amazing attitude and an amazing understanding and knowledge of what she does. She was just being too much of a team player and not asserting herself, which is too bad because I do think she went prematurely. It just goes to show, if you make one mistake you go home, it doesn't matter who you are. All it takes is one challenge for you to be out of the game. Last but not least, we have the winning team.
GS: What Carlos, Sally, and Amanda lacked, Katzie, Rebecca, and Megan really excelled at. They created desserts that were completely appropriate for where we were and executed them very well with their own professional pastry chef spin. Like Johnny said, they all would have worked perfectly on an ice cream truck. Katzie had something on a stick, it had crunch, it had flavor, it had acidity from the cherry ice cream, it was rich, but it was fun to eat, and she bruleed that meringue right there, which everyone loved. Rebecca created an ice cream sandwich, which was perfect, simple, straightforward, with good ingredients. She made perfectly chewy snickerdoodle cookies, lemon ice cream, which gave it a tang but was still rich, also it was wrapped in paper so you could take it on the go. Megan made that strawberry float which was a little too sweet for me, but all in all, still very sophisticated and very fun. In addition to all of this, they also made lemonade and essential oil spritzers of cold water that everyone could spray on themselves to cool down. They really thought about the whole experience and it felt very organic to where we were. Plus, everything tasted good. Period.

Next week brace yourselves for the Beastie Boys. It's time to get ill...

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.