Johnny's Eyes Stared Deep Into My Soul

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!

Johnny's Eyes Stared Deep Into My Soul

Sure the season premiere was action-packed, but, seriously, how good did Gail and Johnny look?!

I've finally come down from my Kathy Wakile-Gail Simmons-Johnny Iuzzini sugar high long enough (video coming soon!) to sit down and recap Season 2's first episode. Sooo, welcome back my little soda jerks! As much as I loved Rocco's Dinner Party, and I did, I really missed the intensity of the Top Chef kitchen. So, let's get started -- shall we?

First, the chefs are greeted on a pier by the glorious Gail Simmons and Johnny Iuzzini, and I gotta say they were both looking' slammin'! They just so happened to be outside an olde-timey soda shop. There aren't too many of these around, but I actually visited one not too long ago in Philly, The Franklin Fountain, and guess what I got? A banana split! Sooo these chefs would've done just fine there. Unfortunately for them, Gail and Johnny didn't want just a banana split -- or a root beer float for that matter -- they wanted a modern take on a soda shop classic. The chefs were broken up into teams, and did their best to do just that. Only two teams seemed to emerge creatively though. Amanda and Nelson made a winning chocolate sponge cake with pickled cherries. Um, I plan on adding pickled cherries to everything now. What about you? I've never had them, but i'm imagining they might taste like sour cherry preserves, which i love. i could be very wrong about this, so when i actualy try it, I'll let you know! Carlos and Rebecca came in second with their Cap'n Crunch milkshake. Well, i love Cap'n Crunch, so i would'e been all over this. The concept reminded me a little of the cereal milk softserve at Momofuku Milk Bar actually, but I bet the texture of the actual cereal on top set it apart.The Elimination Challenge also put our chefs in teams, where they had to create a showpiece as well as plated dishes based on classic fairytales. When Carlos explained the less-than-appetizing details of Little Red Riding Hood, revealing the more grim side of the story, I almost lost it. They were so shocked! Anyway, clashing personalities really emerged in this challenge. Orlando questioned Rebecca's desire to use rice pudding for her cannoli, and suggested she use oatmeal. Ummm I love rice pudding, and actually thought a rice pudding canoli sounded kind of awesome. I'm ready for rice pudding renaissance. Craig's teammates were so patient with him, they deserved to stay just for that! I really hope Craig can step it up next week because there's nothing worse than working with someone who has no confidence in their ability. He had so much machismo before the Quickfire, and it deflated so quickly! I asked Gail why Craig stayed, and she gave a great answer. Check it out in her blog!  Lina and Melissa got into it over the consistency of their gingerbread house. Lina wanted cake, Melissa didn't. In the end, Melissa was right, and Lina went home for it. Lina maintains in her exit video that she thought Melissa threw her under the bus, but, well, she effed up. Bigtime. So, shouldn't she take responsibility for that?

So, we have our first eliminated chef. And, now, you will get some of my first random thoughts from the episode!:

1. First, my whole office commented on Gail's awesome leather jacket on the pier. It was producer Casey Kriley's. Gail explains…2. Did you catch Megan wink at Johnny during the Elimination fair? Whaaa?!

3. Who was that bearded man at the fair? I don't know who he was, but he looked legit Renaissance.

4. As nice as Hubert is, I realized that saying "right?" at the end of all his critiques takes out some of the sting! So he can say whatever he wants, and still seem nice! I even caught Gail doing it towards the end of the episode! I'm going to have to try that.

5. Melissa already cried. In the first episode. Hope she got it out of her system!

6. Johnny lost his signature pompadour, and although he looked great with it, he looks just downright dreamy now. Vanarin, i think he looked into all our souls this week. Johnny's Elvis joke was pretty awesome too.

7. One of the chefs from the top two teams told the chefs in the bottom to smize i.e. smile with their eyes in front of the judges. Killed me. It was only audio -- could any of you tell who it was? It was a female.

8. Rebecca made an amusing comment about baking children a la the witch from "Hansel and Gretel" not being a good idea. Kudos.

Hmm, what little things did I miss, guys? Until next week, Have a Nosh! Aaand when you do, takee a pic and judge it for yourself with our awesome new Judges Table app. Download it here! You just might find me on there!

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.