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!

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!