Bravotv.com: The guest judge this week, Pichet Ong, also works for Jean Georges. Do you work with him? What can you tell us about him?
Johnny Iuzzini: Actually he worked for Jean Georges years ago. He was the pastry chef at the restaurants 66 and Spice Market. We never worked directly together -- all the restaurants are quite separate. Pichet focused on Asian-style desserts as that was the theme of those restaurants, as well as his personal heritage. Although, he didn't know how to make a fortune cookie and I, the Italian/French kid from the Catskills taught him how to do it. Go figure. Pichet has a unique approach to desserts, often reflecting Asian techniques and flavor combinations. He tends to reinterpret classic dishes, often with a more modern style.
Bravotv.com: For the Quickfire Challenge, what do you think were the most important elements to remember in creating a candy bar?
JI: A candy bar is meant to be a snack on the go. It should be portable and easy to eat. It should not be messy or incredibly fragile. Normally a short shelf life or requiring refrigeration would be a deal killer. Candy bars should pack a flavor punch. In my mind, its about big payoff in every bite, since the portions are usually quite small compared to a plated dessert. If I were making a candy bar i would focus on strong pronounced flavors and unique textures to set my candy bar apart.
Bravotv.com: What’s your favorite candy bar?
JI: I have always liked candy bars with a crunch or texture. I am a big Snickers fan, Milky Way, Krackle, Aero bar, Chunky, Twix, and Kit Kat. Just to name a few favorites that is.
Bravotv.com: A lot of the chefs used bananas — is that trendy now? Or, did that surprise you?
JI: Yeah, a banana definitely wouldn't be my first choice. I think the chefs were thinking of familiar flavors that lend themselves well to being in combination with chocoate. Banana is a no-brainer. Bananas are always a popular choice on dessert menus. I was surprised we didn't see more caramel and more outrageous flavor combinations. I thought Sally's forbidden rice candy bar sounded great. Totally out of the box.
Bravotv.com: Water parks! Did you go to them a lot growing up?
JI: I was an amusement and water park fiend as a kid growing up. I loved them. My brothers and I would go whenever we could. We liked all the super steep/fast slides and flumes where you would get completely soaked. Our absolute favorite was the tubes though. We would all go at the same time and spend the whole time trying to knock each other off our tubes. Wrestling and double-teaming each other all the way to the bottom. I think we got kicked out of the water park almost every time we went for rough housing and being crazy kids.
Bravotv.com: Can you tell us more about your connection to L&B Gardens?
JI: My families roots after coming to America from Italy are primarily in Brooklyn. L&B has been around for a long time. It started out as a horse-drawn buggy business of selling the spumoni around the neighborhood. My dad went to high school not far from there and would always go there. I didn't grow up in Brooklyn, but every time we went fishing or went to see friends and family we would try and stop by L&B for a square slice and spumoni. We would sit there and my dad would tell stories about the neighborhood and how it has changed and of the trouble he and his brothers would cause. I love it. It is a family-run business since the beginning. They have slowly expanded over the years and now have a pizzeria and restaurant as well as an outdoor seating area. It's funny, you know, growing up, you are always introduced to people as your uncle this or your aunt that or your cousin this. By the time I was in my 20s, I had no idea who I actually was or wasn't related to. It's kind of a running joke in the family. So Camille Barbati, one of the actual L&B family members was introduced to me as one of my "family" members a long time ago. So ever since then I have considered her family. We see each other at holidays and they come to visit me at the restaurant from time to time. So as far as I am concerned, THEY ARE FAMILY.
Bravotv.com: What do you think the biggest mistake the teams made was?
JI: I think the teams made some crucial mistakes. First of all, on a hot day, the last thing you want to eat is a hot dessert. Another major flaw that some of the chefs made was that their desserts were too sweet and not refreshing. Also, did the chefs really think about who their customers were? When they choose the flavors and combinations, were they thinking families and kids at a water park or judges in a competition? Another issue was that some of the chefs didn't think about ease of eating or drinking it. Bravotv.com: Which dishes stood out to you, for better or worse?
JI: I loved that Chris made an ice luge for his drink. It was a great idea to incorporate some fun at the park. Unfortunately his drink was a bit sticky in my throat. Plus, ginger, passion, and cilantro aren't great flavors for kids. Orlando made a mistake by calling his dessert a root beer float. A float is something very distinct that requires soda -- hence the ice cream floats on top. His idea once he explained it to me seemed fine. His dessert didn't taste bad, but once you have an idea in your head, you immediately compare. He would have been better off just telling us what it was rather then what is was a play on. Matt was thinking restaurant-style dessert, not water park-style. None of the judges liked that a) they had to wait for him to saute strawberries and b) that he served us warm sauteed strawberries. It wasn't a bad dessert, although I did think his ice cream was a bit gummy, but the idea of making a yellow cake ice cream was pretty cool.
As soon as we walked up to Rebecca's team, they tried blinding us by spraying us in the eyes with lavender water. Rebecca made a lemon snickerdoodle ice cream sandwich. It was a great texture and had great lemon flavor. I liked the presentation too. Megan's strawberry basil float was a bit sweet, but had nice flavor. Katzie's spumoni on a stick was interesting, and had strong flavors, even though it was a bit difficult to eat.
Again, Carlos is making a cereal-based dessert, this time i don't think it was so successful because it was just really big and really sweet. I wish he would have gone in a different direction this time and given us something more refreshing. Sally's smoothie seemed pretty tame. I liked the idea of a refreshing fruity smoothie. but she ended up making it just too much like a liquid dessert with chocolate coated Rice Krispies. Wasn't much to it. Amanda fried her funnel cake too far in advance, and it was really dry and hard and difficult to eat. The whole idea of friend dough is soft and steamy and moist and it frankly wasn't any of those things.
Bravotv.com: What ultimately sent the eliminated chef home/made her team’s dishes worse, than the other team on the bottom?
JI: It came down to who prepared the dessert best suited for a water park, for families, that was easy to eat, refreshing and creative. I really didn't think that Sally did much considering all the time she had to create her dessert. She had immunity and played it safe and safe doesn't win challenges. Had she not had immunity, who knows if she would have gone home? The rest of the chefs desserts on the bottom weren't great but they weren't horrible either. Amanda in the end went home because her dessert was cold, the funnel cake was hard and crispy like a pretzel and hard to eat. There were no redeeming qualities to the main component of her dessert. It just didn't taste good.