Original Sin

Johnny Iuzzini explains why it can be harder to create dishes inspired by familiar flavors.

Bravotv.com: Sooo... Francois Payard. Tell us about what he means to the pastry world. 
Johnny Iuzzini: Francois is an icon in the industry on top of being one of my own personal mentors. I worked for him from the age of 19-23. He was a tyrant in the kitchen. Led his team through fear, quite often yelling and screaming in French and Franglish. He knew what he wanted and it was his way or the highway. He was raised this way and worked in many great places before coming to the US and becoming a pastry force to be reckoned with. I remember starting my day every day nauseous and nervous, wondering what I would be yelled at for that day. My greatest lesson with him was that you better not make the same mistake twice. All that said, once you got to know him, he is a big teddy bear.  He is sweet and gentle and caring and would do almost anything for his friends. He still looks after me; he gives me shit too, but I know it's out of love and respect. 

Bravotv.com: The other chefs criticize Carlos’ use of liquid nitrogen. What’s your take on it? 
JI: You know, some chefs become very dependent on certain ingredients, techniques, or equipment. Unfortunately, Carlos made a lot of macarons and used a lot of liquid nitrogen. Sometimes it was warranted and sometimes not. In this case, I think he was smart to use the LN to set his pie filling. Had he not, I am sure Francois would not have liked his pie due to its liquid consistency. I use liquid nitrogen a lot in my home kitchen. In fact, I have an automatic delivery plan in place that brings me 160 Liters every Friday morning. The benefit of liquid nitrogen is that it is -195c, which means not only does it freeze/chill things very quickly, but it also allows you to freeze things that normally can't be frozen like alcohol, or items with a very high sugar content. This gives us the ability to work against nature in a way and allows us to be very creative in our techniques. Although, I am against using techniques and tools just for the sake of using them. You should always use the tool and technique that yields the highest quality product. Otherwise it borders on gimmick. Bravotv.com: Which pies do you think sounded the best? 
JI: I love pies of all types. I especially love rhubarb. I grew up with rhubarb growing on our property, and my mom would make rhubarb pies and jam. I have to admit though, my earliest memories of rhubarb were not fond ones, but over time, I grew to love it. I am also a fan of banana cream pies, but that is one that if the proportions are off in the slightest, and banana isn't the star, it just doesn't deliver, and I think Chris found that out the hard way. As most people will tell you, the best pies have the best crusts. It has to be tender, flaky, and full of flavor. That is the key to a great pie. 

Bravotv.com: On to the Elimination Challenge: you expressed some concern over some of the concepts, especially Orlando’s flavors. What were you most worried about? 
JI: Well, when you reference a classic dessert that everyone is familiar with, you shouldn't stray too far away from the original when it comes to flavors. Be creative in the presentation and the plating, but not so much in the stretching the flavors. In Orlando's case, he said his dessert was inspired by a candy apple. Well last I checked there isn't any chocolate in a candy apple, and I believe that these are two very difficult flavors to combine. When you are dealing with desserts of flavors that tie directly into people's flavor memories which have very direct ties to their emotions. they have something very real and substantial to reference and compare it to. It is almost better to give people something they have never heard of or tried before because there is no point of reference, and there is a clean slate. Orlando has a lot of bravado and a big ego. He said he added chocolate because he loves chocolate. Again, he's not thinking about the challenge or his guests. Whenever a chef cooks for his own ego rather than his guests he/she set themselves up for ridicule and failure. In the end, it's the service industry. Our goal is to make our guests happy through our cooking. 

Bravotv.com: In a drunken moment, some of the chefs revealed that they’ve wanted to punch you at times. Thoughts? 
JI: Well, I am the first one to understand that when under a lot of stress, suffering from fatigue and under the influence, that sometimes we tend to get over-emotional and say things that we wouldn't say in a normal situation. I understand how the chefs may feel that I come down on them at times. I think what they may forget is that I have worked very hard to achieve what I have in my career, that I am still a working chef who works a minimum of 12 hours a day in my kitchen, leading my team and constantly evolving and creating new dishes and techniques all while being part of a growing professional community where my door is always open to other chefs to share knowledge and experience with. I ride the chefs at times because I believe in them when at times I don't think they believe in themselves. I want them to think outside their own mental box and ask themselves questions. I am proud to be where I am in my career and very proud to be a part of a show that I believe has the ability to shed light on a craft that so few people truly understand. It is up to the chefs to tell that story for all of us. If they want to punch me, that is fine. It tells me that they are frustrated, and if anything I hope my presence forces them to push just a little harder and try just a littler harder. In the end, I hope they will realize that it is never personal and thank me for it. Bravotv.com: Which were your favorite and least favorite dishes? 
JI: Obviously I loved Matt's apple empanada turnover. The crust was pretty sick, flaky, and delicious. The filling was just right, The apple carpaccio added balance and acidity to the dish, all at the same time of reminding me of a carnival and fresh-baked apple pie. I also really liked Sally's corn dish. Again, lots of great textures, and I loved how Sally really brought the flavor of the corn throughout the dish in different textures and degrees of sweetness. I really didn't like Orlando's or Carlos' dishes, but for different reasons. I didn't like Orlando's because it really didn't feel like an elevated carnival dessert, due the addition of the chocolate in his candy apple-inspired dessert. Nothing about his entremet reminded me of a candy apple or a carnival. While Carlos' dessert was very playful and so much based on his on personal childhood memories. Carlos took on too much though. He had three components, which means he had three times the chance of failing, and that is exactly what happened. First, his bun didn't work out after some quick-thinking to replace the macaron, the fillings were kind of sloppy, and the textures difficult to eat. Then his churros didn't come out consistently  and hot for for the guests. The soda really didn't bring much to his dish other than the idea of it. In the end, Carlos really gave us his all. He tried to set himself apart and took some serious chances. I respect him for that, but unfortnately he fell short this time, and Gail had to ask him to pack his banana and leave. 

Bravotv.com: What did you think of Matthew’s pig rafflle?
JI: I think Matt was smart in creating a raffle. It ties perfectly into the theme of a carnival. Think about it: you walk around a carnival and eat, enjoy the rides, and try to win prizes. Most of the time, you spend the amount of money trying to win something you could have bought ten of in the store on the way home. That isn't the point, now is it? The point is that is is always more fun to win it and more importantly win it for someone else. The raffle also added an extra level of entertainment and an interactive aspect to Matt's presentation. He was able to start a dialogue with people, again transporting them back in time to their youth and the excitement of waiting to see if you have won something. It was quite magical to watch and very creative on his part. Plus, like he said, who doesn't love pigs? I was kinda disappointed that I didn't win one. I actually have a pig collection in my cabin, all types of old wood hand-carved pigs that my mom started for me as a housewarming gift. I love it and Matt reminded me of that and my mom, and it became quite an emotional experience for me deep down, but I would never admit that to him! Bravotv.com: If Carlos' macarons worked out, do you think that would have kept him in the competition?
JI: It is unfortunate that Carlos was not able to realize his original idea and have macarons as the buns. He has shown us (unfortunately) time and time again that he is quite capable of making a delicious macaron. He wasn't able to plastic wrap them the night before, before the time had run out, and because of the delicate nature of a macaron, it is greatly affected by the air in the kitchen. It is a very light and airy cookie, so when it exposed to very dry or humid environments, it either dries out quickly or becomes chewy, respectively. I have to say though, I have a ton of respect for Carlos for realizing this immediately and trying to rectify the situation by making another type of sponge for the bun. He really moved his ass and busted it out. I was impressed, a sign of a leader. Again, he suffered from the wrath of Mother Nature. An angel food cake is very susceptible to the environment, and it was a bit humid that night, which turned his cake into a sticky, gummy mess. I am glad he tried, though. It says a lot about his character and the type of chef he is. 

Bravotv.com: We’re getting down to the wire — do you sense a change in the chefs and the way they’re competing?
JI: I think the chefs are realizing how close they are, and they can taste the victory. They are all talking about how great it would be to be the victor, but for very different reasons. Mat and Chris seem to be chasing the cash for the families, while Sally wants to win for the women. Orlando is the only one that just wants to win for bragging rights and to beat Chris once and for all. I  admire all these chefs -- they have all worked so hard, and they all deserve to win. It is going to come down to who makes the greater mistakes in the upcoming challenges. I think the bromance is coming to an end as well, as we saw with chris hoarding all the Pacojet containers. 


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The Agony and the Ecstasy

Gail Simmons elaborates on the judges' agonizing final decision.


Bravotv.com: 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 themselves.Bravotv.com: 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!

Bravotv.com: 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 him.Bravotv.com: 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...

Bravotv.com: 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. Bravotv.com: 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.


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