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. 


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!