Taking the Cake

Dannielle Kyrillos explains what the judges' decision ultimately came down to.

Hi, everyone! I’m kind of in disbelief and a little sad that this is the last blog post of the season. I am so grateful to you all for coming along on this sweet but sometimes scary ride with us. And here we are: after weeks of struggle, sacrifice, and scintillating drama, it all comes down to this: the big finale.  

As the episode opened, it gave me goose bumps to watch each of the three remaining chefs let the reality sink in that this was real, they’d actually made it to the end, after all that time away from family and friends and jobs and normal life.  

Matt, Sally, and Chris each also realized for the first time that the title of Top Chef: Just Desserts and that $100,000 check were actually within reach, which must be such a wild sensation. I think knowing you have a one-in-three shot at that much prestige and money must be quite a mental trip. Energizing and terrifying.

And then the MOFs appear. Holy smokes. To put their importance and the chefs’ reactions to them in perspective, it would be as if you were a young musician working on a new song and all of a sudden Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, and Paul McCartney walked in and offered to lend a hand.  Some of you are familiar with this French title. It translates to “best craftsmen of France,” and the competitions are held not just in pastry but in all sorts of disciplines, such as mosaics, tailoring, and blacksmithing. The goal is to get as close to perfection as possible in creating a masterpiece.  

Very serious stuff, but spending time with the MOFs was some of the most fun I had all season. Jacques Torres we know from his work in New York and on our last season, and Sebastien Cannone and Stefane Treand were such fantastic and fascinating company, too. All three are sweet, hilarious and, like most pastry chefs, just a little nutty. In the best possible way.The challenge for our finale mirrored such a classic competition, and it felt like a perfectly well-rounded one. Having to prove that you’re a “complete” pastry chef is no small feat, especially in such a short amount of time, and I think Sally, Chris, and Matt all performed gorgeously overall.  Do you agree?  

The chefs are pretty passionate people anyway, but the challenge dictating that their inspiration, especially for the plated dessert, should be a loved one, upped the ante on cooking from the heart. This time, you could taste the love. You really could. I am getting misty-eyed just thinking back on the stories each of them told about their wives, children, mothers, and sisters when they served their desserts.

It probably helped with the stress to have someone very dear in mind throughout the madness. Speaking of stress, you didn’t need to hear some of the cursing we did in the unedited version of this episode to feel the immense pressure the chefs were under. Seeing Sebastien Cannone, the MOF. and co-founder of the French Pastry School in Chicago, zestily washing a sink full of dirty dishes certainly lightened the mood. That was bonkers.

So after five hours with their MOFs came a ten-hour day in which they were each assisted by two of their eliminated colleagues, one selected randomly and one they chose. This is the part that led to some of the greatest debate at Judges’ Table.  

By the way, it was our longest and most grueling Judges' Table by far. We discussed and hashed out and argued, and then did it all again. And again. It was such a close call, and a really tough decision. We each made convincing arguments for our favorites, and then heard everyone else’s equally convincing arguments, and finally, finally reached a unanimous decision.Where do you come down on the big question of whether Sally really proved herself as a complete pastry chef if Orlando did most of her showpiece? As you heard me argue, I wondered whether it was fair to fault her for using her sous-chef to do what he does best and she does not as well. Isn’t that the point of a sous-chef?  She presented a solid, stunning showpiece that didn’t fall apart (as Chris’s did), along with a well-integrated table of bonbons, bread and entremet. And even now, thinking of those rolls makes my mouth water. Her plated dessert could have been smoother, and she knew that, but it was technically complex and very tasty.

Or, do you lean toward the other side, being that Chris managed to make his entire showpiece and a delicious plated dessert (not to mention bonbons and entremet that were not just great, but were also tied so seamlessly and gorgeously into his theme), so he more deserves the win? We went back and forth for hours.

That debate is not to say that Matthew didn’t do a magnificent job as well. His showpiece was perhaps less successful because he pushed himself and tried sugarwork, even though he was more familiar with chocolate, but it was colorful and rich. His whole table was warm and loving, and his bonbons were superlative. I admire his taking such risks in trying things he never had before.

It came down to the flavors of Chris’s bonbon being so wonderfully complex, his entremet being so masterfully built, and his plated dessert being honest and scrumptious. As Johnny put it, it was the only plated dessert his whole table ate in its entirety.  

It being such close final battle means the right competitors had made it to the end, which is a happy ending.

Thank you again for being a part of this season. If you miss me, I’m always @DKyrillos on Twitter, or please enjoy my column on CityUnlisted.com.  Until next time, lots of good wishes.  XO

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Grande Finale

Hubert Keller explains why Chris ultimately edged out Sally for the win.


So here we are, at the grande finale, as they say in France. This is where the culminated talents of our chefs are put under a microscope and the strongest overall performance by the most confident chef prevails and wins the competition! This is the final round, the final challenge, and finally, we will have a winner!

The stage is set, and Matthew, Chris, and Sally are waiting nervously to hear what Gail and Johnny have to say about the final challenge.

The challenge: to prove that they are the most complete pastry chef by creating a show-piece, an entremet cake, bonbons, a form of savory bread, and a dessert that focuses on a special person in their life!

Wow!  So much to think about, so much pressure… and just after Johnny shared an emotional moment, expressing the joy he has knowing that he was able to present his mother with a home-made birthday cake he baked for her just before she passed away; and you could start to see tears well-up in the cheftestants' eyes. Suddenly, their frowns became overwhelmed with a surprised excitement. They were all astonished to see MOFs Jaques “Mr. Chocolate” Torres, Sebastian Cannon, co-founder of the French Pastry School in Chicago, and Stephane Treand, owner of The Art of Pastry, walk into the kitchen to help assist in their final challenge! Gail informs our competitors that our guest pastry legends would be sitting down as diners when all is complete to taste and help critique their final presentation. With their jaws dropping to the floor, they quickly scurried over to meet these pastry icons and without hesitation, and the competition began!

Sally confided in Sebastion Cannon and admitted that she was uncomfortable with the showpiece element of this competition. She went over her plan, which seemed well thought-out and moved forward with her ideas, determined to use assertive, exotic flavor combinations and the inspiration of her mother and sister, to win the hearts of the judges….

Matt told “Mr.Chocolate” that his wife and daughter would be the motive for his dessert presentation and he would try to impress his way into the winner’s circle by choosing to take risks and using combinations of items and ingredients he has not really worked with before, such as sugar as the base of his show-piece. Matt hoped to prove to the judges that he is not afraid to gamble, and to get out of his comfort zone and push himself to new-heights! A gutsy move, but would this come back to bite him in the sugar-bun, at the end of the challenge?

Chris went over his plan with Sebastian Cannon. Chris wanted to have a clean and well thought-out presentation, that connected his showpiece idea with the rest of his dessert. His theme: mechanical, industrial, and impressive. Would he impress enough?

So, after one day of putting their ideas together, and getting input from their culinary heroes, they were back to the grindstone to continue the final round, only to find out that all the eliminated TCJD2 cheftestants were in the kitchen waiting for them!

What was this new curveball going to be? Come to find out, our final three chefs had to pick a number, and whichever of the previous cheftestants had the number, taped to the back of a very large un-edible cookie that they were holding; that person, randomly, would make up part of that chef’s team. They got to choose one more former cheftestant to make up teams of three individuals… the plot thickens, and the cookie crumbles!

The Teams:

Sally chose Orlando to help her with her showpiece; a great move! She got stuck with Van as an assistant by drawing the number he was holding. He made a nice cheerleader in the kitchen while the other two were hard at work! Sally discovered that her entremet-cake had been layered incorrectly and had to re-do it with time running out. She put the gas on and was able to produce one of the most beautiful desserts of the whole competition! Orlando, with Sally’s vision, pretty much built that show piece on his own, while Sally got caught-up from her mistake from the day before. A great effort, Orlando built an elegant, towering showpiece out of chocolate. Sally had a chocolate mousse, mango vanilla cream, caramel cremeux, lime, and almond sponge as her entremet. Parkerhouse rolls with bacon, green onions, gruyere, and bay leaves, for her savory bread, and salted caramel milk chocolate bonbons. She killed it! Everything was bursting with flavor. I love Sally’s work! 

Matt drew Megan and called upon Carlos to be his wingman in the kitchen. They put out a hazelnut dacquoise, passion fruit gelee entremet, focaccia with olive oil and malden salt with fresh thyme for the bread loaf, and keylime ganache and speculoos bonbons. Great flavor, great passion… nice job, Matt!

I must say, I was surprised that Matt didn’t go for a spectacular chocolate showpiece since that is his forte, but the light, playful color of his sugar piece did show well!

Chris had Rebecca from the pre-challenge draft, but with both arms available, he still didn’t really let her participate; and he picked Amanda, someone who seems to be very helpful and takes orders well historically throughout this competition. His entremet was delicious: a chocolate mousse with vanilla cream and raspberry jam. His bread was a classic brioche with a maple butter and bacon and salt, and his bonbons were coffee infused ganache with a very thin crunchy shell. Chris and Sally had the best bonbons!…And now it’s time for the plated desert!

The plated dessert was very important and really showed us who put the whole package together!

Sally’s plated dessert was a white chocolate espresso mousse with chocolate cremeux, cashew nougatine, and ice cream. Inspired by her mother and her sister, the flavor’s that Sally put together were again, simply put, the best! Unfortunately, the presentation was missing the glaze, and her dessert, to the eye, wasn’t as alive as it was on the palate. She lost a little of that finesse that had become her trademark in this competition. In the last round, we saw that Orlando edited himself and by doing so, he shot himself in the foot. I thought by not glazing her dessert for the final Judges' Table, Sally did the same. 

Matt was inspired by his wife and daughter and made a whimsical playground of chocolate chip cookie with raspberry ice cream… if it were a piece of art, it would have been Picasso; colorful chaos on a plate… very cool and edgy, but maybe not the right choice for the grand prize. And as "Madame Chocolate” mentioned, I think some people at the Judges' Table really wanted a chocolate chip cookie.

Chris did well! He made a very vibrant butter almond cake with mango sauce, banana ice cream, and continued his structural design from the showpiece as an accent on his plated dessert… a cool touch. Johnny was right, our whole table devoured his dessert. The flavors were well balanced; a home-run!

It was a tough decision… flavor-wise, for me it was Sally; although I thought Chris deserved to win. It just was unfortunate that Sally fell a little short in the final, but I’m sure she’ll move on to be quite a success anywhere she decides to go!Matt brought some exciting ideas to the table and put some wonderful flavors in our mouths, but it wasn’t his best night either. The way he sets his high standards for himself, he too will be a star in someone’s kitchen, maybe even his own!

Chris deserved to be crowned the winner. He was Mr. Consistency, always impressing with ideas, skill, creativity, and managing ability in the kitchen, a true Top Chef! Bravo, Chris! Congratulations!

I think that these contestants in TCJD2 raised the bar to a new level this year. It was fun, exciting, dramatic, and electrifying. I was proud to see how these guys came together and grew throughout these episodes and challenges.

I hope that watching and supporting our program gave you the inspiration to have a sweeter time in the kitchen and perhaps be our next Top Chef!

Thank you!


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