Disco Dust

Krista Simmons shares even more details of Art Smith's cake.


I'll come right out with it: wedding shows are my weakness. I'm not quite sure why, since I'm as single as they come, but I could zone out on those programs for hours, living vicariously through the bride-to-be and the trials and tribulations she overcomes on the road to a “perfect” wedding. It's not the fairytale that fascinates me; it's the attention to detail -- from the floral arrangements and the stationary to the menu and the music, down to the last note. So when I found out Top Chef Masters would be throwing a Vegas wedding, I was tickled pink. Of course, the main source of my excitement, as it usually is, was the food.

Normally, the culinary offerings at weddings are lackluster at best. (Well, unless you have Tom Colicchio doing your catering, like Kerry did for his wedding. Lucky guy.) But with a team of top notch chefs on the case, I knew the other judges and I were in for a real treat. 

The poor Masters, on the other hand, had to jump through some hoops. They were given just a few moments to consult with Christine and Jay, the bride and groom, before sorting out the minutiae of their wedding day. The chefs even had to pick color schemes for their chargers and napkins! With just four hours of prep time the day before the wedding, and two hours before service, the Masters muscled through, creating a Filipino-inspired menu to suit the couple. 

It was pretty incredible what they pulled off. Even David Tutera has more time to strategize, prep, and execute than they did -- and with far more hands on deck. And Tutera isn't working in Vegas in the dead of summer. 

That's one thing I should emphasize. It was hot. I mean really hot. (And not just because I was sitting next to Curtis.) I honestly don't know how these chefs function in full whites, darting around from room to room, slaving over a hot stove in 114 degree weather. I remember those grueling days in culinary school, and I admire their work. Do I want to do it myself? Heck no. And especially not for a party of 200 with only a day's notice. 

But these chefs handled it like champs. Some, like Patricia, really played to the weather and the environment. She created the perfect passed plate for the occasion -- a cold, Southeast Asian-style salad made with pickled mackerel, fresh coconut, and chilies. It reminded me of Thai som tam with its bright, fresh flavors. It was the perfect balance of sweet, savory, and spicy all in one small bite, and using sustainable seafood no less. Bonus points for that! Another bold move was Theirry's blood soup. It takes a lot of guts to go up against grandma's recipes, but he did so with conviction, and succeeded. Even though it wasn't piping hot when it arrived, it was a real crowd pleaser. And that's no minor feat considering our table. One thing that didn't really come through in the editing was what tough critics the guests were. They make me look tame! 

We may have had dissenting views on some of the dishes, but we all felt for Art when he wheeled out that wedding cake, which he literally had to hold up for the couple, tears welling up in his eyes. All of the guests' hearts went out to him at that moment. Art is just a teddy bear with the kindest heart, and all he wanted was to add that special Smith sparkle to their special day. (And I do mean sparkle. We were still finding disco dust from the cake on our faces days later!)

Watching the episode, it was special to see the back story: Despite Chris and Art's bickering in this episode and throughout prep time, Chris and Patricia sprung into action when Art's pineapple (literally) upside-down cake went lost its balance. 

Was the cake lacking the deep caramelized richness that James spoke about? Yes. But did that mean it suffered in flavor? No. It was a perfectly moist, springy cake with a luscious rum vanilla sauce. I give Art props for taking a risk in creating a wedding cake in such a short period of time. I have a feeling that the frosting didn't set quite as planned because of said heat. (Seriously, we were living in the underworld for a full month. Thank god for air conditioners!)

The bottom line here is this: Was it a bummer the cake didn't stand on it's own? Sure. Did it ruin the wedding? Absolutely not. The couple had a fabulous time, and they got their wedding catered by some of the best chefs in the country. They drank, they danced, they laughed, and we got to be there sharing it with their closest friends and family. 

There's no such thing as a perfect wedding, just like there's no such thing as the perfect relationship. It's those very flaws that we find endearing. They build character, and make us smile -- just like Art's disco dust did for days to come.


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Bryan Voltaggio: "I Thought I Won. I Know I Won."

Bryan compares his Top Chef Masters finale to his Top Chef Season 6 finale. How are you feeling going into the finale? Tired? Reinvigorated?
Bryan Voltaggio: Certainly not tired. This is something we do every day, day in and day out, cooking. Going into the finale, I am feeling excited and nervous -- I want to do a great job and win. What went through your mind when you found out Graeme won the last Battle of the Sous Chefs?
BV: I was very excited for Graeme because he finally had an opportunity to shine and he brought it all to the table. I felt a great sense of redemption for him because he got to win a challenge when it counted the most. I strongly believe that Graeme helped us get all the way tothe end-- he clinched it to get us to the finale. Can you elaborate on your menu planning? How did you decide which dish will go for which course?
BV: When it comes to the menu, and what I learned the first go round on Top Chef, you need to cook what you know. There are time limitations, surprises (planned and unplanned), so you need to do what you can to troubleshoot and get good results on the plate. You can't bring anything to the challenge that you've never done before. I go back to dishes we've created at VOLT, things that Graeme and I both know, things that I don't even have to speak to Graeme about. You had a little over 20 minutes less than you thought you would have to prep because of traffic. How nervous were you that you wouldn't get it done?
BV: Traffic was a big factor, but I knew the food, I knew the menu, and I knew I could get it all done. It was worth going to get the extra ingredients (the proteins), and it was worth it in the end. How do you feel each dish turned out? Was there anything you would have done differently?
BV: I was very proud of every plate I put forward. I thought that every dish was done flawlessly, and I achieved every goal I set out for. What made you include an element from Michael's repertoire in your dish (the seaweed mashed potatoes)?
BV: I wanted to put out some sort of element that represented Michael because he's not only family, but I also respect him very much as a chef. As the judges critiqued your food at Critics' Table, what did you think?
BV: I thought that I had nothing but positive comments -- there wasn't anything glaring that made me feel like I misstepped. I felt really good after Critics' After the heavy comment about your beef dish? Did you think you won?
BV: Yes, I thought I won. I know I won. What went through your mind once the critics told Doug he won? How did it differ from when Michael won?
BV: I thought for sure they were going to call my name because I felt confident about my food. Maybe they saw something in Doug's dishes that put it over the top. Compared to when Michael won, it wasn't a proud moment for me because I wasn't playing and rooting for both myself and my brother. I really wanted to win the money for my charity and it was an opportunity for redemption. If anything, I owed it to Michael to win because I wanted to compete again and go for the win. You are on a roll in our Viewers' Choice. Anything you'd like to say to your fans?
BV: I appreciate all the support, and the fans need to know that their efforts will go to feed many hungry children across the country. I encourage everyone to continue to reach out and support Share Our Strength. How's your relationship now with the other contestants?
BV: My relationship with everyone is great. We all got along, and I felt respected amongst the group. At first, they were nervous when I came in because I had competed before. That just goes to show that it was a tough competition, and we're all good at what we do. I still communicate with everyone from the group -- mostly David Burke. What was your favorite overall challenge?
BV: Favorite challenge was the last one. It is always best to cook the food you want to cook- that's where I've always put my best food forward. What was the hardest part of the competition for you?
BV: Being away. There are always two sides to it -- one of the greatest things when you are in a competition, all your focus is on that and not on outside influences. It's a break from the day-to-day restaurant life, but the other reality is that you want to be back home with your family and at your restaurant. Did anything funny happen behind the scenes that you can share?
BV: I had a lot of fun with the Face Juggler app behind the scenes. We were acting like children a lot of the times behind the scenes which kept the grueling schedule and challenges bearable. Anything else you'd like to add?
BV: I want to thank Graeme for everything and helping me along this journey. He is a big player in how we got all the way to the end, and I appreciate all his hard work day in and day out at VOLT.

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