Chicago's own ace of cakes Gail Gand elaborates on the dishes — and cakes — created for the wedding challenge.
Bravotv.com: Are you a Top Chef fan? If so, did you know about chefs from past seasons' experiences with desserts and cakes?
I've known Tom for years from cooking at chef events together and going to his restaurants, and Padma I've known since 2000 because we both had shows on the Food Network, but this season was the first season I've made time to watch the show. And I loved getting to know Gail.
Bravotv.com: Had you seen the wedding challenge from Season 1?
No, but I'd love to.
Bravotv.com: Did the results of this year's challenge? surprise you?
They did a little. It wasn't really clear at first who was at the bottom of the heap and why, but I guess at this point in the contest it's the little things that are left to pick on since everyone is so talented.
Bravotv.com: It is mentioned that Lisa's Chocolate Hazelnut cake tasted better than Stephanie's Dark Chocolate and lemon cake -- can you expand on the flavors, appearance, etc?
Lisa's Chocolate hazelnut cake ate better but was not as visually pleasing as Stephanie's Chocolate Lemon cake. I don't like the combination of chocolate and lemon so Stephanie's flavor combination had a disadvantage for my palate. She used more traditional wedding cake aesthetics, like rolled fondant and flower pedals, so the cake was more visually appealing but the texture wasn't as moist and delicious as Lisa's.
Bravotv.com: Can you expand on the overall success of the winning team over the losing team?
I think the food on the winning team was more basic with solid cooking techniques at play and so more delicious. I remember some corn muffins that I didn't see much of on the show that the bride really liked ... they were real Southern-style. I think the groom's buffet team just tried to do too much and so things weren't as focused and refined. Also, I think the lack of cohesiveness between the team members played into the slight disjointedness (is that even a word?) of the food.
Bravotv.com: What do you think each team should have done differently?
On the Bride's Team, I'm not sure why Andrew spent so much time putting the spinach through a grinder when a coarse chop could have done the trick for the creamed spinach. And Antonia knew the "crispy" chicken wouldn't be in a chaffer, so she should have spoken up on that one. As for the Groom's team, they needed to pare down their menu somewhat and then focus on the flavor and texture of the components of each dish ... taste the ragout, taste the squash filling, etc.
Bravotv.com: What was the key to winning the challenge and what should the chefs have kept in mind when cooking for a) a wedding, b) that many people in general?
Serve food that can sit at room temp or that benefits from being held hot for a long time. Braised dishes are perfect as those dishes won't be compromised while they're sitting on the buffet. Also, as Richard said, the most important thing is making the bride happy ... and he did.
Bravotv.com: Richard won -- what were you most impressed with?
His attitude and the way he combines working in a group with leading.
Bravotv.com: Why did Nikki go home above the other chefs on her team?
I think because she was being looked to as the leader but she was ambivalent about leading. Also she didn't really do much original cooking for the antipasti part of the Italian buffet for the groom's side. She bought a lot of cured meats, cheeses, olives, things that were ready-made and didn't put much of herself into it and that disappointed the judges. Also her tortellini was somewhat sloppy and the filling was imbalanced.
Bravotv.com: Do you have a prediction as to who might win the whole thing?
Dale or Richard, but I think Richard's great attitude, professionalism, and maturity give him a better shot at it.
Bravotv.com: More generally, what are the similarities and differences between being a chef and a pastry chef?
I really think chefs are more right-brained and untamed, where as pastry chefs are more left-brained and precise. I think we thrive on exactness, repetition, the predictability of physics and chemistry that makes up pastry, the chemical reactions between ingredients that is our basic language. And, of course, pastry chefs are sweeter.
Bravotv.com: What made you go into the pastry arena?
My love of the combination of art and craftsmanship that goes into pastry and eye-hand coordination necessary. I have the hands of a surgeon but don't like cutting people open (though the hours are pretty much the same and the uniforms too) so what else to do with these hands but pastry? Also, I have bad circulation, like my mother, so we have cold hands which makes for a good pastry chef because dough doesn't melt in my hands.
Bravotv.com: What is the biggest trend in desserts right now?
Maybe layered desserts in glasses, smoked salt with sweet, single estate vanilla.
Bravotv.com:Anything you'd like to add?
Thanks for asking me to judge Top Chef. It was a long day but a blast.