Johnny Iuzzini

The renowned pastry chef tackles the topic of desserts and why our chefs struggle with them. Are you a Top Chef fan? If so, did you know about chefs from past seasons' experiences with desserts?
I don't really have time to watch TV. From time to time I may catch a Top Chef marathon on Bravo and spend an afternoon bringing myself up to date. I remember seeing Elizabeth Falkner judge one episode. I don't remember much about it though. Is dessert something that a lot of chefs struggle with?
A lot of savory chefs just never take the time to really learn the ins and outs of the pastry kitchen. They always figure there will be a pastry chef around to take care of things. What is a "chef's dessert?" (a term mentioned in a previous season)
In my mind a chef's dessert is one with very basic use of pastry techniques. They are usually more about adopting savory side techniques and flavors. For instance roasted fruit with a simple sauce or a basic chocolate cake or panna cotta. What desserts were you expecting to see?
I figured some of them would play it safe and make flans, panna cottas, maybe even a parfait. I expected some to take a chance and go for it. By now the contestants should know there will be a pastry chef somewhere along the way. You should have a couple desserts in your repertoire just for that reason. I definitely would not have tried to make a souffle if i did not have the technique down pat. Did the results surprise you?
I was surprised how little some were prepared and likewise how well others were prepared. There were some strong flavors and some interesting combinations as well as some very weak ones. What did you think of the desserts? Which ones stood out?
For the most part they were simple. Some a bit too sweet for me. I think the few that were prepared really stood out from the rest of the group. Richard and Dale did a great job. It was difficult to choose between them. Both of their desserts had a strong flavor profile and had great texture. Richard took the win because it was more interesting and out-of-the-box while Dale's was based on a traditional dish. Onto the Elimination Challenge -- can you expand on your comments about the dishes?
I think some people had a clear vision of what they wanted to accomplish and they executed it well, while others never seemed to truly focus and their final dish reflected that. What did you think of the Polish sausage team's unwillingness to make polish sausage?
I think it was lame. There are plenty of ways they could have elaborated on that ingredient. I was pretty disappointed. They had a chance to be very creative and they blew it. What ultimately put the grilled tofu above the butternut squash soup for the win?
It was perfectly prepared and they took the tofu and used it in a way very different from the norm. Tofu is often associated with vegetarian dishes and for them to use it in a meat dish to impart a great secondary texture and flavor was very clever. The soup was good and it had a good flavor but if i was trying to win $100,000 I am not sure I would make a soup. about you and what you do -- what are the similarities and differences between being a chef and a pastry chef?
We approach food in different ways. We share many techniques but at the same time have many different ones as well. Pastry kitchens, at least mine, are very precise and accurate. Everything we do is measured to the gram and even sometimes to the 1/10 of a gram. If I have five people making a recipe, given they all follow the recipe and understand the technique, I have a better chance of having five consistent end products. Whereas if you have five savory cooks make something there is a much greater chance that there will be five very different end products because they are cooking more to their palate versus a formula. What made you go into the pastry arena?
I started off as a cook but i had issues with killing things and butchering. My mom was a wildlife rehabilitator and I grew up nursing animals back to health. I fell in love with the pastry kitchen because i felt one could be more creative, there were less restrictions, but it was much more precise. What is the biggest trend in desserts right now? What trend is played out?
I think the use of hydrocolloid systems is becoming more and more popular. Pastry chefs are already used to working with grams and precise measurements. We have been using stabilizers for years. These are just more ingredients for us to play with. Also the use of vegetables and typically savory ingredients are quite popular in dessert menus. I think big desserts with ridiculous garnishes that have nothing to do with adding flavors are done. I worked with a chef that told me once N.F.G.= Non Functional Garnishes= No Freakin' Good. I think the days of cloying sweet desserts are over as well. Anything you'd like to add?
My first book, Dessert FourPlay, went on pre-sale at this week. I am very excited about that. It is a collection of dessert tastings during my tenure here at Jean Georges Restaurant. You can stay up to date on my demonstrations, TV appearances, recipes, etc. through my Web site, I am currently developing concepts for a TV show and a high end bar/lounge with a good friend. Stay tuned!

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