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A Matter of Taste

Johnny Iuzzini breaks down each chef's Elimination dish. In this week’s challenge for the Quickfire, we have the legendary Sylvia Weinstock as guest judge. What kind of challenge is that, to create for her?
It’s super exciting to have someone of Sylvia Weinstock's caliber. She’s legendary. Everybody who’s anybody in the industry knows who she is, whether you’re a wedding cake designer or not. You’ve known that name, you know her look, you’re familiar with the glasses and what that symbolizes. To have Sylvia Weinstock judge you in a wedding competition is hard enough when you have enough time.

And then you’re given an hour and a half to make a filling or glaze, or to frost, or wrap a wedding cake and then fully decorate it to the best of your ability and be creative to stand out amongst the other chefs is really hard. Even my jaw dropped when they said an hour and a half. I couldn’t believe it. In situations like that, you have to maintain restraint. Because you have to say, OK, chances are something’s gonna go wrong, so if I think that I can't get everything done, simplify. Like Coco Chanel's famous saying “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.”.  Meaning- sometimes less is more. You can’t stop the clock, you can’t start over again. They have to plan well, be organized, and move fast. As they’re making one thing they have to be three steps ahead in their head.

So for an hour and a half to do what they did, some people really stood out, and other people, like Seth, surprised me by being stubborn,  and didn’t want to adhere to the challenge, when its no harder to make a little engagement cake like he made than to do a larger version. I was really disappointed. I’m a restaurant guy too, like Seth is a restaurant guy. I make a bunch of wedding cakes a year, and even if I didn’t, I would try. Eric’s not a restaurant chef, but Eric’s doing plated desserts so what’s the difference? Step up to the plate a little bit, ya know? It seems like people usually go traditional for their wedding cake fillings, and all these fillings seemed very untraditional. Is there a new trend that we should be looking out for?
I think this would have been a great way for Seth to stand out because he has such untraditional flavor combinations, and that would have been the thing that caught Sylvia’s attention. Everybody else is doing mocha and all those traditional flavors, like you see citrus and everything else. If Seth would have done something a little bit different and interesting maybe it would have made up for weak decorating. Heather was kind of down on Erika's cake.
Again, here you go where you have two cakes, one is a bit prettier than the other, but in the end Erika’s tasted better. So the bottom line is it’s food; food’s meant to be eaten. So if you have two cakes, one tastes better than the other one, but the other one looks better, chances are the one that tastes better’s going to win. On to the Elimination Challenge. First up is Eric's winning krispy bar.
I think this challenge was right up Eric’s alley. He’s a baker, this is what he does every day, these recipes he knows on the back of his hand, he’s very confident in his baking, and his baking shows it. Especially for the peanut butter crispy bar, it’s important that the competitors listen to the judges from challenge to challenge. They’re going to hear me say things like, "This is how to make it better, this is what it was missing." And I think Eric is starting to tune into that. And so he made sure that he had multiple textures, multiple layers, and depth of flavors, and I think it really came through. Something as simple as a little peanut butter bar was just really complex in flavor and texture and it was awesome. And then we have Erika's walnut cookie, which was a family recipe.
Right, Erika’s walnut cookie, a hand-me-down from generation to generation. She says shes been making it for forever and I can see why. It was just really well-made and it was baked properly. She just the right proportion of crispy on the outside to softer on the inside and it was a good size. I really enjoyed it. What’s the key to making your cookie really chewy?
Everything about a cookie recipe is a ratio. I know a lot of people who will use glucose or corn syrup. Increase the percentage of sugar, and that will keep your cake softer. Some people like to use like a lard or a shortening. I would just stick with the sugar part. Heather H. made a butter cookie.
A butter cookie with dulce de leche cream? Here’s a second cookie we’re seeing form this team. I would have liked to see something out of that genre a little bit. If you have one cookie, maybe do something a little bit different. But she did make it a little bit different by putting a chocolate and dulce de leche cream, and a lot of people know what dulce de leche is. So, I think it’s cool that she added a flavor, and it’s a flavor that’s an adult flavor but that kids will also like, so I think that was smart. I think it was smart of the whole team to keep their demographic in mind. They're not making desserts for adults; they’re making for kids. And I think this team really thought about that and really delivered. Malika made the toffee fudge brownie
Eric’s archive of recipes come through. He provided the brownie recipe for Malika, and Malika then did a twist on it with her own background and decided to make it toffee. And between the saltiness of the toffee, the richness of the brownie, it really was pretty balanced. In the end it was kind of sweet, but it worked and the kids loved it. And then Morgan had the cupcake.
This was funny. So, when we got our cupcakes at the table he told us these are the last cupcakes in the world, these are the last ones available, and then five minutes later we’re sitting down I see him pull out another tray of cupcakes. I was like “What the hell?” He says they didn’t know they were there. I don’t know about that, but it was a good cupcake. It was really moist. Vanilla and milk chocolate, it’s kinda simple, I think he could have done something a little bit different. Kids are pretty experimental as long as it’s still delicious. I think he could have gone a little bit farther than just a vanilla bean and milk chocolate cupcake, but in the end it was moist and it was good. The frosting was good. And then we have the losing team. You said Seth's financier was "perfect," but it wasn't appropriate for the challenge.
Right, I think that Seth has a great foundation of baking and pastry. He has a lot of recipes that he knows well, but you have to keep your demographic in mind. You’re not cooking for yourself. That’s a mistake that many chefs make -- they’ll create menus based on what they want to eat, not necessarily what their customers are coming for. Kids like creamcicles, but mocha? Coffee’s not a flavor that kids love. Its something they have to get used to. It’s a little bit bitter, a little bit abrasive, and I think he should have pulled back on that a little bit. The financier? It’s a brown butter sponge cake. It could have been good, but I think he could have gone a different direction with that as a base.Iit would have been nice if he did like an orange, instead of mocha financier, maybe do a citrus financier, or something like that. Or even a chocolate financier would have gone much better. Next was Zac's strawberry shortcake.
So right away when Seth told me he was doing a strawberry shortcake, I was skeptical. You want to go to a bake sale and you want it to be easy to eat, you can move on. And you think of strawberry shortcake you think of fresh cream, you think of fresh strawberries, a delicate biscuit and everything else. I love biscuits. I have a real thing for a biscuits, and if it’s not made right I’m gonna come down hard on somebody. And unfortunately his biscuit was just tough and hard and he put those sprinkles on top, which baked and made it even harder because it created a layer of hard sugar on top. You just couldn’t eat this thing. Zac said, Well, we’ll put them in a container so they’re easy to put in the back seat with the kids.” I don’t want to fight with my food. If I have to fight with something I’m gonna move on. His flavors were good, but he should have paid more attention to the texture of that biscuit. Then Yigit made the pudding, which I guess was probably a good idea, but  he had the ginger in it.
Again, Yigit was showing his diversity in his menu. He’s trying to show a lot of different flavors. But again he should have been focused on his demographic. Kids aren’t so into ginger. Chocolate and caramel pudding would have been great, hazelnut crumble great, marshmallows great, ginger? Eh. He should have rethought the ginger component and gone with something a little bit different, something kids could identify. It could have been anything. And then we had Danielle with her coconut cupcake.
I was excited to see Danielle went out of this traditional vanilla and chocolate for her cupcake. She did coconut cupcake with a salted caramel butter cream. I love salted caramel, but unfortunately the cake was dry. And then we have Heather who went home for her peanut butter cookie. She said she didn’t want to make a peanut butter cookie.
Here’s an interesting situation where you see someone being forced into make something they don’t want to make and then go home for it. I think Heather should have stood up for herself. If she didn’t want to make the cookie she shouldn’t have made it. And as I watched the show, she doesn’t really stand up for herself. In the end, you’re responsible for your dish. If you're making something as simple as a peanut butter cookie, when you have other competitors all kind of doing something different trying to stand out, you need to stand out no matter what you do. You need to set yourself apart form the rest of the people and frankly a basic peanut butter cookie is just not gonna do it.

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