Bravotv.com: This week's Quickfire Challenge is the mise en place relay race. I know that when we ask our chefs on Top Chef, they say they sometimes have races like that in their professional kitchens, etc. -- does that happen with pastry chefs? Are these skills that every pastry chef should know how to do?
Johnny Iuzzini: Man, you have no idea what goes on behind closed kitchen doors. We are definitely a competitive bunch. A lot of times when there are menial tasks at hand like peeling a case of apples or juicing a ton of grapes we set up races and go head to head. It serves two purposes, 1) it's more fun, and 2) when you are pushing yourself to go faster the work gets done faster. This challenge had some basic skills that everyone who calls themselves a pastry chef should have a strong grasp of.
Bravotv.com: Were you surprised that some of the chefs had never rolled out strudel, for example?
JI: Strudel unfortunately is a lost art. Culinary schools spend a small amount of time on it, but in order to truly master it, you need experience doing it often. I was lucky enough to work for a German pastry chef earlier in my career and he really taught me about strudel dough. The key is really to work in smooth, gentle motions, always working with the back of your hands from the center of the dough to the outside. It is definitely harder than it looks. What is funny is that Morgan has experience with strudel dough and explains to his team how to work with it, and yet they completely shred their dough.
Bravotv.com: Onto the Elimination Challenge — Go-Diva is put together randomly. Do you think things may have turned out differently if they were mixed up with people from the other team?
JI: You know, I really wish they weren't on the same team. I think it would have been for the best for the whole group of chefs if they were separated, but as we saw during the challenge itself, Team Diva started to become unraveled a bit and started bickering. It would have been really interesting to see Morgan and Yigit on the same team -- they are both are natural team leaders, and I wonder if they had to work together how that would have panned out.
Bravotv.com: Which dishes on both sides were highlights and lowlights for you?
JI: Zac is a master of many things fried, and his doughnuts were no exception -- they were slamming. That said, the lemon verbena milkshake was bland and flat. His fennel brioche bread was tasty and made up for it. Yigit's tart had the potential to be amazing, but the crust just ruined it. The margarita sorbet was a welcome surprise that you wouldn't normally see in a pastry shop, elegant and refined. His fraisier fell a bit short for me. I worked in France for a while, and it was missing the punch of strawberry. Heather also suffered from the thick tart dough. I was really excited when i saw her lemon tart, but it just didn't deliver the flavors or textures I was expecting. The key lime bar looked like something you make in culinary school, plus the obvious finger prints and lack of key lime flavor. Her pudding was my favorite of the three, but even so, not very exciting.
On Team Whisk Me Away, as expected, Eric made a chocolate chip cookies, which no bakery should be without. Although a bit pedestrian, I also liked his big classic stacked cake, but he made it a bit more interesting with his use of the malted milk balls for both flavor and texture. The idea behind the banana loaf was great. Imean bananas, brown butter, and tangerine all sound delicious, but unfortunately the recipe was off and it ruined the cake. Danielle's pistachio shortcake was cool, tasty, delicate, and served in an interesting way. Her coffee cream pie was sweet and missing coffee, whose bitterness would had helped balance that sweetness. I liked that she did a refreshing and light float. The flavors were good, and although she used an untraditional combination of sorbets, it worked to her advantage. Morganza's pretzel really made me happy until it glazed my face with butter. His chocolate cake was awesome, great texture of the mousse, flavorful, and then having a brulee center really showed some skill. This is his second fried pie. This time it was definitely better, and the lemon flavor really came through.Bravotv.com: . What did you think of the overall concepts of the two shops?
JI: Team Diva's aka Pastry Playland's concept was to make elegant and sophisticated desserts with a kids palate. This gives them an opportunity to be flamboyant and whimsical, yet show skill and restraint. I expected the black team to go a more rustic homey direction since Danielle and Eric were on the team. Whisk Me Away was definitely designed to be a crowd pleaser serving essentially "the hits" of the pastry shop. The design was great, lots of colors, display cases were vibrant, and full of food.
Bravotv.com: Heather didn’t seem to understand why she was chosen as the one to go home. Was it the thickness of her crusts that put her over the top?
JI: At this stage of the game, these chefs are essentially the best of the best. They make few mistakes and are executing some really delicious food. This time it was a group challenge. Maybe if this were not a team challenge it may not have been Heather to go home. Unfortunately she was responsible for the major problem with two different desserts. Plus the rest of her personal offerings just didn't really stand out amongst the rest of the teams desserts at all.
Bravotv.com: Pardon my ignorance if you are/have, but have you thought about getting out of restaurants and opening up your own bake shop? Care to share a concept?
JI: I was the opening sous-chef when Francois Payard left Daniel to open Payard Patisserie. It was insane -- one day I was on cake station, the next day i was in breads, then tarts, then chocolate then ice cream. I never knew where i would be needed. The whole time i was working in the pastry shop there was something missing. Even though there was a crazy fury every morning from 4 a.m. when we started to 7, and when we had to have the vitrine aka display case set up, after that point it was just production for the next 10-12 hours. I love restaurants, I love service, I love the a la minute component of setting something on a plate and have it be delicate and eaten within minutes. I don't think I would ever have a traditional pastry shop, but i could see myself doing something more my style.
Bravotv.com: What do you think this challenge showed you about the contestants that might not have shone through before? Did anyone surprise you?
JI: As usual, Eric was slow and steady. This is his category and I knew he would do well, although I was surprised he made a recipe error on one of his baked goods. Morgan really started to stress out, get angry, and be virtually physically aggressive in the kitchen. I would hope that he could handle this type of stress at this point in the competition and his career. Heather was just nasty to Zac when all he was trying to do was help her serve the judges the best of the best. It was an obvious choice to have Zac and Yigit up front for Team Diva and Danielle and Eric for the black team because of their demeanors. I was surprised and disappointed how sleepy and non-energetic Danielle was. If it were me, I would have been full of energy and eager to sell my products and tell everyone how delicious they all were.
Bravotv.com: Anything else you'd like to add?
JI: I thought it was pretty ironic that Heather said that Team Diva on one side and Team Loser was on the other when, she was actually the one that went home. That is karma baby. Guess her mama never told her that if she doesn't have something nice to say, then she shouldn't say anything at all.