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Emotional about Souffles
Gail Simmons shares a personal story ... about souffles.
Gail Simmons: Hooray! Its Souffle Day! Here’s a little story about why I love soufflés. My very first job in a professional kitchen when I left culinary school was at Le Cirque 2000 when Jacques Torres was the pastry chef, and I was in the savory kitchen. I was cooking on the hot appetizer station, which it was very grueling work. At the end of the day I would be so emotionally and physically drained and once in a while I would sneak into the pastry kitchen around midnight or 1 in the morning and, if I put on extra charm, the pastry
cooks would slip me a soufflé. At the time at Le Cirque there was a special soufflé flavor every day, so one day I would get blackberry or one day it would be chocolate with espresso cream, or lemon or vanilla bean. They were the best treat at the end of a night, the ultimate luxury. Those soufflés came to epitomize a reward for a job well done in the kitchen. So as you can imagine, Soufflé Day was very exciting for me on Top Chef.
Soufflés are really tricky -- you need to eat them within seconds of them coming out of the oven. They fall so easily, they’re a very delicate balance of egg white, sugar and custard.
Bravotv.com: Chocolate souffles are fairly common, but Yigit actually won with a chocolate soufflé.
GS: He did because his was beautiful and it wasn’t just chocolate -- he had this passion fruit vanilla bean ice cream, and he presented it beautifully with a playful chocolate tuile, which showed expertise. You need to make the egg whites stiff enough so they hold up and are a little bit sturdy. He was able to get and maintain that height. It was just made with proficiency and it had a stunning, modern flair.
Bravotv.com: Sherry Yard didn't seem to care for Zac's frozen souffle.
GS: He kind of piped it into the bowl. It didn’t look as good as we hoped it would, and it was quite dense. It was a great idea, but he could have executed it better.
Bravotv.com: Any of the other ones stand out to you?
Danielle's had a really bright, lemony flavor. Morgan’s was nice too. Overall both of them did a great job.
Bravotv.com: Sherry Yard was guest judge. She's kind of a big deal.
GS: Sherry is whacky, in the best possible way! She’s one of my favorite people, and although I had met her before the show a few times, we had never really spent time together until I came to LA to shoot this season. We ended up hanging out quite often while I was there. Obviously she spent a few days with us on this episode, then we went out to dinner a few times after that. She actually consulted on building the Top Chef: Just Desserts pastry kitchen. She worked with the Magical Elves on what they needed in terms of equipment and stocking the pantry. So she was on set a few times with us for that as well. Also, because we had all these extraordinary pastry chefs coming through our set as our guest judges from across the country for each episode, they all wanted to visit Sherry too! Sherry is the most famous pastry chef in L.A. She knows everybody! Everyone loves her. The ironic thing about her is that she married a dentist, which I find hilarious! They make the best couple in the world.
Bravotv.com: On to the Elimination. This was where fashion met dessert. What are similarities between fashion and cooking?
GS: I think they are both crafts that take years of practice to perfect. They are both forms of high art which most people really don’t know or see the skill and the talent required to produce them well. I think they are both all about balance, in fashion it may be between fabric and design, classicism and modernity, there’s a very fine line between cutting edge and over-the-top. The same applies to pastry. So I think there are a lot of similarities between the pastry kitchen and the fashion studio.
Bravotv.com: The chef had to make edible ensembles, and then make the two petits fours as accessories. Let's talk about the unsuccessful outfits.
Eric’s cave woman outfit: I think it was really clear on the show, that Eric knew exactly what he did wrong. He was insecure about it from the beginning and it fell apart. Johnny made a great point about this at Judges' Table: we were most disappointed in the cookies. He’s a cookie maker, and his cookies are some of the best in New York City, so we know he can make a good cookie. He won an previous challenge making his crispy chocolate bake sale item! So I think in this case, he just let his nerves get in the way of his talent.
The two women on the bottom - Danielle and Heather C: not that they needed to use chocolate by any means, but they didn’t even use anything pastry-related. I’m not saying vegetables can’t be incorporated in some way, but they kind of forgot that they were pastry chefs. And it was one thing not to use any pastry
on their form, but also there was no connection between the dress and their accessories. I understood how, for example Danielle’s purse matched her shoes, but it had nothing to do with her outfit, there was just no organic connection there between her flavors and her theme. Her petits fours were good, but her dress had nothing to do with either the shoes nor the petits fours. So that was unfortunate.
Heather, poor Heather, she has had a run of bad luck. I don’t think she’s great at thinking under pressure and she really struggled with putting her thoughts together for this challenge. Some chefs perform differently, they need to work things out, they need time, they need to test and retest, and its not unusual to work that way in pastry. Unfortunately I think she just started an idea which went too far down a difficult road, and she couldn’t recover. Her dress not only looked sort of sloppy, but it also had no relation to pastry whatsoever. Her petits fours were pretty but the chocolate in her chocolate clutch, although tiny and beautifully tempered, was incredibly thick and disproportionate on the bottom compared to the shell on the top, which is a sign of inconsistency in the way that is was molded. The combination just made us feel like she it was her time (again) to go.
I think people might think that we were leaning toward Eric being eliminated in this challenge, and some may wonder how we chose Heather instead? The flavor of Eric’s petits fours and the work that went into creating his entire outfit was far greater. It looked as if Heather literally put peppercorns on a belt and stuck some lettuce on a dress form. He at least went to the trouble of sticking with the challenge of using the ingredients of a pastry kitchen, baking cookies, trying his best to drape chocolate. We didn’t see any attempts from Heather to do that. And besides, his petit fours were delicious.
Bravotv.com: There was a comment that the majority of the petits fours were too big.
GS: There were some petit fours that were the perfect size. You want one or two bites. A lot of them were much bigger than that. But I think the chefs were worried that since they had to plate them, they were going to look really meager on the plate for our guests. I also think they forgot that our guests were sampling two petits fours from each chef, so it was in fact plenty of food.
Bravotv.com: Morgan won this challenge again. I think we saw a different side of Morgan come out.
GS: We did, and I loved it! Everything he did was immaculate. I know there were comments (from Heather H, who clearly is very down on Morgan), that his was easy. But you know what? If it was so easy she should have done it too. We don’t watch the process, we only see the end result. And the end result was beautifully finished, with excellent attention to detail. There was plenty of work that went into the tempering of every single shingle of sequins on his dress, placing each one, coloring some them red, creating the two petits fours. Not to mention the fact that his red hot macaron was the single best macaron I have ever eaten, and that’s saying a lot. I served macarons at my wedding -- they are something I absolutely adore! He also went the extra mile to make that extra purse. And all the while, everything was clean, composed, and tasted great.
Bravotv.com: There was also a comment from Heather H. about Morgan's comments towards women in the kitchen.
GS: If I was her I would have no tolerance for that either. But I just can't comment on that, since I didn’t see it. Again, for better or worse, that’s not what we judge on. We don’t judge on their personalities. We judge on the food we are served. Its the only way to be fair. Clearly if there was something egregious we would address it. That said, I do need to mention Heather H.'s dessert this week too because it was also quite amazing. It didn’t make the top three in the end, because we just thought the other three brought a little more to the table, but it was very close. Although she probably won’t care to hear it but for what its worth, the draping on her dress was incredible, and she should be proud of her work.
Bravotv.com: And just as a viewer, you didn’t know this was happening either, but a "clique", Team Go Diva, emerges.
GS: We didn’t see any of that but I saw when I just watched the episode, and I am sure it was annoying for the others not included. It makes people feel like their right back in high school. I bet they alienated a lot of people that way. But the truth is when you’re in a competition like this, people form strategies whether they do it consciously or not. Again as a judge and host I don’t really care about it, I just care about the final result, but I’m sure it didn’t feel great if you weren’t part of it. You couldn't make me go back to high school
for any amount of money....
Bravotv.com: Last but not least, what is it with the chefs and your shoes?
GS: It's kind of hysterical... it became this ritual every single morning on-set; first thing the chefs would do every day when they arrived to start a Quickfire or Elimination Challenge was to make me do a little spin, show them my shoes, and tell them who made them. I have to give a shout-out to the wardrobe department here, because Darshan, the head of our wardrobe department, got her hands on some killer shoes for me this season. I was happy to show them off! I LOVED that my pastry chefs noticed them, and had such an appreciation for them! See: fashion and art really do go hand-in-hand!