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Our Little Social Pastry Experiment

Gail Simmons elaborates on the judges' final decision.

By Gail Simmons Which chef do you think had the best inspiration, or stuck to his/her story best?
GS: Yigit’s story was inspired by the journey of falling in love. Morgan’s was based on the idea of primary colors and light. Danielle’s was updating nostalgic recipes and flavors that she loves and making them her own. I think Yigit certainly had the strongest sense of his theme, and it really carried through. It was open enough that it gave him freedom to interpret it without too many constraints, but it still had a thread that made sense from beginning to end. It started as something light, new and fresh, and it progressed with intensity to that final moment of intensity and sheer bliss. Seeing the chefs work with their celebrity sous-chefs, did any of the relationships surprise you. It didn’t seem like Morgan and Chef Fleming really gelled:
GS: They all had very different relationships, which I thought was very cool. Sherry Yard’s sort of wacky and has this silliness to her that makes it hard to not get along with her. She’s so quirky and so fun. I loved that her and Yigit were literally dancing around the kitchen together and really seemed to meld. And I’m sure that helped motivate him, because he wasn’t feeling great going into the finale. I think it really made a difference and that’s the luck of the draw; that’s part of the game. Elizabeth was really impressed by Danielle and Danielle’s creativity and vision, and I think they too had a really strong rapport, which was nice to see. I know Danielle was excited to work with Elizabeth, for sure. What’s interesting about Claudia Fleming is that she probably has had the most extensive experience, but the beauty of Claudia’s desserts has always been her classic simplicity and her ability to bring out flavor within it. Although she’s innovative and revolutionary in a lot of ways, especially when she was at Gramercy Tavern with her dessert presentation, she was never one for tricks. It wasn’t about being trendy. So I think that’s where the relationship with her and Morgan sort of differed. He wanted to use all these modern techniques, that she just wasn’t that familiar with or comfortable with them. So that’s the first thing. The second is about chemistry. Just as making dessert is all about chemistry, so are relationships in the kitchen, and it was obvious that, as much as she tried to help the best she could, they didn’t share the same kind of outlook about pastry. They didn’t have the same aesthetic, and I think they also just didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on how things should be done. Did anyone really surprise you in terms of what they presented?
GS: You know, in some ways I think Danielle surprised us the most, in terms of coming the furthest from that first day. She had a lot of trouble focusing at the beginning and showing us who she was as a pastry chef. I think by the end she really proved herself, which was really impressive to us. She finally was able to hone in on each dessert and make them much cleaner than we’ve ever seen her work before. You saw that in last week’s challenge with her cake as well. She finally was able to quiet the noise around her and just focus on her desserts and in her own personality that came through so strongly in them. That said, all three of them gave us moments of total deliciousness. And we tasted flavors and saw execution of technique from all three of them that we had never known they could do, or had never seen from them before, which was really quite amazing. Yigit wins.
GS: In the end, when we looked at his menu as a whole, we found it the most cohesive, and it’s progression made the most sense to us on a macro level. On the micro level, the range he showed us as well as the attention to detail he showed in each dessert really stood out and was so memorable. The diversity and scope of all his desserts was so memorable, to go from that refreshing cucumber dill yogurt soup, through that beautifully bright, strawberry, deconstructed vacharin with meringue kisses, into the deeply caramelized pineapple and muscovado dessert and finally into milk jam, caramel, and chocolate -- it was divine! There was so much experience that carried through, and there really were few flaws overall. His menu truly satisfied us, from beginning to end. This is the first time you actually got to tell someone that they are Top Chef!
GS: It was great to finally be the one to say it, although it was also terrifying because you know that this is the end, and although you’re celebrating one person, the other two will be disappointed. So it took a little bit of willpower to kind of control my voice, and not give too much away. But it was very exciting to see the look on Yigit’s face.... I’ll just never forget it. What was the best dessert you ate all night?
GS: I would say Yigit’s strawberry course overall, but I’ll tell you one component from each person that I’ll never forget: I’ll never forget the milk jam that Yigit made. I will never forget the balance created by Danielle’s first course, that cheese course, and it’s simplicity. And I will never forget Morgan’s Baumkuchen. It’s a dessert I only discovered in the last few years, and it’s one of my favorite things. He executed it perfectly. And I just want to say that although he didn’t stretch himself by making a macaron, I hope Morgan never stops making them. He really has a knack for combining flavors and making this very classic dessert feel fresh every time. Do you have advice for Morgan, Danielle, and Yigit?
GS: I think this is where the fun begins. I know they worked so hard to get there, all of them. I say this to all of our Top Chefs in general but, of course, this group of 12 chefs I feel particularly attached to, and certainly, the final three: From here on out, it’s up to you. Take from it, learn from it, and I know they all did. I know they all discovered a lot about themselves and about each other, and they all found out their own strengths and their own weaknesses. Now, it’s sort of like we’re setting them free. You no longer have to be at our mercy, but your future depends on taking this experience and using it to your own advantage and capitalizing on it in a way that will make you proud of yourself. And if you do so, we will be proud of you too. Because we will be watching every step of the way! I already am so proud to know these three pastry chefs, and I know that if they find a way to take the focus they showed us in this final episode and move forward with it, they are all going to have massive And so the season’s over, what are your final thoughts of this season?
GS: Season 2! Season 2! Ha! I think our little social pastry experiment was incredibly successful, and I think we really were able to show the world how diverse and fascinating the world of pastry can be. It’s not just about cakes and cookies; it’s a universe of flavors. And I hope I get to taste even more.

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