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Sing Me a Song

Gail Simmons describes how hard it was to let Erika Davis go.

By Gail Simmons  So this week we have Chef Laiskonis who is, you know, a big deal here in New York.
Gail Simmons: He's a very big deal. I’ve eaten his desserts many times before and I’ve worked with Eric Ripert for years on Top Chef, but we’ve never had a chance to work with Michael, who is a truly gifted pastry chef. He has a very different personality and style than some of the pastry chefs who have been on the show in previous episodes like Elizabeth, Sherry, or even Jacques. He almost has a closer aesthetic to Johnny in that his desserts are very focused on design. They need to match Eric’s food which is so concise, sophisticated, and subtle. He was unruffled the whole episode we spent with him. I actually think he had a lot of fun with us because I think he enjoyed the opportunity to sit back and laugh at the shenanigans in the kitchen. I hope he was impressed with what the chefs made. Onto the Quickfire...
GS: I think that part of the challenge for pastry chefs using some savory ingredients is obviously that it is not what they work with every day, although they often incorporate certain savory ingredients like herbs for example. The problem for some of our pastry chefs is that they went too savory and started making full-on savory kitchen dishes, as opposed to a dessert that incorporates savory elements -- it still needed to be a dessert. Take Eric for example: He really made breakfast food, not a dessert with savory accents. On the other hand, Zac's beet cake was a great example of using elements from the savory kitchen in a really dessert-focused way. What I remember the most about that cake is that the flavor of beet was really strong. However, beets have an inherent sweetness to them so it made sense as a dessert, and you still got that cakey-ness, the cake was really moist. You also tasted the herbal flavor of the lemon thyme he used and the whole dish still felt very indulgent. The one-pot element was tough for anyone. It’s hard to do that in any kitchen, let alone the pastry kitchen with all the sticky, saucy, sugary textures they use. The time factor became really key here.

Bravo: On to the Elimination: What is difficult about a black and white dish? Usually, when you see a black and white dish that’s a bad thing because you want color on the plate, right?
GS: Righ,t but there are definitely a lot of iconic desserts that are black and/or white. They are certainly colors that exist in the pastry kitchen. I mean true, true black is hard of course, although not impossible. To bring it all back to another Top Chef, Angelo is very famous for a dessert he makes at Xie Xie. It's a play on the 1000-year-old egg, the Chinese dish, that's an ice cream sandwich. The color of the caramel in the center is black as night with this beautiful underlying gold hue. I don’t know how he does it, but he does it, and he is not a pastry chef. So it’s not impossible. We understood that we needed to not be too literal with our expectations and that there needed to be some sort of leeway of course. I love that the challenge made our chefs stop and think about how to not sacrifice flavor by sacrificing color.

It was a really great party and thankfully there were some really great successes, starting with Eric's Mississippi Mud Cake. I was so proud of him when we arrived at his table as he was totally "Eric the Pastry Chef," not just "Eric the Baker." He was plating and saucing, and doing all kinds of fun things with his dish. It had height, there were layers of texture, he had thought about the was we were supposed to eat it, and it looked beautiful.Bravo: What put Yigit over him in the end?
GS: I think in the end his had more interesting flavors and a more original presentation. His almond ice cream was so rich and tasted so pure. There was a great contrast in textures and in temperature that we really loved, and it just had this beautiful modern plating. He didn’t try to do too much, which has been his issue before. He embraced the challenge and thought a lot about how the different flavors came together, and it just worked really nicely. Morgan did a good job too although I wasn’t a huge fan of his actual cake. Zac's was fun -- deep fried whoopee pies, what could be better? His prep at the event was a little bit of a mess, but I guess you don’t want a whoopee pie to be too neat and perfect. Danielle's really was more like three little petits fours that were totally disconnected. They didn’t speak to each other. But the flavors were all pretty good in and of themselves. I know a lot of people thought she should have gone home but they did not taste the food. If they had they would have understood that her flavors were all pretty solid and that is always the most important part. Heather H.'s wasn’t quite black and white, although I know she was taking some artistic license there. It also really didn’t excite us and was a bit flat on the flavor front. Unfortunately it happened that all the boys just had more interesting desserts that day than the girls.

And then there was Erika. You know, this was a really hard one. I am such a fan of Erika. First of all I want her to sing me to sleep every night because her voice is like a lullaby. But besides that, she is also amazingly talented. There were only 12 chefs to begin with, and now there are seven, and they’re all talented; so this is where things get tricky. From here on in, it’s going to be painful every time anyone leaves. Don’t think it wasn’t painful for us too, but we really thought Erika's was the weakest dessert. The flavor of her dish was off. Period. I know she’s known for her ice cream, and I assure you if she sat down with it again, tasted it and focused on its texture as well as the specific combination of flavors, she would understand what we meant. It’s true what Johnny says: it was a good idea, it was just off proportionally probably, it had a bit of a gumminess to it, sort of a stickiness, and the flavor was too fragrant, which did not translate as it should have. It just crossed that line of going from herbal-scented dessert to a kind of overwhelming aroma. So unfortunately that stuck with us. And it wasn’t just Dannielle Kyrillos who felt this was. Remember: it is always unanimous. It’s too bad, we were devastated for her. We didn’t want to see her go at all. I know I will see her again and I can’t wait for her to cook dessert for me again when I’m "off duty" and we can sit and have a cocktail together. And she can cook all the desserts that she does best because I know that she has an arsenal waiting in the wings. And next week we have our own version of Restaurant Wars -- can we have
a little sneak?
GS: We are putting a sugary twist on restaurant wars and it becomes just like Candyland -- it's just going to be so much fun because what they make for us is just an embarrassment of riches; the stuff that they produce is so beautiful and exciting. Ultimately we have them create their own bakeshops and they have the greatest time doing it, but there’s also a lot of drama, and a lot of moving parts to the challenge which will keep them on their toes....

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