Well, hello there! Wow! The first episode of the first-ever season of the brand-new Top Chef: Just Desserts is super-duper exciting for so many reasons, not least of which is that we are finally giving pastry chefs the attention they deserve. I promise I'm writing this before my daily dose of sugar; it just feels like lots of exclamation points and superlatives are in order when talking about this fantastic new show, the incredibly talented twelve chefs competing in it, and the chocolate-y first elimination challenge.
Dessert is such a big deal. Can you think of a special occasion that hasn't involved a lovingly prepared sweet treat? From birthday cakes to romantic chocolate creations to gifts of candy brought back from long trips to ice cream after a swim meet, dessert is how we celebrate. But we have largely ignored the people who've devoted their lives to making it for us.
For so long, pastry chefs have unfairly played second fiddle to savory chefs…I mean, think about it: dessert is the last bite you have at the end of a memorable meal. It's the restaurant's goodnight kiss to you, the final taste of a restaurant before you walk off into the night, and it's the pastry chef who created it. But the savory chef is the one who gets his or her name on the door and so much of the credit. You can see how this could make you a little nutty if you were a pastry chef.
So it's no surprise that our twelve chefs have such distinct and awesome personalities. They're artists, they're mad scientists, they're feisty and funny, fiercely competitive, and they all have something to prove. Even meeting them for the first time and talking to them about their chocolate indulgences, it was totally clear we were in for one wild ride.
When we arrived at the chocolate tasting, the room was festive and elegant and the guests were all dressed up and seriously ready for the huge amounts of pure chocolate ecstasy that were about to unfold. The chefs seemed pretty nervous, seeing as how it was the first elimination challenge and Mr. Chocolate himself, Chef Jacques Torres, was in the house. It was my first time meeting all of them, and the first bites of their food I tasted.
Everyone had clearly thrown themselves into their work in their own ways (see: Eric's Zen Buddha folding ceremony), and everyone but Tania seemed to feel good about what they'd produced. It was clear from Tania's first word that she knew her mousse's texture just hadn't worked. But she put on a brave face. I think all the other chefs had been so focused on their own work, each one thought he or she had a shot. You have to, right? You do your best without comparing yourself to anyone else, you sell the judges on what you came up with, and the rest is out of your hands.
We got a tiny feel for the chefs' personalities, and I remember Morgan winking a lot, and Zac, covered in his now-famous disco dust from head to toe, whimsically blowing the stuff all over his plates. He's so cute it didn't instantly strike me as grody, but Mr. Chocolate was not amused. And once he expressed his extreme displeasure, it sank in that Zac's dust distribution might as well have been sneezing.
Each of the desserts had its merits, of course. Eric's brownie was masterfully moist and dense, like a good brownie should be, and it had a really nice spice to it. I think he chose a brownie because hey, for many, many people, brownies are chocolate at its best and most decadent. Actually, typing this, I wish that brownie would appear beside my keyboard. But I digress. Once you compared Eric's brownie to some of the more complicated and nuanced desserts, had he really done enough to win? Then again, Morgan was so eager to impress us, and to not feel like he could have done more, that he ended up doing too much. That gelatinous cube he called milk chocolate flan that he hoped Johnny wouldn't notice had separated (really, Morgan, really?) had nothing to do with the rest of his plate, and it just kind of sat there quivering like a weird alien about to breathe its last. So, finding the sweet spot (ugh, really, Dannielle, really?) of easy simplicity, masterful complexity, and just the right flavors is tough.
Ultimately, Zac, Heather H. and Seth hit it just right. Their dishes were surprising and left you wanting more, even after you'd already had twelve desserts. By the way, even if you just take a bite or two of twelve desserts, your heart beats so fast you might feel like an alligator is chomping through your ribcage. And yes, by "you," I mean "me."
It was so hard to see Tania go, after such a short time, because it's clear she is a truly gifted and experienced chef, she just had a bad day. But just like Top Chef, Just Desserts is about the dish being judged, and only that dish.
My job as an entertaining expert and editor at DailyCandy for more than eight years has been to uncover all the stuff that makes life sweeter, from new fashion designers and artists to restaurants, family-run bakeries, and specialty food artisans. My favorites are those with great stories behind them, about people with great passion taking a chance and following their dreams. Kind of like contestants on Top Chef: Just Desserts, right? So I bring an editor's perspective to the judges' table, that of someone whose job it is to know what looks good, is well-constructed, delicious and likely to become popular.
So, next week is the inimitable Hubert Keller's turn at judge's table (we alternate episodes), but I'll see you here at bravotv.com. Trust me when I say, all the hints of drama you saw tonight only get bigger and nuttier. Each challenge is more magnificent than the next, and no one is safe from the pressure. Until next time…
Follow me on Twitter @DKyrillos