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War of the Buttercream Roses

Dannielle Kyrillos wishes she had been present for the most intense challenge yet.

Hello and happy, happy Wednesday to you all! Hope you’ve been eating lots of good dessert. I have been keeping up with a massive influx of gorgeous, crisp apples, straight from an upstate farm, by making apple pie, applesauce, Pennsylvania Dutch apple cake, and this weekend I think I’ll tackle my Nuni’s famous apple strudel. I was inspired to showcase one of autumn’s most scrumptious ingredients, apples, in a delicate, flaky strudel by this week’s mise en place relay race. If only I had teammates to help me stretch the dough over my kitchen table. At least it won’t be a race!

The second Johnny blew that whistle around his neck to begin the Quickfire, it felt like a signal that from here on out on the show, until the moment the ultimate winner of Top Chef: Just Desserts is announced, the competition will be non-stop, ferocious, and at such a high level, even the slightest mistake could be fatal. I think the tipping point was really last week, during the black and white party Elimination Challenge. We had reached a point where the remaining contestants had been working so hard, for so long, that eliminating any of them on the basis of that day’s dessert, which as you know is how it works, was going to be gut-wrenching.  Sending Erika to pack her things was the hardest decision we’d made yet, as her creations had been so solid and delicious up to that point, and I think that will be the case going forward with each remaining Elimination Challenge. Thanks to everyone for all the heartfelt comments about that episode.

This week’s challenges were downright thrilling, don’t you think? The relay race had me on the edge of my seat, and the pure skill exhibited by both teams was pretty awesome to behold. If you’re not a big, muscle-bound man like Morgan, whipping egg whites by hand is so hard, and truly exhausting! I loved how close the race was, how each chef surprised some of his or her teammates with a particular skill, and how in the end, the precision and care the red team used to stretch the strudel dough is really what got them the win. It almost felt like just the act of Morgan’s bossing and raising his voice, rather than any physical contact, poked holes in the black team’s dough.

Dessert Wars was the most involved, harrowing, intensive challenge to-date, but also the one that’s given the chefs the most room to be playful, uber-creative, and to create not just desserts but their own magical environments into which they could welcome customers. I had pangs of childhood nostalgia seeing the beautiful, shiny vitrines waiting to be filled with treats. Which does beg the question again: why in the world wasn’t the red team more careful in ensuring their shop greeted guests with a plentiful and mouth-watering display of what they were offering? I know they were stressed, busy, and sold out of some items right away, but empty store windows are the most obvious no-no for any enterprise, let alone one like a dessert shop, in which seeing the products themselves should entice customers in off the streets and make them spend money! It doesn’t make any sense.In any case, I think the judges had a lot of fun visiting Whisk Me Away and Pastry Playland, and the chefs came up with some inventive and yummy-looking products. I was jealous I wasn’t there to hang out with the amazingly awesome guest judge Nancy Silverton, to enjoy Yigit’s front-of-house hospitality, and to taste Zac’s blueberry beignets or Eric’s classic chocolate chip cookie. 

It was especially interesting to see the real customer requests rolling in, like they would in the real world at any bakeshop. This is the first we’ve seen the chefs have to deal with real live clients wanting something made a special way just for them. I liked that they were confronted with food allergies, which are so common and affect so many of us, and handled all these one-off demands pretty seamlessly (despite a little in-kitchen cursing). (Yes, I, too, wish they cursed less, but what can you do, they’re chefs.) 

I was sad to see Heather H. leave, especially because she had only been trying to help and be a good team player when she made the whole team’s dough by hand. Alas, even though this war was fought over sugar and butter, it was a high stakes one, and there had to be one casualty. 

Have a delicious week, and I’ll see you next Wednesday for a tea party you won’t believe.

Follow me on Twitter @DKyrillos

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