Bravtov.com: We skip a Quickfire and go straight to Elimination this week!
Gail Simmons: We threw a little twist at our chefs. For this Elimination Challenge, I'm sure that they picked countries they thought they were going to have to make pastries from, but we had them instead create a dessert that looks like a savory course from that country -- a savory food in disguise. It totally threw them off. I mean, French/Italian/Spanish seem doable. But, I will admit when Sally chose Cuba I tried to get her to change. I asked her three times "Are you sure?," but she wasn't budging. So we let her keep it and then I think she got worried when she realized what she was being asked to do, and had no idea how to accomplish it using Cuban food.
As much as it seems like a challenge that's out of the blue, it actually was a great way for all of us to separate the four of them stylistically and give them all a final push before the finale to see what they are capable of. It made them think in a whole new way. Not that they aren't capable of doing it; it just requires them to step out of the box a bit, and I think they all really did a good job overall. We were impressed by their creations and it was a great challenge. I was very skeptical when I first heard about it -- I didn't think it made any sense, but once we sat down at that table and the dishes just started coming out, I realized it was a really, really telling exercise for our chefs.
Bravotv.com: Were you thinking at all that Carlos actually would have been good at this challenge because it’s sort of what he did with his hamburger and fries?
GS: We all thought of Carlos' hamburger and fries for this challenge, and I'm sure he would have been great at it. However, remember: his hamburger and fries looked great, but they didn't taste great, which was the problem. But, yes, we all miss Carlos, and Im sure he would have excelled.
Bravotv.com: What was it like sitting at the table with all these savory chefs? Did they bring a different perspective?
GS : Yes, the savory chefs bring a different perspective than pastry chefs do. But keep in mind Hubert is a savory chef, and I always work with him, I mostly work with savory chefs on Top Chef -- the pastry world is just one component of my TV life. But it was great to hear savory chefs talking about pastry because they rarely do. It was a nice change. I've known a lot of them for a long time. I know Michael Cimarusti from Top Chef Masters, Sang Yoon is a good friend, I'm crazy about Suzanne, and it was so great to work with Cat Cora and John. They were just a great crew because they all cook very different styles of food, John is more Latin, and Sang has a burger place but he also has an Asian place, Michael Cimarusti's restaurant is fine dining seafood, Suzanne is California with European influences. It was a great discussion because everyone brought their own taste and their own ideas to the table and everyone had very particular ideas about dessert as well.
Bravotv.com: I think some people might have a problem with the fact that Chris didn't make his own puff pastry.
GS : It's tricky. First of all, we did reprimand him a bit, but it's true that we've sent people home before when they have not made their own puff pastry. In those cases it was because the dessert that they made was a terrible dessert because of it. We thought about this a lot, but there was so much other technical skill that went into Chris' dessert beyond the puff pastry. The puff pastry was one of so many beautiful components, not by any stretch the most complicated piece of the dish. So, we could see past the wrapper. There were three or four other layers that he constructed inside that puff pastry. We showed how he did it, how he baked the pastry around those ring molds, then cut the molds and rebuilt the layers inside. I mean, it's extraordinary that he was able to do that. The truth is that making puff pastry takes a lot of time and he just didn't have it. Even if he had done it right from the beginning, he wouldn't have had time to do everything he needed to do. Would we have liked better if he had used his own puff pastry? Yes, possibly if he had used his own puff pastry he would have won. But, the dessert itself was so fantastic in every other respect, the layering of the 'meat' as chocolate mousse, the different grades of chocolate, the raspberry jam which gave it acidity, the crunchy, flaky, buttery dough, and then this almond cream he used as mashed potatoes with a caramel sauce that looked exactly like gravy, it just embraced the challenge so wholeheartedly that we could look past that one layer.
Bravotv.com: Matthew, with his manicotti was kind of in the middle.
GS : Matthew actually did very well. We were very impressed with Matthew's when it came out. It's just when we started tasting everyone else's, there were others that were better. I actually really loved Matthew's dessert. Visually he really went for it, and I thought was very creative in his ability to construct the manicotti, make the sauce, and the basil gelée was the perfect addition. It was just a bit monochromatic. I mean, there was more than one color -- but texturally it was all very soft: there was a soft mousse, soft cake, soft jam, soft gelée. It kind of just mushed and melted in your mouth. There needed to be one more element to give it a little complexity.
Bravotv.com: That tomato would have been interesting.
Gail: Definitely! The tomato would have been interesting, or if he had done some sort of textural component, a crunch, within the mousse, if he had maybe put some sort of Rice Krispie or chocolate nib in the mousse, it would have helped a lot. It was very large -- you had three bites and you got the picture and you couldn’t eat any more. But, I was impressed with how visually stunning it was.
Sally's was so fun. I wonder if people will be upset or think that because she got it together at the last minute, she shouldn't have won. But the truth is, it doesn't matter to us. We don't know when we're sitting around that table what she went through to get there and what her process was, as long as it tastes great, looks great, and embraces the challenge. So, Sally was able at the last minute to really pull it out. I mean, she made us a full Cuban sandwich experience! She didn't stop at just the sandwich -- she made beautiful plantain chips that were sprinkled with sugar and lime, so they were also sweet as opposed to usually when they're sprinkled with salt. She also made this beautiful Asian "potato salad" that was really a fruit salad -- it was so fresh and bright and crunchy. And then there was her actual sandwich; she made her own baguette, she simulated pickles, she simulated ham, pork, mustard, I mean all of it! And the layering of flavors actually worked really well together. Her one drawback was that mousse she used for the pork at the center, because it was so soft and there was so much of it, when you bit into it, it sort of oozed out the sides, and made is a bit messy. But, again, that didn't detract from the experience. And everyone's dish had a drawback of somekind, so really this is the perfect judging conundrum: we had four people left and we really had to weigh everyone carefully against each other, because they were all good, but NO ONE was perfect. So how do you make the most informed decision? That was our challenge. I think Sally showed us that she was able to be completely creative and give us a fantastic experience based on what we asked her to do.
Bravotv.com: what went wrong with Orlando's dish?
Gail: Orlando had a great outlook. He had this idea that was really smart and beautiful -- paella, which has rice that can translate to dessert easily, sweet rice exists in a lot of cultures, not only Spanish. But he went about it in the wrong way. The first issue was that he didn't cook his rice properly. The rice tasted alright with the saffron, but he cooked it in a rice cooker, it was overcooked, mushy and broken, which was disappointing. His other major issue was that he cooked all his other components separately, so it all ate totally separately. It wasn't cohesive. There was no melding and mixing, it felt like he had put down a bowl of rice and placed three pieces of beet on top, three pieces of plum, and a little tuille to make a mussel. It felt disjointed and not like a fully developed idea. His flavors were great -- plum, beets, vanilla, saffron, that all worked. The tuille that he used looked really great, but when we picked it up it also sort of fell apart because it had been sitting in the warm rice. I bet if he did it again he would do it a lot differently. Perhaps if I had eaten it alone I might have enjoyed it more, but when we sat and ate it with the other three that were so spectacular, it did not measure up comparatively.
And then there were three! Our finale is next, which is so intense and amazing! I’m so excited for everyone to see it. It’s different than any finale we’ve done before on Top Chef. Period.