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Top Banana

Gail Simmons gives a behind-the-scenes explanation for the overwhelming use of banana in the chefs' Quickfire dishes.


By Gail Simmons This week we have Pichet Ong as a guest judge. How was it working with him?
Gail Simmons: Pichet is a fantastic pastry chef. He's a lot of fun, and really, really creative. He's worked at some of the greatest restaurants in New York -- Jean Georges, Payard; he was the opening pastry chef at Spice Market. His desserts are beautiful. For the Quickfire, the chefs had the opportunity to make their own candy bars. What do you like in a candy bar?
GS: I love texture in a candy bar, and I also like flavors that complement the chocolate. My preference is dark chocolate, but I am open. I always want there to be a contrast of textures, so you break through that outer shell and there's something gooey and something crunchy. That way when you eat it all together it's a complete candy bar experience. You don't want it too liquidy and you don't want it too sweet. You need counterpoints so that you're not just getting all sugar and cocoa butter. There were three different banana offerings. Did it surprise you that so many people opted for banana in their candy bar?
GS: I kind of loved it. I'm a huge banana fan myself. What you didn't see was that behind the scenes we had running banana jokes all season. The banana you see when they do the close-up on Carlos' shoulder pocket was actually a fake banana that he kept as his good luck charm all season. The chefs were constantly playing practical jokes on us and on each other with that banana. So it certainly didn't surprise me that Carlos used banana. Banana is one of those hard flavors that when done well really complements milk, dark, or white chocolate, but you have to be careful, because if you add too much sugar, banana becomes very grainy and sticky. Bananas also need to be at the right ripeness or else they're either too sweet, or if they're under-ripe, they have this sort of tannic quality adding a "green" flavor that you don't want. I liked that so many people tried to incorporate it.

How to Watch

Catch up on Top Chef: Just Desserts on the Bravo App. Were you surprised that Orlando helped Rebecca?
GS: We weren't surprised. Everyone talks about Orlando being the villain in the interviews, in the kitchen, and in the house, but we didn't know any of that while we were shooting. When he came to Judges' Table, he was always perfectly well-behaved. I didn't know any different. And that's what a good pastry chef does. He was done, so it didn't involve compromising his own dish. He had extra time and was completely finished, so there was no excuse for him not to help her. And I'm glad he did, because her candy bar turned out really well. I like that he acknowledged he helped her, but he didn't complain that it was his work that allowed her to be on top that day. What were your thoughts on Sally's winning candy bar?
GS: Sally's was great. As Pichet said, it encompassed everything you'd want in a candy bar. There was an exotic, interesting flavor, the chocolate was tempered beautifully, the forbidden rice added a crunch and a great textural component. I'm a huge Ovaltine fan; it's something I drank growing up all my life, because my father is from South Africa, and it's very common there. It's a malt drink, which helps you sleep. For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs had to break up into groups to create desserts at a water park. Let's start with the group people may have thought would win -- Chris, Matthew, and Orlando. What were their fatal flaws?
GS: They were a really strong team, and they're all really great pastry chefs, but I think they may have become a little too arrogant about their capabilities and they didn't think outside of the kitchen. They didn't create desserts that were easy to eat; they didn't create desserts that were appropriate for their environment. They made summer desserts, which I would be happy to eat in a restaurant. It's not that their desserts were bad, but they certainly weren't perfect. Chris' dessert was a little sticky, Orlando's wasn't root beer float-y enough, it was sort of dry, and Matthew's was piping hot. If we were sitting in an air-conditioned fine dining establishment rather than a water park, they'd be great. But we were in a water park -- I wanted to pick it up and go, I didn't want a plate and a spoon with different components. I just wanted something fun, easy, and refreshing to eat before I went down the slide. Unfortunately they didn't really do that.

Then we had Amanda, Sally, and Carlos. They each had problems with their desserts individually. Their issues were very different than Matthew, Chris, and Orlando's. The problem with this team's dessert was their execution rather than their concept. Their desserts were perfectly appropriate for the venue -- funnel cake, ice cream pop, a smoothie. These were all things that seemed great in theory, but they failed in the details. Carlos' ice cream bar, which looked beautiful, had no counterpoint. It was completely sweet and fatty. There was white chocolate with thick, rich ice cream, and Fruity Pebbles. Great idea, and kids would like it because it was so sweet, but there was nothing sophisticated about its flavor at all. If he had done raspberry sorbet or really any kind of fruit sorbet in the center, it would have been absolutely perfect. But because it was so dense and rich with no balance, it wasn't refreshing at all. Sally's smoothie: I mean I can make a berry smoothie in three minutes flat, and it wasn't as if hers was so exceptional. She froze Cap’n Crunch with liquid nitrogen and blended it with a bunch of berries and yogurt. I make that for breakfast every day, minus the nitrogen. That's hardly six hours of work. I know she did it so she could help the rest of her team, but it seemed as if there was very little effort. Which is fine in a way, because that's how the game is played, its her choice if she has immunity. She could have tried to win again though, but I guess that's not her M.O. She literally decided that she was not even going to try to win, which is unfortunate.  In our opinion, Amanda's dessert had the greatest flaws. Her coconut sorbet was fantastic, her pineapple jam was delicious -- it all worked together really well. The idea of a funnel cake is so fantastic especially in terms of an amusement park, a carnival, a fair, a water park – it all works. But she just didn't make a good funnel cake, in fact, she made a terrible funnel cake. It was over-fried and sat too long, so it was cold, which made it hard. Because the funnel cake drizzles were so thin when she poured them in, they crisped up too quickly. You want them crisp on the outside but, with a doughy center. It wasn't like that at all, and because she gave it to us in a bowl with ice cream and jam with only a spoon, you couldn't cut it, you couldn't pick it up with your fingers and eat it. When I tried to cut into it, it flew out of my bowl. That was a risk she took when she chose to fry something on site, but it could have been handled differently. If you're going to take that risk, you need to follow through with it. All she had to say was, "I'm going first. My stuff is ready first, and you need to eat it right now," when we walked up to their table and it may have been a different experience. If she was worried, she didn't speak up so we didn't know it. I think Amanda is extremely talented, and she's a gifted pastry chef. She has an amazing attitude and an amazing understanding and knowledge of what she does. She was just being too much of a team player and not asserting herself, which is too bad because I do think she went prematurely. It just goes to show, if you make one mistake you go home, it doesn't matter who you are. All it takes is one challenge for you to be out of the game. Last but not least, we have the winning team.
GS: What Carlos, Sally, and Amanda lacked, Katzie, Rebecca, and Megan really excelled at. They created desserts that were completely appropriate for where we were and executed them very well with their own professional pastry chef spin. Like Johnny said, they all would have worked perfectly on an ice cream truck. Katzie had something on a stick, it had crunch, it had flavor, it had acidity from the cherry ice cream, it was rich, but it was fun to eat, and she bruleed that meringue right there, which everyone loved. Rebecca created an ice cream sandwich, which was perfect, simple, straightforward, with good ingredients. She made perfectly chewy snickerdoodle cookies, lemon ice cream, which gave it a tang but was still rich, also it was wrapped in paper so you could take it on the go. Megan made that strawberry float which was a little too sweet for me, but all in all, still very sophisticated and very fun. In addition to all of this, they also made lemonade and essential oil spritzers of cold water that everyone could spray on themselves to cool down. They really thought about the whole experience and it felt very organic to where we were. Plus, everything tasted good. Period.

Next week brace yourselves for the Beastie Boys. It's time to get ill...

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