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Life is a Carnival

Dannielle Kyrillos felt like she was there for the pie Quickfire Challenge.

Warm and happy greetings, friends. Hope you are all enjoying this increasingly intense and strenuous competition. We’re really getting down to the wire. But first, speaking of warm and happy, let’s get started with the subject of the Quickfire -- pie.

How to Watch

Catch up on Top Chef: Just Desserts on the Bravo App.

You would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t adore at least one kind of pie. It’s the most inclusive dessert of all, as the simple but perfect template (crust, filling, maybe topping) offers options for chocolate lovers, citrus fans, fruit and nut nuts, cream enthusiasts… you name what you like, there is a pie for you. As a home baker and entertainer, I find pie to be the very best way to show off whatever is in season. It’s a vessel for all things delicious, and as pie is relatively simple on the dessert difficulty spectrum. It didn’t surprise me that the chefs were challenged a bit further and denied use of one hand.

As was stated very early in the challenge and agreed upon by all, the ultimate success of a pie really is all about the crust. As in so many desserts, it’s the most basic elements that can prove most challenging. We didn’t see too much of what went into each chef’s crust, but I’m curious: what do you use as the fat in your pie crust? I like to use lard if I have it on hand or can easily grab some, but really good butter works well, too. Let me know in the comments what, in your opinion, is the secret to a light but sturdy, flaky, perfectly baked crust.Even though I wasn’t on this episode, I felt like I was there for the Quickfire, at least, because the last time I saw the master himself, Francois Payard, was when he, Gail, and I judged a Pie Social together at a friend’s son’s school in Brooklyn. The school community takes their annual pie contest very, very seriously of course, and there were dozens of entries. Chef Payard was just as exacting in his judging that day. He is such an impressive and cool and lovely person, it is no wonder his passion is baking exquisite treats that surprise and delight people everywhere.

I was pretty impressed by what the chefs did one-handed. Rules are rules, and of course they must be applied equally to everyone, but what did you think about Matthew being disqualified for the half-a-second-long slip-up? It was so frustrating to watch, as it was clearly an accident that had no bearing on anything, but it unintentional or not, it was a violation of the parameters of the challenge.  

Maybe Carlos is onto something with his deep and abiding love for, and surely record-breaking use of liquid nitrogen. His raspberry lemon meringue pie looked gorgeous, and clearly it tasted that way, too. On the losing end, it was a little embarrassing to watch the makers of the least favorite pies, Sally and Chris, each question what Francois Payard, one of the world’s greatest pastry chefs, had to say about their work, in their own ways. Sally was mocking, which was not the greatest she’s ever come across, and Chris just reverted to his usual shock that anyone could find anything wrong with any of his creations. It is really hard to take criticism of any sort, and now, in the final stages, the game is really stressful, but come on, let’s use our good manners.

This Elimination Challenge looked like a lot of fun. I only wish there had been a dunking booth. The upscale carnival’s host, Food & Wine magazine’s Dana Cowin, is sunny and sweet personally, but obviously a major force to be reckoned with in the professional food world. Any challenge in which the chefs must re-imagine familiar, iconic flavors is a good one, as there’s an instant point of reference for everyone when tasting their dishes.Isn’t it a good lesson in perseverance that the component of Sally’s dish that almost ruined her when she left it in the blast freezer, the corn pudding, was everyone’s favorite? Her elegant but playful takes on caramel corn looked compelling on the plate and sounded like they were just as successful in the tummy.

Even on a TV screen, you could see the perfect, golden flakiness of Matthew’s fried apple pie crust, and it was clear he redeemed himself entirely after his Quickfiire hand troubles.

It’s always a shame when someone has a fantastically creative idea, but the execution doesn’t live up to the vision. Such was Carlos’s fate this week. He never got past that macaron mishap, and what could have been a winner sent him home. Four chefs remaining, one episode until the finale… I’m on pins and needles. Until next time, have a sweet week.

If you’d like to follow me on Twitter @DKyrillos or check out my column on I would be honored.


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