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Wet and Wild

Dannielle Kyrillos explains what desserts worked and which didn't in a water park atmosphere.


How to Watch

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

Sweet greetings, friends!! Hope everyone is fantastic, and that you were transported back to the sultry days of summer by our waterpark adventures.

Oh, before I forget, regarding last week’s Wonka episode, thank you for all your comments, but thanks especially for admitting that watching made you a little teary-eyed, too — you made me feel a lot less sappy for having cried. It always feels good to hear that you had a powerful reaction and were as into it as we were.

Now back to Raging Waters.  Did you know that this crazy-fun water world in San Dimas, California, is legendary? It’s not only gigantic and full of more slides and pools than you can even believe, it is supposedly where the "Waterloo" scene in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure— Napoleon is sopping wet! — takes place. Even exiled historical figures can’t help but have fun there. (San Dimas High School football rules!)

So first, the Quickfire. Creating a brand new candy bar sounds relatively simple and straightforward at first, but it is truly an enormous undertaking. As Amanda explained, chocolate is very labor- and time-intensive. You have to temper it, mold it, make sure it sets correctly…a big project for a two-hour window, not leaving any room for experimentation.

In the kitchen there was plenty of personal intrigue. We see Katzie on a high after her big Wonka win, even though the others are driven slightly bonkers by her manic energy; Orlando claiming he’s good at making people cry but then rushing to help Rebecca when she really needs it; and then Katzie sort of dinging Sally for “catering” to Pichet by using flavors he likes. Huh?!? We all know that understanding your audience and catering to it is not only the name of this game, but pretty much any game in life, right?

Poor Matthew’s efforts get messy because of the very thing with which he was trying to differentiate himself, the shape of his candy bar, but at least no one called it a “mess on a stick,” which Pichet did Katzie’s rather flaccid results.  Ouch.It’s a happy thing to see Sally’s Quickfire dish come out deliciously, as that really could have gone either way, and she is so boosted by the win after being on the bottom for so long. Hearing her strategy vis a vis her team after winning immunity was interesting: she said she would just take direction from them and do whatever they suggested, because she would be devastated by guilt if one of them went home because of something she did. Gracious or cop-out? Tell me what you think in the comments. Her team did seem to work well together, but we see where that got them. 

Watching everyone fight over the ice cream machine, and then Katzie’s bright pink concoction oozing out all over the floor while Johnny was there, gave me heart palpitations. It was also creepy-bump-inducing to see Chris basically steal the nitrogen tank Carlos had just filled for himself, and to later hear him ask about using Cap’n Crunch again. Competition brings out the best in people, and the worst in people, that is for certain.

The scene at Raging Waters is a right out of “classic American summer day.” Kids running and splashing and shrieking and doing flips, parents floating serenely, couples sharing towels… and it was a scorcher. So, everything was in place for the team who really thought most carefully about the challenge — that is, the setting, the customers, the temperature, the context (i.e., what and how do people want to eat while wearing a bathing suit and standing under a blazing sun before rushing back to jump in the pool) — to prevail.  

More refined, more challenging, more intriguing dessert concepts are always, always a good idea, as long as they’re still appropriate to the challenge. We want more than anything else for the chefs to push themselves and to surprise us with the new, the unusual, and the unexpected. As long as the results are delicious and right for the audience. I think sometimes there’s a misunderstanding when we tell them something wasn’t right for the setting -- they think we want plain or boring or easy or basic. That is not at all true. In this challenge, for example, thrilling flavor combinations would be phenomenal in an icy popsicle.

Chris’s passion and ginger mixer was a good idea, and his luge presentation was perfect for the scene and kept it icy—great. But it was hard to escape the oversweet, sticky finish on the throat.When I suggested that Orlando's chocolate vanilla float might be better if it tasted more like an actual root beer float, I was not insinuating that we were upset he veered too far from a classic, or that he did something too wild, or that a closer replication of the old traditional stand-by would have been a better choice. What he served was not terribly flavorful or refreshing after a scorching day in the sun. The root beer flavors in the foam to which he alluded barely came through, and the chocolate and vanilla felt heavy, so my taste buds craved that with which he'd teased us: a spicy, effervescent, slightly creamy sip of refreshment that a handcrafted, refined version of the float we all know and love would have offered.

And I don’t think anyone understood Matt’s decision to serve hot strawberries, sautéed a la minute. When we discussed it with him, he instantly admitted it was a bad idea, which makes me feel like he went against his instinct in serving it. He must not have had time to change courses when he realized it was just the wrong dish at the wrong time. Strawberry shortcake is of course a summertime classic, but at a barbecue when the night has cooled the air, not in the stifling heat while the berries are given extra warmth.

Rebecca, Katzie, and Megan’s stand lured you in with sunshine, summer, bright, and happy goodness. It looked like the exact place you wanted to be taking a break on a hot day at a water park. The misters were of course unnecessary, but a nice — and practical — touch. Rebecca’s lemon snickerdoodle ice cream sandwiches felt old-fashioned and special, wrapped in waxed paper. The ice cream stayed freezer-cold and firm.

Megan’s strawberry soda float with white peach basil sorbet was all light, bright, sparkly flavors. And Katzie’s baked Alaska on a stick was heaven. Spumoni dipped in toasted meringue (a good example of a la minute) with a fizzy Rainier cherry. She was nervous to serve Pichet something on a stick, but at a water park when you’re sweating and barely wearing clothes, a stick is not just a-OK, it is ideal.Carlos’s Cap’n Crunch popsicle with chocolate and Fruity Pebbles (think he likes cereal?) was a fabulous, colorful, festive idea, but unfortunately so sugary it made your teeth hurt  Sally said she wanted to serve something on the healthier side, but her berry smoothie was not just extra-sweet, it was boring. We saw her helping Amanda with the funnel cakes quite a bit, so perhaps that’s how she ended up spending six hours on a smoothie. Sadly, Amanda’s funnel cake, a theme-park greatest hit and really smart choice in this context, was cold, hard in places instead of crisp, and soggy in other places. You couldn’t eat it with a fork, and the way she plated it didn’t allow you to pick it up with your hands.  It was quite nearly inedible. And it was clear she knew that when she served it. Her timing was off, and that was her Achilles’ heel.  

Katzie’s winning treat proved you can do something fun, kid-friendly, and portable without sacrificing flavor or technique. When it was time for Amanda to go, I reminded myself of the nature of the game: it’s not always the least talented chef who goes home, it’s the chef whose dish that day was the least successful. And even great chefs have bad days.

For more sweet musings and happy inspirations, please check out my column at and follow me on Twitter @DKyrillos.


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