Top Chef Just Desserts Episode 5: Let’s Get Some Shoes…

Gail Simmons's dress isn't edible, but she still looks delish.

We’re counting down the days until Le Bernardin’s Michael Laiskonis gets his turn at the judges’ table on Top Chef Just Desserts (next week!), but for now, he’s in the hot seat, dishing it out about all the sweet and not-so-sweet goings on in this week’s episode.

So, we’re seeing some alliances have formed in the competition. Are there mini-kitchen cliques in general?

Sure, there are, but a smart cook realizes it’s important to make friends with everyone, because when it really hits the fan, it’s nice knowing that you don’t have to worry that someone’s got your back. At its worst, the atmosphere in the kitchen can be like trench warfare. Best not to play favorites.

How do you do soufflés for a QFC so that they don’t fall? Also, any good soufflé war stories?

While I do soufflés rarely now, in the past, I’d do dozens in a night. The key is simply controlling all the variables — the recipe, proper whipping of the egg whites, and filling of the ramekin, and of course, time and temperature. In a restaurant situation, worst case scenario, you make another one and wait it out. My worst case: A cook once forgot to add the cornstarch to a chocolate soufflé base; the guests eventually got their dessert, along a few extras while they waited!

What is your favorite kind of soufflé and why?

I like a light, classic Grand Marnier. With crème anglaise. Yum. To be honest, the best part of any soufflé is the crusty bits. And the crème anglaise.

There’s a dessert fashion show. In light of Lady Gaga’s recent meat dress, I’m thinking the cheftestants will have to pull out all the stops. What are the first challenges and opportunities that might go through your mind when someone asks you to create an edible dress?

For sure, the challenge lies in making the materials we use as pastry chefs conform to the body. Like last week’s showpieces, gravity is the enemy. But, at the same time, we work with some amazing ingredients that present a lot of possibility. Chocolate, sugar — even Eric’s cookies — in theory, all provide interesting forms and textures.

Chef Laiskonis says, "Step away from the spatula, Morgan."

Which shoes would you have wanted? And, would you have been worried about making your wife proud or embarrassed during this challenge (i.e. “Darling, you made such an elegant dress?” or “Um, honey, that looks like it came from Forever 21!”)?

I actually watched this week’s episode with my wife — she definitely had stronger opinions about the contestants’ work than I did! I might have gone with either Morgan’s red shoes or even Zac’s zippered pair. The latter offered a lot of great textural ideas, while the former made for the most natural color pairing with chocolate. And for this kind of challenge, I think anything goes, whether elegant and tasteful, or shall we say, even a little raunchy.

Would Morgan last 10 minutes in your kitchen, with his Texas non-charm? He seems to be quite abrasive and alienating to almost all his co-competitors/occasional teammates!

Some people naturally try to assume an alpha position in the kitchen, but that doesn’t last long in a heavily structured environment like Le Bernardin. If anything, I’d try to get Morgan to stop putting that offset spatula in his mouth.

Chef, I know you’re extremely talented, but things fall apart. It’s scientific! How have you kept it together when things have gone wrong — both mentally and from a production perspective?

There have been times where I’ve fallen behind or I’ve had ill-timed accidents. A lot of the time, it’s simply because I was over-ambitious. Obviously, at some point, you have to recognize you’re on the wrong path, and switch gears before it gets too late. Cooking is ultimately a constant game of problem solving. I think the people who ended up freaking out in this challenge failed to see the error of their decisions early on. In the end, you just have to see it through and lick your wounds later.

We're not sure what Heather C. was thinking here -- or when she made a dress out of produce.

All the cheftenders must make petit fours. It seems that Zac, at least according to Zac and Johnny, is the only one to make a proper petit four. Can you talk about what makes a proper petit four?

I would agree that many offerings looked far too large to be considered a petit four. At most, it should be only two bites — but preferably just one. And, a pastry chef has to pack a lot of texture and flavor into that one bite to make it successful, but it also has to have a clear focal point. Interesting story on how these small treats got their name — translated from the French, it literally means little oven. Back when all of the days’ bread and pastry production would emerge from a single wood-fired oven, the items requiring high heat, like breads would be baked early on, and as the oven cooled, smaller and more delicate pastries would be baked last, with just a ‘little’ heat remaining.

For the love of Christmas cookies, why are people using produce on their dresses? This seems utterly crazy and apropos of nothing. How could the competitors who made produce-inspired dresses have saved the day for themselves? Fruit? I’m wondering why no one did a Carmen Miranda here as a Hail Mary!

I’m with you on that. Like Johnny, I’m actually a bit shocked. Maybe using fruit or veggies as an accent to the piece… no, I can’t even say that. For this challenge, I don’t think it works.

Flavor proved to be Eric's savior, despite his mess of an edible dress.

The end result: I don’t agree that Heather C’s dress looked like “a drunken sorority girl made it.” At all. In fact, judge Danielle Kyrillos’s hair looks like that of a drunken sorority girl. But, I digress. So, Morgan wins and Heather C. gets her walking papers once again. I think Eric got VERY lucky, yet he did make an outfit that fit the bill (chocolate/cookies/etc.). Morgan’s dress seemed very obvious in terms of technique, but is there a time that it’s okay to play it somewhat safe? What do you think of both these outcomes?

I think the outcome was just. I don’t know that Morgan necessarily played it safe — he just went for a simple, well-executed design. It worked. I would have put Heather H. in the top three over Zac; as was mentioned, she pulled off a look that some people can’t even do with fabric! And, it was a toss-up between Heather C. and Danielle. At least Eric embraced the challenge more fully. He went further outside his comfort zone as a baker, yet still managed to show some pastry technique.

Chef, will we see you next episode? Any clues as to what viewers can expect?

Yes, I make an appearance as the guest judge! I can’t give anything away, but we’ll see a fun, daring twist in the Quick Fire, and perhaps a deceptively simple challenge for the Elimination Round. I think we’re only just beginning to see what the remaining chefs have up their sleeves.

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