While we await the return of our pastry expert Chef Michael Laiskonis from parts unknown (actually, I know where he is, but I haven’t had enough coffee to remember), I asked my food blogger friends from The Dish to pinch hit for the first episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts season 2. Find out what you missed — and what The Dish folks thought of the premiere.
“Oh sugar-snap, it’s a guest post! Hold on to your cupcakes, it’s the second season of Top Chef: Just Desserts, and here’s our sweet take on the premiere.
We’re starting with a pair challenge. Note, that’s P-A-I-R, not P-E-A-R challenge. Wanted to be clear on that one. Returning this season are Gail Simmons, as our lovely hostess, and Johnny Iuzzini, celebrated celebrity pastry chef as head judge, who deliver the Quickfire Challenge to the rag-tag group. The pairs are to modernize a soda fountain treat in 30 minutes.
Kids. Let’s get something straight. If the first team goes for bananas, then the next team, then the next, and the next—you should feel pretty confident that you can stand apart from the crowd by not choosing bananas.
The bottom teams are the annoying pair of Lina and Craig and their Ode to Elvis. Hmm. I get the bananas, but featuring almonds instead of peanuts? Weird. As Johnny questions, “What makes this modern?”, the duo just stares blankly at him. Do be cruel, Johnny.
The other team called out is Megan and Orlando, for serving up an uninspired banana split that Johnny poo-pooed for having an NFG. Anyone? Anyone? A “Non-Functional Garnish.”
One top team is the confident and comfortable Carlos and Rebecca, for their shake that made Gail blush, featuring bananas (check!) Captain Crunch (check! check!), and liquid nitrogen (CHECK!).
Alas, the winners of the challenge and the much-coveted immunity are Amanda and the adorable Nelson, who are—you guessed it—the only team not to use bananas. Instead, their vibrant combination of pickled cherries, chocolate sponge cake, and whipped cream wowed the judges.
Next, Gail welcomes the group into the Top Chef Just Desserts kitchen for their first elimination challenge. This team challenge will test their creativity and imagination by having them create a showpiece and desserts inspired by one of four different fairy tales. If I learned one thing from season one, pastry chefs run 90 degrees hotter on the crazy thermometer than their savory counterparts, meaning team challenges are where it’s at, in terms of pure entertainment value.
The fairytales at hand each have food components. The tricky thing for the contestants is to allude to their tale’s motif while not being completely obvious. Team Little Red Riding Hood is (Matthew, Amanda, Chris and Carlos) golden. No worries there. Team Jack and the Beanstalk (Craig, Megan, Katzie) seem doomed. Craig’s inexperience shows as he flounders about the kitchen, only to have his teammates repeatededly come to his rescue. They spend so much time on their showpiece, in fact, that I’m worried their desserts are an afterthought.
Team Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Sally, Rebecca, Nelson, Orlando) falls into the porridge-theme trap hook, line, and sinker, making a dessert with steel-cut oats. They try and smear this mess on a plate. Disgusting. The shining star on this team is Orlando, who is constructing an opulent chocolate showpiece. Also falling into said similar trap is the Hansel and Gretel team (Lina, Melissa, Vanarin), as they choose to create a gingerbread house out of gin…err… wait, cake? And, no candy? Heck. At least, they aren’t baking children.
The made-for-TV Fairytale Costume Gala, which looks as though they rounded up diners from Medieval Times, begins with a Red Riding Hooded Gail and fellow permanent judge, famed Chef Hubert Keller, visiting the stunning chocolate showpiece of Team Goldilocks. Their desserts are things bears may like to eat, featuring ingredients like honey, nuts, and fruits of the forest, but leaving out, thankfully, people. Predictably, Baby Bear’s oatmeal porridge makes an appearance. They can dress it up all they want, but it still looks unappealing to me.
Danielle Kyrillos, lifestyle expert, is also back as a judge this season, proof that she’s got a REALLY good agent. She and Johnny take a peak at Team Beantstalk’s showpiece, which Johnny proceeds to rip for sloppy workmanship. Neither hold back from criticizing the team for their heavy hand with ginger in one of the plated desserts and the flat flavor of the other cake. Fee-fi-fo-fudge!
The Team Red Riding Hood showpiece is a work of art featuring a stunning sculpted-sugar representation of the title character. Their desserts include words that I pretend to know when a waiter tells them to me. I squinted my eyes and nodded the same way I do in a restaurant. Words like bomboloni, gelee, nougatine, and micro basil. The judges liked it, especially Gail. I trust her; she always wears good shoes.
Finally, Team Hansel and Gretel step into the spotlight. They failed to put a single piece of candy on their gingerbread house, which, inexplicably, was not made of gingerbread. Even worse, the judges were unimpressed by both their plated desserts. I fear there won’t be a fairytale ending for this team.
At Judges’ Table, Teams Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks are tops. Team RRH receives praise for their balance and creativity. Team Goldilocks earns kudos for their unique approach and the beauty of their showpiece. In the end, though, Team RRH wins, and even without a close up, you can see Orlando roll his eyes while steam puffs from his ears.
The bottom teams then step up to the whipping post. Team Hansel and Gretel attempts to defend their boring creations that had nothing to do with the story. What stands out here are the ‘catitudes’ from the female contestants. Boo and, of course, hiss.
Craig feebly defends Team Beanstalk against the judges’ assertion that his teams’ desserts and showpiece are one-dimensional. Megan and Katzie can’t defend their flavoring choices, either. This team should trade their magic beans for a backbone.
In the end, Lina’s insistence on using cake in the Hansel and Gretel showpiece seals her fate. Per Gail, she packs her tools and goes.”
— Dished up by The Town Dish’s Culinary Programming Correspondent, Jamie Rogers
The Town Dish is a network of foodie websites featuring locally focused dining and lifestyle information. Created by Mary Bigham, West Chester, PA @wcdish. Follow us on national and international food, travel adventures at Dishtrip.com and @dishtrip.