We’re one episode away from the finale of this season of Top Chef Just Desserts. Michael Laiskonis, Executive Pastry Chef at Le Bernardin, dissects what happened with the desserts in disguise and dishes on everything from cereal to how he moved from punk rock into pastry.
At the start of this episode, Matt eats some Cap’n Crunch in honor of Carlos – and Chris pours some out. Which would you do? And, is there any kid cereal that you still crave once every five years or so – or one that you might consider cooking with?
Hmmm, dumping it out just seems wasteful. And, truth be told, I can’t even remember the last time I’ve eaten any kind of cereal for breakfast. But, I use Rice Krispies a lot — currently in play on the menu as a garnish to a yuzu dessert, where the cereal is caramelized with black sesame seeds. One of my favorite cereal-based desserts was courtesy of pastry chef-turned-restaurateur, Michel Richard (Citronelle in Washington D.C.), who constructed a miniature croquembuche (a traditional French wedding cake) out of Cocoa Puffs! Crazy! Another that I’ve been inspired by, but never cooked with, is Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I’ve also noticed that just the right combination of citrus zest and lemon verbena eerily calls to mind the flavor of Trix…
Clearly, at this stage, every exit leaves a gaping hole in the TC kitchen. What is it like in a professional kitchen when you get close to someone, professionally speaking – you are very comfortable working together and rely on them – and they move on or, worse, are let go?
Friendships in professional kitchens, even at the highest level, do tend to be transitory. However, one of my favorite parts about the business is the larger community of cooks. Even in a big city like New York, it’s really a small, tight-knit world; should two random cooks meet, it’s safe to say there may only be a degree or two of separation with regard to mutual culinary friendship. While those relationships may or may not extend into ‘real life,’ they almost certainly can transcend any particular kitchen or restaurant. When some sous chef finally opens his own place, who do think he/she calls when it’s time to hire staff?!
Wow, Matt sounds like trouble with a capital T when he was a kid, and culinary school helped him find his way. I know you were a punk rocker in your not-so-distant youth, while paying bills by working in a kitchen. What made you make the leap, formally and fully, into the kitchen?
I may have had my moments, like any rebellious teenager, but I think I was a good kid! It’s true that I came of age in the ‘underground,’ and was heavily involved in the local scene when I started to work at a friend’s bakery. What started as something I could do to pay the bills quickly evolved into something I ‘had’ to do. For me, it was working with bread — working with my hands I was suddenly able to transform this pile of ingredients into a living thing, with near-infinite possibility. I was hooked at that moment, and haven’t looked back.
Suzanne Goin is in the kitchen. Lucques is one of the few places I’ve dined in LA and it was amazing. Do you know her and/or have you dined at her restaurants? And, Cat Cora! Whoa! This promises to be an all-star ep!
Suzanne is awesome- we met years ago during my time in Michigan. And I was fortunate enough to dine at Lucques early on — I really think Suzanne’s straight-forward style set the tone for how the LA dining scene morphed into what it is today. Another great chef we’ll see later in the challenge is Michael Cimarusti of Providence, which is, like Le Bernardin, seafood-centric!
Regarding the challenge, which country of origin would you have gravitated toward, from a pastry perspective, without knowing the twist, and why? Cuba? Spain? Mexico? Greece? Korea? India? Japan? Italy? Or, France?
As I was watching from the couch, I actually shouted, ‘Japan!’ Even after the sweet-savory turn of the tables, I think I would have chosen well!
How unnerving is the dessert in disguise aspect of the challenge? Would this be up the alley of someone who has worked with molecular gastronomy a bit more than some of these contestants? Or, is this just going back to embracing that pure imagination?
This must have been extremely difficult. I think you nailed it, by mentioning modernist technique — those who are familiar with these new methods can better manipulate texture and form. But even with classic technique, successful execution begins with imagination.
Sally’s plan is that she kind of has no plan. How important is it to have a clear vision starting out?
I’m going to give huge props to Sally- her indecision was actually confidence-squared. Making two different preparations was risky, but she wanted to fully explore the possibilities and then decide which worked best. In a sense, factoring in that flexibility was a great strategy. She had to work twice as hard, but the result was beautiful!
I love Chris’s reference to pastry as edible art. This reminds me of so many things you have said, not just about the look of pastry, but your interest in marrying the physical art of pastry with the inspiration and ideas of other art forms.
Be careful with that subject — I could go on for days! While there will always be a debate on whether cooking can be a form of art or merely a craft, what interests me most is how we might be able to apply the artistic devices of other art forms in the process of creating a dish. Can we apply aspects of painting, music, or even writing? I’m not sure, but it sure is fun to ponder the possibilities!
Whose dish looked most like the savory dish it was supposed to resemble? Whose looked like the biggest stretch?
Sally, hands-down, pulled the perfect trompe l’oeil with here Cuban sandwich. Matt’s manicotti was also pretty impressive. After relenting to the convenience of puff pastry, Chris didn’t really have to stretch to replicate his Wellington. Orlando both went to childhood, but also out of his comfort zone, but his choices kind of puzzled me — to go with rice and saffron seemed too literal, and the supporting elements neither evoked classic paella, nor did they even seem to work together. I bet if time constraints and the stress of competition weren’t weighing so heavily, Orlando would have been more than capable of pushing the boundaries further. Makes me want to go to Pittsburgh to sample his work in a more conventional environment!
I am glad that Sally pulled it out and won. Her Cuban sammie reminded me of a completely over-the-top cream-cheese-and-jelly sandwich, which I loved as a kid! And, I know someone had to go, but I was sad to see Orlando take his leave. You’re right about the paella, but it was very ambitious and inventive. I was half hoping that they’d let them all go on to the finale to compete. What about you?
I do like that rare move — “OK, you all can go to the finale!” That said, I like this trio, as they each have a personal style, and, hopefully, the last episode will allow them free reign to express that style to the fullest.
P.S.: It looks like next week we may get some Kings of Pastry-style MOF action!
I can’t wait! I knew this episode was coming; it will be fun to see Stephane, Sebastien, and Jacques adding a little je ne sais quoi to the already heightened level of intimidation!