Top Chef Just Desserts Finale: Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis on Love and Loss

TCJD Finale Yigit Top Chef Just Desserts Finale: Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis on Love and Loss
Isn't Yigit sweet?

It’s probably safe to say that the first season of Top Chef Just Desserts was a resounding success, so we’re pleased to bring you — for the last time this season but not the last time, I hope — expert insights from Le Bernardin‘s own Michael Laiskonis.

Before we even dive in, how high are the judges’ expectations at this point? Can you put this into perspective? In terms of the title being meaningful, do the standards have to be insane?

I’d like to think that the standards and expectations have been at a constant high level throughout the competition. As this challenge will represent the sum total of the chefs’ work, I’d also bet the judges are really looking for that personal touch; and that’s also when the chef’s are really just pushing their own limits and competing less with each other and more against themselves.

What does a progressive, four-course dessert tasting mean for you when you hear that? Does it inspire opportunity? Fear? Have you done this/do you do this at Le Bernardin? When would a civilian diner (like me) get this opportunity?

I love that kind of format, as it gives us pastry chefs a rare opportunity to take guests on a little sweet journey — an opportunity to explore a range of techniques, flavors, and textures. I also like exploiting a buildup of intensity and creating a cohesive package in small, distinct dishes. We don’t exactly have that kind of structure built into our menu at Le Bernardin, but we’re willing to negotiate such a thing! One restaurant that does is wd-50, where pastry genius Alex Stupak offers an amazing multi-course dessert tasting. Continue reading…

OpenTable Spotlight Offers: We’re Here All Week…Sort Of

OzumoOakland OpenTable Spotlight Offers: Were Here All Week...Sort Of
Ozuma in Oakland, California, serves up this delicious dish.

Well, we simply couldn’t wait to bring savings your way, so we’re pleased to announce live deals in Los Angeles, New York, and Oakland. As always, the OpenTable Spotlight will be turned on later tonight in AtlantaBostonChicagoDenverPhiladelphia, and Washington, D.C. We also have four more Spotlight offers set to shine in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco on Thursday!

Don’t miss your opportunity to save. Tell us which offers you’re most excited about in the comments section, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

The Next Iron Chef Episode 7: The Last Seduction Starring Chef Marc Forgione

Next Iron Chef Episode 7 Marc Mixologist The Next Iron Chef Episode 7: The Last Seduction Starring Chef Marc Forgione
"Charlotte Voisey is this very attractive master mixologist. This is a seduction challenge, so I'm glad I'm not just cooking for Canora and Chef Tsai." — Chef Forgione

Last night’s episode of The Next Iron Chef was all about seduction — and elimination as two of the final four were sent packing. Chef Marc Forgione takes us behind the scenes on how he survived to cook in Kitchen Stadium next week.

First, do you always cook in black? And, did you always wear black — or not until you were in charge?

Pretty straight-forward answer to this question: Black is my favorite color. I have been wearing black chef coats ever since I had my own restaurant. I have even instilled my color preference onto my staff — we all wear black in my kitchen. It has become a signature style choice at the restaurant!

This show has been very challenging, obviously. Can you name another time in your career that you were under as much pressure to prove yourself?

I have faced different kinds of pressure ever since I became a chef and started my career in the restaurant industry. Opening a restaurant with your name on the front door creates more pressure than most would choose to deal with. However, the emotions that I endured throughout filming, both mentally and physically, were unlike any others I have ever felt. They were all-consuming and challenged my very nature as a chef. I think I mentioned on the show that the entire process felt like a science project. As contestants, we were being experimented on to see how much the human body and mind could actually endure. Continue reading…

Top Chef Just Desserts Episode 9: Michael Laiskonis on Cold Spray, Payard + More

TCJD Episode 9 Payard Top Chef Just Desserts Episode 9: Michael Laiskonis on Cold Spray, Payard + More
Zac quickly learns that flirting with French chef Francois Payard won't help his chances.

It’s down to the wire on Top Chef Just Desserts and Le Bernardin Executive Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis was along for the nail-biter of a ride we took last night. His expert answers helped shed light on Francois Payard’s impeccable reputation, Yigit’s spray can, and what it really takes to make a chocolate truffle.

Thanks for being here again! I’ll be honest; I think I missed the advent of Chef Payard. I’ve heard the name, but I’ve never dined at his restaurants, and they’re now closed. Can you put his reputation into perspective for those of us who don’t know at all who he is?

Let me tell you… I’d have to say, that as a very young cook, Francois was certainly my first pastry idol. What many don’t realize is that way back then, in the early 90s, he was the pastry chef at Le Bernardin, his first big job in the US. We know Francois today for his beautiful retail shops, but he was doing some very creative things with plated restaurant desserts when that form was in its infancy. Of all the chefs with whom I’ve rubbed shoulders over the years, I’m most proud of the fact that he’s become a good friend. And, for those who mourned the closing of his Upper East Side boutique, there’s good news: Francois Payard Bakery opened just six weeks ago on Manhattan’s Houston Street!


Continue reading…

The OpenTable 2010 ‘Good for Groups’ Diners’ Choice Award Winners Are In!

Good for Groups Winner Wildwood BBQ The OpenTable 2010 Good for Groups Diners’ Choice Award Winners Are In!
Diners' Choice Award winner Wildwood Barbeque in NYC is great for groups!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — or close to it. And, that means getting together with friends and family to celebrate the season! Finding room on your calendar may be tough, but finding the right restaurant won’t be, thanks to the 2010 OpenTable Diners’ Choice Award winners in our ‘Good for Groups’ category. Derived from more than 7 million reviews submitted by OpenTable diners for 12,000+ restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, this list indicates the 50 best restaurants in the OpenTable network for group dining.

Not just based on space, the winning restaurants serve up superior service and all types of delicious dishes, including family-style Italian suppers and authentic Mexican specialties to hearty barbecue favorites and juicy steaks. The Good for Groups Diners’ Choice Award winners guarantee your group will have a great time and a great meal.

Congratulations to all the honorees, who include Buca di Beppo, Gyu-KakuLoca Luna, and Trattoria Cinque, as well as 45 others!

What makes a restaurant good for groups? We asked Diners’ Choice winner Wildwood Barbeque’s Pitmaster “Big Lou” Elrose, and he said, “Wildwood Barbeque welcomes big groups with open arms! We’re a great place to gather all your friends and family or office mates for a fun time and there is something for everyone from multi-regional American BBQ, addictive bar snacks, salads and sandwiches in addition to pitchers of beer and an extensive selection of whiskey and bourbon.”

Did your favorite restaurant make our list? Do you enjoy dining out in groups or do you prefer smaller parties? Weigh in here or join the discussion on Facebook.

The Spotlight Is On in NY. Can You Guess Where Else the Deals Will Shine?

SS DC 110910 The Spotlight Is On in NY. Can You Guess Where Else the Deals Will Shine?
Can you guess which DC restaurant serves up this delicious dish?

We started the savings party early this week, with a live deal at B. Smith restaurant in New York right now! And, naturally, the OpenTable Spotlight will be turned on later tonight in AtlantaBostonChicagoDenverLos AngelesPhiladelphiaSan Francisco, and Washington, D.C. We’ll let you know where — but do you? Make your best guesses on the Spotlight message boards, Facebook, or Twitter with these helpful hints!

trans The Spotlight Is On in NY. Can You Guess Where Else the Deals Will Shine?Atlanta: At this dazzling restaurant, old world décor in a modern setting provides the perfect backdrop for a contemporary fusion of traditional southern soul food and globally influenced tapas.

Boston: Set in Somerville, this pleasant restaurant serves classic bistro fare with European flair. Settle into a comfortable, plush chair inside or on the spacious patio and enjoy the Italian, Mediterranean, and American fusion cuisine.

trans The Spotlight Is On in NY. Can You Guess Where Else the Deals Will Shine?Chicago: This post-prohibition inspired restaurant in Chicago’s Old Town serves up classic American cuisine and cocktails in an elegant, 1930s atmosphere.

Denver: Dine in style at this Denver restaurant. Located in a popular downtown hotel, this eatery was named in honor of the city’s mile-high elevation.

Los Angeles: Fall under the ocean’s spell at this elegant eatery in Orange County, where all the ingredients are proudly obtained through local farmers and sustainable fisheries.

Philadelphia: Tapas, tequila, and truth reign at this Latin-influenced spot on the Main Line.

San Francisco: This vibrant hotspot in the Marina district serves tantalizing Latin-Asian fusion cuisine and features a live DJ 4 nights a week.

Washington, D.C.: Contemporary French cuisine is the specialty at this Capitol Hill restaurant, where diners can purchase art and antiques from the ever-changing collection, sourced from local markets and artisans.

Be sure to get your offers before the Spotlight goes out on Wednesday night! And, tune in on Thursday for a second chance to save at another New York restaurant.

The Next Iron Chef Episode 6: Chef Marc Forgione on Pressure and Pressure Cookers

Next Iron Chef Episode 6 Judges The Next Iron Chef Episode 6: Chef Marc Forgione on Pressure and Pressure Cookers
The chefs are challenged to transform the old school 24-hour Vegas buffet: "The Chairman wants you to razzle dazzle Sin City with your modern version." — Alton Brown

Competitor and native New Yorker Marc Forgione walks us through what happened in Vegas in this latest nail-biter of an ep of The Next Iron Chef. Threatened with a double elimination at the outset, chef Forgione was sweating it out with three of his fellow chefs until the very last minute.

This show is set in Vegas. What’s your opinion about Sin City and opportunities for restaurateurs? Do you aspire to open Marc Forgione LV?

I don’t know if I would ever open a Marc Forgione in Vegas. We have plans for Marc Forgione restaurant expansion, but New York is my home base. However…if anyone is out there reading this, I have always been interested in having some type of restaurant in Vegas.  Vegas is an amusement park for adults, where everything is bigger and fancier. When people go to Vegas they want to be wowed and spend money. It is for that reason that Vegas is a chef’s dream — you can cook with exotic ingredients and take the word “fine dining” to the extreme.

For your first challenge, Jean-Philippe Maury is your judge. He’s a MOF. Did you see Kings of Pastry? Maury strikes me as the quintessential French chef, especially with his razz of Canora’s dessert. Were you intimidated by him as a judge?

Continue reading…

Top Chef Just Desserts Episode 8: Michael Laiskonis’s Take on the Tea Party…

TCJD 8 Yigit Top Chef Just Desserts Episode 8: Michael Laiskoniss Take on the Tea Party...
Yigit's ambition got the best of him this ep, as evidenced by this ill-fated sugar vase.

No, not that tea party. But, there was a tea party this week on Top Chef Just Desserts and, as with certain politicians around the U.S., it proved to be more than a few folks’ undoing. Le Bernardin Executive Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis walks us through the minefield that was episode 8.

Shinmin Li is in the house and she’s saying the trend is now toward artful decorative, desserts with a wow factor. Would you agree and why?

While there has to be an inventive, pleasing visual element to pastry, I’ll stick to my guns in saying that flavor comes first. That ‘wow’ factor needs to be sustained all the way through, beyond the first impression.

Would you gravitate toward the natural, as Danielle did, if tasked with making a centerpiece? If not, what techniques/materials would come to mind?

I was surprised to see Danielle lean toward that ‘naturalistic’ look, especially since it almost sent her home on the edible fashion challenge a couple of weeks back. I would have taken the approach Morgan and Yigit did, incorporating sugar and chocolate techniques to achieve a representational, yet contemporary feel.

Morgan was pulling sugar and talking about how he wanted to showcase his ability to do so. Can you explain what it is and what it entails for our non-pastry peeps?

Continue reading…

Daily Dining Poll: Does a Kids’ Menu Make Dining Out Simpler for Parents?

Dining out with children has many rewards and, often, many challenges. We’re wondering if parents find it helpful to have a dedicated children’s menu from which to choose when visiting a restaurant with the little ones in tow. Weigh in below!