Top Chef Just Desserts Season 2 Episode 5: Like Water for Chocolate

Episode 5 of Top Chef Just Desserts season 2 tapped into two important childhood experiences — the candy bar and the water park. Le Bernardin‘s Executive Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis talks about both with us this week.

Pichet Ong! He’s all kinds of amazing. I am so curious to see his reactions to what he’s served. Can you talk about Ong’s reputation and his desserts?

Sally's bar beat the competition, bar none!

I first met Pichet some 10 years ago as he rose to prominence as pastry chef of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Asian concepts Spice Market and 66. In a way, he was a perfect judge for this challenge — he has a certain knack for updating and elevating simple classics and street-food desserts. He doesn’t flaunt it, but the guy’s a walking pastry encyclopedia; he seems to know every pastry chef on the planet!

What is your favorite old-school, when-you-were-a-kid, classic candy bar? And, would it still appeal to you today?

As a pastry chef, there’s always been something about a Snicker’s bar that appeals to me — the flavors and the textures are perfect. And, whoever came up the twist of the Twix — a cookie and a candy bar in one — that’s a cool idea. And, give me nougat in any form, I’m a happy guy.

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Top Chef Just Desserts Season 2, Episode 4: Laiskonis + the Chocolate Factory

"I once ate a snozzberry that was this big!"

Episode 4 of the newest season of Top Chef Just Desserts brought with it the promise of revisiting the sublime Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (and not the abomination that was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!) and biding adieu to two cheftestants. Le Bernardin‘s Executive Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis shares his thoughts.

Michael, I’m not a candy addict, but this movie gets me every time and makes me wish I could eat endless bars of chocolate in search of the Golden Ticket, chew three-course gum, drink from the chocolate waterfall, and eat an endless gobstopper. I trust you have seen the movie – which cinematic confection most intrigued you as a child? And, which one most intrigues you now?

It’s funny, I have seen the movie, but it’s been many years. I’m familiar with all of the iconic references that still float in the culture 40 years later, but most of the finer details are fuzzy to me now. Like the chefs, I kind of wish I’d also had the chance to refresh my memory before the episode as well! And perhaps I’m in the minority among pastry chefs, but I almost never think about the film as it relates to my work; I probably remember it more for the themes that lie just beneath the candied coated surface — greed, patience, childhood innocence. I do think I need to watch it again!

This is Katzie's very clever carrot cake, which guests could pick out of a patch.

Willy wasn’t this guileless nice guy. He was pretty jaded and a dark character. Can you understand how someone might wind up feeling that way after a long time in the food biz — insofar as it is easy to focus on the negative, the demands, and the financial aspects of the business rather than the delight of food?

I’ve never looked at Willy quite that way, but you’re right, and I think there is a parallel one can draw to the life of a chef. The business end of things can be grueling, so it’s not uncommon to loose sight of why you began cooking in the first place. It’s important to recalibrate every once in a while, to get back to basics. For me, it can be simple prep that I usually delegate to others, something monotonous, but altogether enjoyable.

Willy said, “Invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple.” How do you break down your ratio for invention?

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Top Chef Just Desserts Season 2, Episode 3: Laiskonis on Macarons + Vanderpumps

Johnny passes up Ken's offer to pet his Jiggy.

Michael Laiskonis, Executive Pastry Chef at Le Bernardin, is back for another week, sharing his thoughts on the second season of Top Chef: Just Desserts!

Does a plate the size of a silver dollar intimidate you, as a pastry chef — or inspire you?

I’m big on the idea of small format desserts, where every single speck of sweet counts. And, from the perspective of the guest, a single bite or two will keep you from getting bored, perhaps creating a taste for more. In restaurant parlance, we might call this a ‘pre-dessert,’ a prelude for something more substantial.

My best friend and I do that with martinis. We’ll have a pre-tini, as we like to call it, and then a full-format martini. Anyway, when you hear big flavor/small package, what are some flavors that come to mind for you?

I immediately think of bold fruit flavors, but also of contrasting textures, and how I might be able to create interesting juxtapositions — again, in just one bite.

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