Top Chef Just Desserts Season 2 Episode 8: Laiskonis on Payard, Pie + Ceramic Pigs

Gail Simmons poses with The Man (a.k.a. Francois Payard)

This week’s coverage of Top Chef Just Desserts was a bit delayed by a faulty DVR (mine). It didn’t record the first time out, and my second effort came up a half hour short (the first half hour). Thankfully, Michael Laiskonis, Executive Pastry Chef at Le Bernardin, has a more reliable DVR than I do, so he’s here with his expert commentary — and to fill in the blanks for me!

So, what the hay happened at the QFC?

First, I have to say, from the opening shots through the entire episode, it appears that our final five are quite close and friendly, which is great to see. At this point it could be all about the tension of competition. The civility amidst the threat of elimination is kind of refreshing. It’s a good group, I think!

Yet, fear crept into the hearts of our chefs as they entered the kitchen to find before them the imposing legend Francois Payard. His career began at a very young age in his family’s patisserie, and in his 20 years in the States actually began as one of my pastry chef predecessors here Le Bernardin! From there, he served several years with Daniel Boulud, before opening his own series of shops, here in New York and around the world. In short, he’s the man.

Pie is the focus of the Quickfire, but with a twist, that the chefs prepare their rendition with only one hand. It immediately brought to mind my own stint as a judge last season, when the first challenge had to be executed with a single pot.Continue Reading

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