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

Top Chef Just Desserts Episode 1: 20 Questions with Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis

Pastry chef Michael Laiskonis makes 'Top Chef Just Desserts' even sweeter!

Bravo’s fun Top Chef: Just Desserts premiered last week — and it’s back again tonight. The lovechild of Top Chef and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, even the show’s initial ep tested my knowledge of all things sweet. Despite my culinary school training, it turns out that I don’t know a whole heck of a lot about pastry (although I make a fierce tarte aux pomme). So I’ve called in a pro to help me figure out exactly what’s happening with Bravo’s latest confection. James Beard Foundation Award-winning pastry chef, Michael Laiskonis, from New York’s famed Le Bernardin restaurant, will be tuning in with us every week going forward, so check back tomorrow for his take on Episode 2. To kick things off, I asked him 20 questions about the premiere to help set the stage.

When I was in culinary school, the pastry people always seemed much cooler and calmer than my fellow savory chef students and I – or was that just the cool temp in their kitchen?

I think we’re beginning to see that it’s not necessarily all that calm and cool. I like to think we share the same amount of intensity as our savory cook counterparts; we pastry chefs often tend to channel that energy in a different way.

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Top Chef D.C. Episode 3: Waxman On, Waxman Off

"What is the green herb?"
"What is the green herb?"

The cheftestants return in week 3 of Top Chef D.C. — and so does Chef Ed, who is watching along. Ed Hardy, as you’ll recall, is an aspiring cheftestant. Eater interviewed him as he auditioned for this past season and he even has a “Why Isn’t Ed Hardy on Top Chef?” Facebook fan group. The previews for this episode indicated that the contestants would be cooking for a group of Capitol Hill interns, and it turns out that’s a job Ed had before the call of the kitchen lured him away from politics. Ed comments, “I promised I wouldn’t do this but I have to: Bravo, what were you thinking? You passed up a thousand chances to make me look like an arrogant ass on cable TV. Instead of Arnold’s line about his sister, you could have had Ed saying ‘Cook for Capitol Hill interns? Hell, I was an intern.’ Speaking of interns, have you seen a more sorry bunch of folks that should be among the brightest and the best? These are our future leaders of America? They could hardly manage more than a few syllables: ‘Mmm, tast-tee.'” Okay, Ed’s getting ahead of himself. Focus!

The show opens with sleepy cheftestants bemoaning Jacqueline’s exit. Amanda battles survivor guilt while Kenny gets a note of encouragement from his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Angelo vants to be alone. He sits outside talking about how he doesn’t like to be on the bottom and that he’s mad at Kenny for not standing behind his teammates. This makes him want to isolate himself from everybody. Is that a threat or a promise?

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