Top Chef Just Desserts Season 2, Episode 6: You gotta fight for your right to pastry!

The cheftestants tried their very best to avoid the wrath of Kahn.

This week, your faithful CDO is somewhere in Lake County, California, at a casino (Don’t ask!), but in my stead to cover Top Chef Just Desserts, we have talented writer and foodie Megan Murphy, who blogs about what’s on her plate at This Girl Can Eat. You can peep her full bio after the Q+A. She’s grilling our resident expert, Le Bernardin Executive Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis, about all the beastly happenings this week. Take it away, Megan!

Episode guest Jordan Kahn honed his craft in some of the country’s most esteemed restaurants (including The French Laundry and Per Se) and has gained quite the reputation in the pastry world. How do you feel about his sweet and savory approach?

Indeed, Jordan is a great guy and one of the most creative pastry chefs around, not only blurring the sweet-savory divide, but also in his presentation style, inspired by nature and visual artists of all kinds. As important as the classics are, it’s also important to refine and redefine what dessert can be. I have yet to check out Jordan’s restaurant, Red Medicine in LA, but I can’t wait to sample his take on southeast Asian cuisine.

The contestants talk about sampling — when you take a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and make it your own. Do you recall a situation where your pantry wasn’t stocked with what you needed and you had to improvise to get the job done?

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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 2: Michael Laiskonis Is Back from Bogota

Would you smile if your cake looked this? Me neither!

As promised, Michael Laiskonis, Executive Pastry Chef at Le Bernardin, returns to share his insights on the second season of Top Chef: Just Desserts!

Michael, you were traveling last week and barely made it back to NYC this week, due to Hurricane Irene. We’re glad you’re here safely. Did you enjoy any fortuitous culinary detours as you tried to make your way back home in the aftermath?

Not so much, as we decided to plow through all the way to New York as quickly as possible. My sous chef and I were cooking as part of a food and wine festival in Bogota Colombia; Matt Hoyle, chef of Nobu 57 and his sous chef were in the same situation, finding ourselves stuck Miami. We decided to drive; I’d say the most notable culinary experience was a simple, but mighty fine breakfast in Dunn, North Carolina.

I know you’ve caught up on the premiere, so let’s touch on some of the contenders. I think Orlando is sure to be this season’s love-hate contestant. He’s obviously EXTREMELY talented, but the editing is setting him up to be Mr. Not-So-Nice-Guy. Who else among this group is one (or are ones) to watch? Chris?

Clever editing made me think Rebecca would be packing her whisk after she injured her wrist.

I know Chris personally, and I know he’s got the skills to go all the way. I think Sally, Amanda, and Matt are also the chefs to watch, as well as Orlando. But, as we’ve learned from every series or iteration of the show, there are quiet dark horses, and seemingly simple challenges can trip up the best of talents.

Last last-week question: I was not at all shocked at Lena’s departure. As soon as she mentioned something about having won Best Cupcake of Seattle or somewhere, I figured she was dead in the water. Thoughts?

Ah yes, I think it was Austin. Having been in their position, I’m sure the judges based their decision solely on the merit of the showpiece and desserts produced. But definitely, humility is important; it’s not what you’ve done, but what you’ll do next.

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Top Chef Just Desserts: Chef Michael Laiskonis Looks Back and Ahead

Would Chef Laiskonis ever participate in Top Chef Just Desserts Masters? We’ll ask him next week!

Le Bernardin‘s Executive Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis will be joining OpenTable to report on the second season of Top Chef Just Desserts. He’s out of town for the premiere, but will be with us next week until the finale. Meanwhile, he shared his thoughts on last season and what’s to come.

“The second season of Top Chef: Just Desserts debuted last ight, and once again I’ll be reporting with an armchair perspective following each week’s episode. Before the action begins, perhaps we can quickly recap last season’s drama, as well as predict what we might see as the current season unfolds!

The inaugural group of pastry chefs ran a gauntlet of tough challenges, from wedding cakes to edible fashion pieces, ‘savory’ desserts to humble bakesale items. A few contestants saw highs and lows, but through it all, the very talented Yigit Pura emerged the victor. In the end, I think the series shed a rare spotlight on the inner workings of the sweet kitchen; I can’t wait to see more of the same this time around!

From what I’ve seen and heard of this season’s roster, the competition should just as fierce. I’m betting the bar will be raised, with a higher degree of difficulty; as was the case last season, I’m betting the challengers won’t have the luxury of working from written recipes. The judges, too, will be heavy hitters, and rank among the industry’s finest.

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