Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reactions to Top Chef Just Desserts Episode 4

Whew, what an episode. Several fall short, but no one is told their dessert just doesn't measure up.

Perhaps the most expected aspect of this week's show was that it asked the dessert cheftestants to work with ice cream. As Heather H. interviewed, "we knew this was coming up." The chefs have 30 minutes to create ice cream sundaes. Host Gail Simmons wants to be "amused and over-indulged" and isn't interested in just bananas and nuts. Alas for Seth, since Breyer's is this week's sponsor, he will not be permitted to make his own ice cream, which he claims he can do in 15 minutes. After much foreshadowing, we see a variety of Seth's mutterings and outbursts, plus a rare glimpse of producers interacting with the contestants (over some sort of rule change), which pushes Seth into a rant about losing paper cups he had brought as part of his "equipment." Other contestants interview that Seth then stormed out, saying, according to Zac, "I want my passport, I want my wallet, I want my phone - get me out of here!"

The contestants discuss the unsettling effect Seth has had on them, raising hands (and feet) to vote that they are glad he's departed the Stew, when the sound of sirens intrudes. Afterward, an infinitely more pulled-together-looking Seth interviews that he had an anxiety attack and fainted, is not "at this point" cleared to compete further "at producers' discretion," regrets not that this opportunity was taken away from him but that he took it away from himself.

After Seth is taken away in an ambulance, judge Johnny Iuzzini joins the chefs in the Stew to try to help them get their heads back in the game, and after reactions ranging from "Seth was the one to beat" to "I feel like 900 pounds of pressure have been lifted off my chest," the Quickfire resumes with the drawing of ice cream scoops that assign Breyers ice cream flavors to each of the remaining competitors. Hmmm, did they have to re-draw scoops after Seth's departure? The photos on Bravo's website show the cheftestants revealing ice cream flavors other than the ones they used in their QF sundaes . . .

This week's guest judge, Gale Gand, executive pastry chef of Chicago's Tru, announces the QF bottom three. Of traditionalist Eric's vanilla ice cream with peaches sauteed with brandy and brown sugar and topped with a crumble, Gale says that after eating it, she's not sure she'd want to meet the chef (I find Gand to be a very amiable judge, but what kind of critique is that?). The judges failed to find the "reference to Neapolitan" in Danielle's dish made with Rocky Road. And Erika's Chocolate Banana S'mores Frangelico Sundae is dinged for being too heavy on those bananas and nuts Gail Simmons warned against.

For the top three QF dishes, Zac wins kudos for panko-crusting the fried cherry vanilla ice cream in his "Black Forest Is Burning" sundae, as does Yigit for the ganache and sauce in his peanut butter s'more sundae made with cookie dough ice cream. The winner is teary-eyed divorcee Morgan, who spells out his ode to Sunday visitations with his son, offering a mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwich made with his own cookies and mint syrup and coupled with hot chocolate.

On to the Elimination Challenge, which Gail Simmons announces will team them into three groups of three. Except, you know, with Seth's departure, the numbers are uneven. So they bring back the proverbial "last eliminated contestant," who is Heather C. In a pretty convoluted multi-part challenge, the teams are expected to present a 2-foot tall "showpiece", 25 portions of a flaming dessert, and 50 portions of individually plated desserts where each team member is to put their own stamp on a dessert that "echoes" the concept and theme of the rest of the team offerings. And somehow this whole extravaganza is to be inspired by the performance troupe Lucent Dossier Experience, a costume-wearing, sword-swallowing, fire-wielding band of folks Heather H. describes as a cross between Mad Max and Cirque du Soleil. The chefs will have two hours to set up at the Lucent Dossier space (while the L.D.E. performance is taking place) and will serve a party of Lucent Dossier "devotees" in addition to the judges. Got that all straight? Rules this complicated would leave me running in search of my passport too.

The top three QF chefs are annointed team captains and, without any of that all-too-familiar footage that reminds us of being picked last for some team sport in our youth, the lineup is:

Morgan, Heather H., and Eric
Zac, Malika, and Heather C.
Yigit, Danielle, and Erika

Heather H. is shown throwing herself into her team's showpiece (she seems to prefer the word "centerpiece"). Additional planning, confidence, and lack thereof among the teams are on display.

Back at the TC Just Desserts house the night before the gig, tensions are running high as recently reinstated Heather C. seems frazzled, feeling like an outsider and questioning whether she wants to stay. An aggravated Heather H. exhorts Heather C. to think of her teammates and "suck it up."

Next day, all the cheftestants seem to be scrambling to set up at the L.D.E. space. Judge (and sometime d.j.) Hubert Keller looks like he's definitely enjoying the show, and the L.D.E. cast and "devotees" seem to be enjoying the food.

When it comes to the judging, the showpieces of all three teams seem to garner similar acceptance/praise from the judges as being thoughtful reflections of the vibe of the show. It seemed like the only thing that would have set one of these intricate 2-foot-tall architectural dessert constructions apart would have been if it had imploded or shattered.

Of the flaming portion of the challenge, Team Yigit failed to wow the judges because they had flambeed their dessert in advance of the judges' arrival. Zero spectacle points achieved there. So everything seemed to come down to each team's individually plated desserts.

Team Morgan is the first called to Judges Table, where all three contestants are praised, and Morgan, despite having immunity via the QF, manages to win his second challenge of the episode with  Mango Panna Cotta, Açaí Fluid Gel & Passion Fruit Sorbet.

When Team Morgan is told to return to the Stew, they are not asked to call the losing chefs to Judges Table. Instead, Gail Simmons herself returns, saying there were both hits and misses from the two remaining teams and that the judges have "more questions." Whatever may be left on the cutting room floor, the only question to Team Yigit aired this episode was about why they had failed to flambe in front of the judges.

Then Team Zac is called to JT, where Zac's banana bread with red curry earns much appreciation. As Gale Gand moves on to praise Malika's Saffron Panna Cotta with Feuilletine Crunch & Candied Ginger, we go to commercial as Malika asked to remove her own self from the competition. And when we come back from commercial, she's still bent on going home to her kids and her own kitchen.

So we end up with one double QF/EC winner and two departed contestants, neither of whom was booted for making a bad dish. Or even a "just not quite as good" dish.

Were you hot or cold toward to this "get me outta here" episode of Top Chef Desserts? Let us know in the comments.


Anonymous said...

I thought the producers showed very poor judgement in allowing the unraveling of Seth to become fodder for drama and uninformed commentary by the contestants, i.e. "he doesn't have the maturity to be in this competition." The man suffers from mental illness, clearly. It was just AWFUL to use this, rather to exploit this, man's condition for the show's storyline.

LaDivaCucina said...

I'm glad he was sent home because I WAS ABOUT TO HAVE AN ANXIETY attack just watching this man who's obviously in so much pain and can't get his emotions under control. I was literally frightened for his team mates, I really felt that Seth was truly capable of hurting himself or others. The competition is hard enough without the other contestants having to be constantly verbally abused by him. I did not enjoy watching the show with him on, I'm sorry to say. I don't like watching people crumble like that, it was not entertaining to me, it was really sad.

I hope Seth gets some medication to balance him out, I honestly don't think maturity had anything to do with his outbursts or strange behaviour. Also, it seems he was under a lot of pressure to win and get some money to help his sick mother. What a sad state of affairs when someone has to get on a TV show to help pay for his mom's medical bills. That really stinks.

Now I feel the show can progress and get back to what it's really about: Making kick ass desserts!

Tina said...

There is a LOT of drama and very little substance to the show. I just find it dreadfully dull, despite all the "personalities." And while I'm glad that Seth left the show (b/c he exhausted me as much as he exhausted his fellow contestants) that woman they brought back is extremely annoying. And then just when I was getting ready to enjoy the spectacle of her being eliminated twice in a row, that other contestant quit. If I were the producers of this show I'd be very concerned.

Cliff O'Neill said...

That was about the most insane episode of any talent competition show I have ever seen. Who knew pastry chefs were so nuts and bananas?