'Top Chef Just Desserts': Gail Simmons is sweet on the spicy competition
The latest in Bravo's "Top Chef" franchise -- which premieres Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 11 p.m. ET following the "Top Chef: DC" finale -- features 11 pastry chefs who, judging by the premiere and preview for the season, can deliver the sweets, but not necessarily the sweet dispositions.
Fighting among creative types is nothing new, but when it comes to pastry chefs, the personality clashes are particularly heinous.
"The drama and the issues we were faced with on the show, we've never been faced with on 'Top Chef,'" host and judge Gail Simmons tells Zap2it. "It just gets crazier and crazier because they're such an insanely extraordinary and interesting type of personality."
In the series premiere, the chefs enter the kitchen to face their first Quickfire challenge -- inflated to an hour and half to take into account baking and cooling times -- creating their signature dessert, with a twist of course. Later, they must create a dessert that best exemplifies "chocolate decadence" with Jacques Torres, Mr. Chocolate himself, sitting in judgment.
Here's a peek at what to expect this season:
Simmons -- who can't resist puddings nowadays -- gives us her insights into what makes a pastry chef so special, their rivalry with savory chefs, the importance of desserts in our lives and how she copes with the massive amounts of sweets she has to consume for the show.
Pastry Chefs: A rare, if volatile breed
- "To be a good pastry chef really it's training and practice. It's amazing attention to detail and fastidiousness, precision and patience. It's about knowing the recipe to the microgram and understanding the chemistry of the pastry kitchen ... Pastry recipes are so incredibly precise, and if you veer off by even a quarter tablespoon, it won't turn out."
- "I'm not saying that they're all OCD, but certainly because being a pastry chef requires you to be so precise and so exacting that certainly if you weren't OCD before you got into the pastry kitchen, you can't help but become it because the whole world is about measuring out in such precise and uniform ways. Everything needs to be perfect for it to be beautiful."
- "I think [the behavior on the show] it's part of being volatile. Pastry chefs do not work under the same kind of service pressure that regular cooks do. Most pastry is cooked beforehand. [On the show], all of a sudden you get pastry chefs in the kitchen where they have to think on their feet and in 20 minutes they have to create things on the spot and they don't have the recipes with them. They're with a bunch of other competitors who they don't know and are competing against. There are cameras around, the heat of the kitchen, burning caramel and it all goes wild."
The problem with Savory Chefs cooking desserts
- "If you think about a psychiatrist and a doctor of internal medicine like a surgeon -- they're both doctors, but you don't want your psychiatrist performing surgery on you and you don't want your surgeon making you talk to them on the couch, right? And it's the same thing. Savory chefs and pastry chefs are both under the very broad umbrella of chef, but they do two completely different jobs."
- "Pastry chefs and savory chefs have always been competitive. They've always tried to one-up each other. I think also pastry chefs have always had a bit of an inferiority complex because they're usually relegated to a little small corner of the kitchen and have been toillng away with a much smaller team. They don't always get their name on the door or their name on the menu."
- "I also think there's some truth to the fact that in the day-to-day, there is more that a pastry chef does and has to understand about a regular chef's job than a regular savory chef has to understand about a pastry chef's job. A savory chef can go through their life never having to make a dough, never having to pull sugar and temper chocolate, but a pastry chef cannot do their job without understanding how to sautee."
Life + Dessert = Meaning
- "At the fine dining level, which is what this show is about, dessert is really part of the experienece. It really rounds out the meal. A little dessert once a day ... really makes life better. A bad dessert, it's what you take away, it's your last memory of a meal, so if it's not good, it's hard to get past it."
- "What's interesting about dessert on the whole is that how do we as a culture celebrate milestones? We celebrate with desserts -- weddings, birthday. When you think about all the times in your life, you celebrate with cake, you celebrate with ice cream, you celebrate with something sweet because it signifies the sweetness of life. It's such a cultural symbol of how we mark major milestones in our lives."
Keeping her girlish figure, preventing sweets overload
- "I wouldn't say I started a new fitness regimen, but I just pumped up what I was already struggling to do. I've always needed to stay active and get outside and run and I play tennis and I swim and I hike. I'm a runner more than anything else."
- "I've always had a sweet tooth and this is a dream come true for me. The first two episodes or so I was going strong ... but [later] I'd get to the end of my day, and literally, my talent assistant on set, I would make him stop for cheeseburgers -- more than once. You'd think I'd want to eat some steamed vegetables. The truth is that when you're consuming that much sugar, it's all about balance, and all I'd want i salt and savoriness. Literally I was craving cheeseburgers and pizzas."
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Photo credits: Bravo