'Top Chef Just Desserts' recap: Buttercream is a Battlefield

top-chef-just-desserts-320.jpgWelcome back to "Top Chef Just Desserts." Miss last week's episode? Read the recap here, just be prepared to be offended by the complete racism (not really, I think). Last week Yigit won for his ability to make Bjork-worthy fashion out of pastry items and Erica was bid adieu despite being the only black contestant in a black and white challenge. But we sally forth to whip the cream, beat the eggs, and torture me with a lot of silly drama. And fondant. Lots of fondant.

Heather (not Head Bandage Heather of course but Bitch Face Heather) thinks everyone was thrilled to see her in the bottom three last week. But I think that's just because she has low self-esteem due to constant bitch face-ness. Also, she's a really good pastry chef with a lot of skill. Also, seems to be kind of a bitch. Morgan, or as he is now known by the contestants "Morganza", which is fitting for someone who displayed an overwhelming passion for women's clothing. He loved his dress and the matching stilettos so much I was worried he was going to consummate the relationship off camera. He swears there are cliques in the house and Team Diva (Bitch Face, Zac, and Yigit) are going to square off and bitch slap the remaining non-denominational cheftestants. Yigit then chimes in that he is certain there has been a target on his back from day one. Well, that and a "Kick Me" sign. Let the games commence!

Gail Simmons and Johnny "Hair Gel" Iuzzini are waiting for the chefs in the Top Chef kitchen, Gail announces that winners no longer get immunity, but they are going to have an actually interesting challenge for once: Mise En Place Relays. Only this is pastry and they don't actually have a mise en place. But first! Teams must be made. By luck of the (producer-contrived) draw, Team Diva is all on the same team. They do a happy dance and high five knowing they will crush the competition with their superior frosting skills. That leaves the non-denominational pastry chefs (Eric, Danielle, Morganza) on one team. Obviously Eric with his mere baking skills is the weak link. The first challenge is to make tart crusts, the second is to whip up a batch of buttercream roses, the third is to beat eggs into submission a.k.a. to firm peaks. Then you have to hold the bowl upside down over Johnny's pristinely shellacked hair for ten seconds and if even a drop lands on his 'do you will be summarily whipped so hard the egg whites will shiver. The final challenge will be to stretch strudel dough the length of the table. Since no one in the audience has any idea what the heck strudel dough is capable of, Morgan explains that strudel dough will crack under pressure and must be executed perfectly. Gail sweetens the pot not with sugar, but with cold hard cash. Zac squeals in excitement and blurts a spontaneous ululation of joy for Dove hand cream. The competition starts. Yigit and Danielle face off to make tart crusts. The second the whistle blows Danielle starts tearing through the tart crusts and is done before Yigit can get even half way through his. When Yigit finally catches up, Johnny sends him back to the beginning because of uneven dough and he has to re-do a bunch of them.

Meanwhile, Baked Eric has started making buttercream roses. Heather starts after him, but does not take the time to make each rose a unique little lifelike flower like Eric and soon overtakes him. She calls check and Eric finishes right after. The only satisfaction Eric gets for a job well done is Johnny Iuzzini remarking that the flowers are nice, but he's still a LOSER. It's Morgan versus Zac in the egg white challenge. Zac is tiny with delicate flowery wrists while Morgan is a hunk of Texas beef who can beat egg whites for ten seconds before they give up in exhaustion. He quickly regains the lead, holds the bowl of egg whites over his head and wins. Zac calls four seconds (he tells us it is four seconds so we and his parents can be super impressed with his tenacity and upper arm strength). He is cleared to the next challenge.

So everyone starts stretching strudel as if anyone has any clue as to why this is hard. Can we all just take a moment to appreciate the complete absurdity of watching three grown ups competitively STRETCHING DOUGH on national television. I mean, people are watching this over Sons of Anarchy or Friday Night Lights or Terriers? Gah. Luckily Morgan has mad experience pulling strudel. Zac is mocking Morgan's approach because Zac's slow and steady approach is totally going to win. And, unfortunately, he's right. Team Diva pulls their strudel straight over the table, fills it with apples, and rolls themselves a really big strudel. They all hug and cheer and Eric, Danielle, and Morgan try to kill them with glares. It doesn't work and Zac jumps around like a jolly little elf in Santa's workshop. Someone should throw a battery at him.

Gail announces that the elimination challenge will be a spin on the Top Chef classic competition, Restaurant Wars. Everyone looks really chipper and excited all of a sudden, which is ridiculous because Restaurant Wars kills people, people! Gail explains that they will open a pastry shop with three items each person, which must include a bread like item, preferably a whole wheat loaf in the shape of Johnny's head. Also, the winning team gets $30,000. At that news everyone just dies and Zac is jumping up and down so much he looks like a wind up toy that has gone to its dark place. You know, the place right before it gets possessed by a poltergeist and tries to put your finger in a light socket.

The teams have 45 minutes to devise themes. Team Diva goes for "Adult Candy Shop", which means what? Penis-shaped roulades? Boob bombes? Edible underwear with gold dust? Sounds like a winner. The other team is less unified in their decision but at least know enough to go with a theme even Eric can handle: Comfort desserts. Then, because this is Top Chef (Just Desserts) and they couldn't get a decent budget or grocery sponsor, they all head to the ghetto Albertsons to buy not only their high-quality groceries, but also their decor. Team Diva wants bubbles and silly props while Morgan charges into the back of the store demanding better bananas. Team Diva spends a lot of time bad mouthing the other team and talking a really big game and mentioning approximately four times per minute how awesome they are. Also, not at all egotistical. Everyone gets down to cooking.

Team Diva is making a margarita sorbet, a fennel seed brioche with white truffle butter (as their bread item) and a frozen key lime bar (read: popsicle). Heather is insisting on rolling out all the dough by hand, which despite Martha Stewart's devotion to the method, is apparently inferior to using a pastry rolling machine. Yigit shrugs. As do I. Meanwhile, the Black Team (note: no black people since they kicked Erica off unfairly) is making a ginger ale float with tangerine and raspberry sorbets, a chocolate chip cookie, and a soft pretzel with mustard as their bread. Then: DRAMA. Lemons have gone missing. Morgan thinks Yigit stole them, but Yigit rolls his eyes and tells Morgan to just ask if he needs a lemon. The Great Lemon Incident of '10 sets Morgan off and he goes on a ranty wild tear cursing up a storm and generally making everyone in the kitchen uncomfortable. Time is up for the day and Morgan storms out of the kitchen. Back at the luxury townhouse, Eric and Danielle try to calm him down and it sort of works. Maybe he kicked a Production Assistant or something, but at least he doesn't kill anyone on camera.

The next day Morgan is in a great mood, but everyone else is incredibly stressed out. Team Diva seems way more disorganized and behind the eight ball than the Black Team, but it's probably just editing. And Eric's baked. Suddenly the doors open and Dessert Wars have begun. Black Team has elected Morgan to stay in the kitchen while Danielle plates the desserts, and Eric handles the front of the house meeting and greeting. Team Diva has made the wise choice to lock Bitch Face Heather in the kitchen where she can only be rude to the wait staff. Suddenly the judges have arrived. Gail introduces them to today's revolving door of judges: Johnny Iuzzini, Nancy Silverton of La Brea bakery and par-baked bread fame who is rumored to have lost a bunch of money in the Madoff investment scandal and now has to do things like this, and Hubert Keller who made time in his busy schedule to come back and judge. The judges order one of each item.

As the desserts are being prepared the judges note that Team Diva has simultaneously focused on their decor and not at all, meaning they made little meringue lollipop table decorations but didn't bother filling up their display case making all the little desserts look sad and lonely and unlovable. Then the desserts arrive and the judges stop caring about the decor because, Hey: Doughnuts! Zac has made a doughnut (which they call a donut, but in my book, if it's not Dunkin' it's a doughnut) filled with wild blueberry jam that comes with a lemon verbena milkshake. It looks delicious. We can put a man on the moon, but we can't invent smell o' vision? That's just sad really. Yigit--who is running the front of the house-- also presents a fennel-olive bread with truffle butter on top as well as a caramel corn with bacon in it because bacon makes everything better. Johnny Iuzzini notes that the teams were supposed to make both an "a la minute" dessert as well as a bread. I have no recollection of the "a la minute" portion of the rules, but I was probably passed out from knocking my head in the car door to see if all the watching dough stretching on national television would stop.

Yigit's trio of desserts is up next. He starts with a chocolate tart with peanuts and caramel in it, which I would marry if it was legal to do so. (Legalize it! Marriage Equality!) Then there's a margarita sorbet followed by a cake with a fancy name (a fraisier? anyone? anyone?) with strawberry and hibiscus gelee. Do NOT expect me to believe you got hibiscus at an Albertson's. I won't believe it. Anyway, Pro Tip: Do not serve a fraisier to a Frenchman because Hubert Keller is not impressed. Also unimpressive? The dough on that chocolate, peanut, caramel tart, but they are just being cruel, because it is a beautiful thing to behold.

Back in the kitchen, Bitch Face Heather is living up to her name. She is so stressed she even tells Zac to shut up while trying to get her desserts out to the judges. He does not appreciate the sentiment. Heather finally gets her desserts out. First up in a frozen key lime bar that has been coated in chocolate and topped with strawberries, making it unlike any key lime pie I've ever seen. Then a milk chocolate pudding cup with mango. There's also a tart of some sort with raspberries. The judges are not appreciating the undercooked crust on the tart or the undercurrent of animosity in all the dishes.

Team Black is up next, but before the judges can taste their milkshakes (heh) they have to wade through a field of customers with unusual requests (it's not a strip club, get your mind out of the gutter). One girl wants a cookie with a scoop of ice cream, one guy is allergic to nuts, another refuses processed sugar but has come to bake shop. Morgan refuses to turn him away, which is actually quite admirable. Good on ya, Morganza! He liquid nitrogens the crap out of some fruit and whips up an ice cream-ish thing, because while the guy won't eat processed sugar, liquid nitrogen is a-okay. That's totally reasonable. The worst thing about Team Black is that they have named their imaginary bakeshop "Whisk Me Away", which is so bad it is up their in the pantheon of crappy Thai restaurant names. Oh you know what I'm talking about: Thai One On, Bow Thai, Thai Me Up, Thai Me Down, Thai-No-Mite. Thai restaurants have a long heritage of creating absolutely awful names and it seems that if Team Black has their way they will make sure bakeries follow in the illustrious footsteps of Thai Tanic. * Shudder *

The judges make their way to the display case and demand service. Danielle does her best, but she's so low energy her own mother probably needs a shot of espresso to get through a conversation with her. Gail is really excited by the look of the restaurant, but was not very by Downer Danielle's performance. Danielle comes out to present Eric's food: banana loaf with brown butter and tangerine icing, classic chocolate chip cookie, a malted milk ball cake. The judges mostly like Eric's dishes, even though a chocolate chip cookie is probably too easy, the banana bread wasn't brown, and the cake was too rich for Frenchy. Danielle the presents her array: A pistachio shortcake with strawberries, a coffee cream pie, and a ginger ale float with sorbet. The judges seem to actually like Danielle's desserts although the coffee pie is not strong enough to counteract her boring ass personality.

Morgan's desserts are next: A pretzel stick with two types of mustard, a chocolate cake with chocolate mousse interior and crème brulee, and for the a la minute, a lemon fried pie, which I would not kick out of bed anytime soon. The judges love Morgan's dessert and appreciate his sophistication and the range. Before we can leave the bake shops, Team Diva has to be hate-able some more and talk about how great they were. They are just so arrogant one can only hope it is pride before the fall.

Judges' Table! The judges immediately call Danielle out for putting them all to sleep with her lackadaisical hosting. In short, she's boring. She apologizes profusely for it. The judges also question Eric's banana bread and he admits he couldn't remember the recipe. The judges are all over Morgan's junk for his excellent and high caliber desserts. Then they remind Danielle that her coffee pie did not taste like coffee, but she has bored herself to sleep and doesn't hear. The judges turn to Team Diva. Zac prattles on about the entire pastry shop experience and how awesome they were individually and as a team. Yigit liked the front of the house. Zac enjoyed his desserts, but the judges weren't convinced they would drink his milkshake again, which is good because, ew, dirty. Then the judges denounce Heather for using bottled key lime juice and making lousy pastry. She at least gets Yigit off the hook for screwing up his pastry, too.

The judges let Nancy Silverton give the big news: The black team won! Eric, Morgan, and Danielle look as shocked as Team Diva. They all screech and hug and make a joyful noise unto the pastry lords. Team Diva looks like they all ate a frog or something worse like grocery store birthday cake. Zac takes a moment to let us know how shocked he was because clearly he is a superior chef to Danielle. Also more humble. The judges send everyone out to the stew room as they pray to little baby Jesus on who should leave. The judges pretend that they are considering sending Zac or Yigit home, but we all know what's coming, right? Team Diva shuffles back in for judgment. Then Heather is asked to leave. She holds her head high, doesn't cry, and makes a few backhanded comments about how other people should have left first. Then Yigit breaks down in tears as Bitch Face Heather walks off into the sunset, while the Ghost of Head Bandage Heather laughs uproariously.



Photo credit: Bravo