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Top Chef: Just Desserts -Season 1


anthonylee86
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I want to see footage of the rules-reading from last night's episode: two of the pastry chefs in a dessert competition decided to make dresses out of vegetables? What the hell?

It looks like Heather went home at the right time, the first time... she sure didn't do much with her second chance. And I was glad they didn't send Eric packing: I think he's out of his league (or more like, out of his area) on this show, but he comes across as a nice guy on TV. I know a lot of people don't like Morgan, but he definitely seems like a good (and smart) competitor. Morgan and Yigit to the finale? Who else?

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I want to see footage of the rules-reading from last night's episode: two of the pastry chefs in a dessert competition decided to make dresses out of vegetables? What the hell?

It looks like Heather went home at the right time, the first time... she sure didn't do much with her second chance. And I was glad they didn't send Eric packing: I think he's out of his league (or more like, out of his area) on this show, but he comes across as a nice guy on TV. I know a lot of people don't like Morgan, but he definitely seems like a good (and smart) competitor. Morgan and Yigit to the finale? Who else?

yea who in their right mind uses vegetables in a pastry competition. morgan is starting to really annoy me, but he will be in the finals.

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Never heard of carrot cake?

Tourte de blettes?

Sweet potato pie?

Pumpkin pie? (pumpkin is technically a fruit, but it's primarily used as a vegetable in most cuisines)

I've seen a few bakeries that specialize in using vegetables (typical ones like carrots, but also cabbage, etc.) in their baked goods. The cabbage cake I've seen actually looks like half a head of cabbage, too. They're supposed to be healthful.

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I agree that vegetables are used in pastry, and more specifically in desserts: my belief, however, is that in a dessert competition, dressing your mannequin in a salad is not a wise move. Clearly the rules allowed it, but you're not going to win any "difficulty" or "style" points doing so.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Well, if they made a dress out of slices of carrot cake, that would be one thing, but making one out of strips of plain leeks and lettuce leaves seems to be outside the realm of a pastry competition. My only guess is that the 2 chefs either really wanted to do something out of the box and not just another chocolate dress, or else didn't have the skills to do something out of chocolate - I thought one of them admitted when her petit four was critiqued that she rarely worked with chocolate.

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Is it even cooking? I would say that moulding chocolate is just about as edible as raw leek.

I am offended by the notion that to work as a cook, I should have to be competent in sculpture and fashion design. This is why the common definition of "pastry chef" doesn't work well for me at all. I only want to cook; I make things for eating. I call myself "cook" because I cook for a living; pastry, savory, whatever. Food. If its edible and potentially delicious, I am into it. If its inedible, then its not cooking and its not for me. How many "savory" chefs would take kindly to the idea that that they must also be required to carve pumpkins and make mashed potato sculptures?

Suggesting that one should "study up" on wedding cakes, showpieces, edible fashion etc for a competition like this is ridiculous. Its like asking why past cheftestants didn't "learn" a few desserts before going on the show. These are compounding skill sets that take years to develop, are impossible to brush-up on in two weeks, and twice as hard in a TV kitchen. You can practice the simplest chocolate cake recipe for a month, but if it isn't something you've been training in for years, its got about a 1% chance of success. Factor in the tv kitchen being a nearly impossible to operate efficiently in, and you might have well accepted the fact you can't make a dessert and try to work around it (Hosea did it and won).

Bottom line is that this is a hotelier pastry chef competition, like the one's you'd see on Food Network, or Kings of Pastry. I fully expected it to be a cooking competition; literally just desserts. I planned for a multi-course tasting menu finale, but clearly it is going to be a combination of showpiece and cooking.

I was very upfront about having ZERO showpiece or wedding cake experience, but I guess maybe the producers underestimated how alien these things would be for people like me, and thought I could pull something off miraculously.

It sucks, because I train just as hard as anyone else if not harder, but in different areas. Its not like while everyone else was practicing wedding cakes I was taking a nap. I was studying and developing the techniques necessary for doing what I DO.

Edited by Sethro (log)
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I was very upfront about having ZERO showpiece or wedding cake experience, but I guess maybe the producers underestimated how alien these things would be for people like me, and thought I could pull something off miraculously.

Even more likely: they knew full well that they were casting people who would crash and burn during certain challenges, and thought it would make good TV. Watch poor Eric! I bet his flavors are fantastic, but presentation is not exactly his strong suit. I have no doubt there will be more "showpiece" sorts of challenges, despite showpieces being a minuscule part of being a pastry chef: audiences seem to love that crap. I don't think he's long for this show.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I have no doubt there will be more "showpiece" sorts of challenges, despite showpieces being a minuscule part of being a pastry chef: audiences seem to love that crap.

In fairness to the viewing audience, watching showpieces being constructed and sometimes crashing to the floor provides a lot more visual excitement than watching mixers whirr around or souffles rising in the oven. They do have to generate ratings for these programs. The audience that would appreciate seeing an especially innovative technique for piping macarons is pretty limited.

I agree that part of the casting strategy for this show and regular Top Chef is to get people out of their comfort zones and see what happens.

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Ok, assuming I had the cojones to enter something like this, which I don't (so I give props to even the worst among them, because I wouldn't be willing to put myself in that situation), and also assuming I'd made it this far, this is the week I may have been in serious trouble. Maybe not, because I wouldn't have even considered making a wearable salad bar, but constructing a dress out of anything is not within the scope of what I do, have ever done or even thought about maybe doing. I have the fashion sense of a rock and care about fashion probably even less. I don't share Seth's surprise that this type of challenge would be part of the competition, it is part of the pastry world as a whole, but I do share his sentiment that it's not a part of the business that I practice or have an interest in.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Morgan is really, really, REALLY good with chocolate. That kitchen is hotter than a sauna and his dress was reflecting like a perfect mirror. Plus, he made perfect macaron in a foreign oven and assembled all of those very delicate and complicated ring truffles and still finished early?!? I would have done something like Heather...just drape one huge sheet of modeling chocolate over the dummy, cut out an eye hole and call it a chocolate burka.

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I think to be considered a pastry chef, you should be adept at all aspects of being a pastry chef. I just watched Kings of Pastry the other day, and in France, pastry chefs seem to have to be able to do everything--chocolate, cakes, wedding cakes, sugar work, etc. While they may be better in one aspect than the others, they have to be able to do it all. Not only do they need the technical skill, they need creativity--not only in mixing flavours, but also in design. The sugar sculptures created by the chefs testing for MOF status were, in no uncertain terms, works of art. If any of those chefs were told at the last minute to make a dress out of chocolate/sugar/cake/whatever, I bet they would and could do it, despite not being schooled in the art of pattern making or clothing design.

Contrast the skill and knowledge of those French pastry chefs to those contestants appearing in "Top Chef: Just Desserts". I think Sethro is right in referring to himself (and perhaps others) as cooks and not chefs. It's silly of the producers to be throwing challenges meant for real pastry chefs at people who seem to be (or behave as though they are) merely cooks. It may make for good TV, but it's really just a way to make fun of people and humiliate them. Or maybe humble them?

Back to an earlier comment I made, in Kings of Pastry (spoiler involved--stop reading if you don't want to know), one of the featured chefs broke his sugar sculpture shortly before it was to go on display. Without a sugar sculpture, he believed his chances of receiving MOF status were wiped out. After four years of planning and practising his work, he was physically and emotionally drained, and he broke down and was on the verge of giving up. The judges encouraged him to salvage what little he had left of the sculpture and to add a few more elements (he had some time left). The sculpture he put out was no where near the original in terms of complexity, but he completed the task. And wouldn't you know it, out of sixteen candidates, he was one of the four who received MOF that year. Although his sugar sculpture didn't receive high marks, his scores in other areas were high enough to allow him to pass. But had he not persevered and completed the sculpture, he would not have received anything.

Like I said, you never know what you're capable of doing until you try.

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I think to be considered a pastry chef, you should be adept at all aspects of being a pastry chef.

I'm not a pastry chef, I'm a dessert cook. I'm the pastry chef where I work by virtue of the fact that I do the desserts and am in charge of my department, so the literal definition of the term technically applies. I do not consider myself a pastry chef by the commonly accepted meaning of the term and don't present myself as such. In fact, I don't refer to myself as chef, pastry or otherwise, it's just what it says on my job description at work.

Like I said, you never know what you're capable of doing until you try.

I agree. Wedding cakes and showpieces are completely valid, take large amounts of skill to do well and are impressive when done well. They just don't interest me and are not really required skills for doing desserts in a restaurant setting (the restaurant where I work now requires more of what Eric does than anything else) so I don't practice them. If I signed on for a competition then, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I would do what I was asked to do. Depending on what it is, I may not do it well but I would do what I could. I have to say that I think draping some raw veggies over a form in a pastry competition is just about as wrong as not trying at all. Eric's dress was a trainwreck but it was a pastry trainwreck, not a salad bar. I would have masked the form and sprayed it, cookies and all, with chocolate to hide the ugly. A simple velvet dress with a few simple decorations wouldn't have won but may not have had him in the bottom three since they liked his flavors.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I think to be considered a pastry chef, you should be adept at all aspects of being a pastry chef.

I'm not a pastry chef, I'm a dessert cook. I'm the pastry chef where I work by virtue of the fact that I do the desserts and am in charge of my department, so the literal definition of the term technically applies. I do not consider myself a pastry chef by the commonly accepted meaning of the term and don't present myself as such. In fact, I don't refer to myself as chef, pastry or otherwise, it's just what it says on my job description at work.

What he said; I just cook. Chef means you lead a team, which I do, so I am one. Pastry is the tricky word, which doesn't refer to anything specific anymore. If it means making inedible things, then I don't want to be that. But people still want to hire me, and call me that, and it doesn't really concern me much one way or another. Its obvious that my job is to cook and not to decorate, so call it what you want.

Like I said before, I train as hard as anyone else, but in different areas. If there were any challenges suited to my wheelhouse, I think only 2 or 3 other cheftestants would have even been able to put a plate up beside mine. Why shouldn't you have to be versed in all the modern Spanish and ancient Japanese techniques that I studied? Its not fair if its a one-way st. I'm all for redefining the term of Pastry Chef to refer to MOF hotel types only. You can call me cook or whatever else; I don't care so long as it doesn't interfere with my ability to do what *I* find essential.

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Seth,

what types of challenges would be in your wheelhouse?

Can you give me an example or two that you feel would be better suited for you and/or would be more appropriate for this type of show?

Cook the best food.

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Seth,

what types of challenges would be in your wheelhouse?

Can you give me an example or two that you feel would be better suited for you and/or would be more appropriate for this type of show?

Cook the best food.

Since my version of eGullet doesn't come with smell-O-vision, much less taste-O-vision, could you describe a "playing to Seth's knowledge and strengths" challege? I'm not getting much out of "Cook the best food". In your fantasy TopChef, or hell, in your fantasy "Show Off What Seth Can Do!" what happens?

What's "ancient Japanese techniques" when it comes to pastry/desserts?

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I'd say I was more against lowering myself to the challenge, if you really want to know what was going through my head.

This is not a biconditional. I'm stubborn, AND the challenge was lame.

EDIT: Probably a mistake to continue posting. I have been on Eg for 6 years or so and have enjoyed the pastry forum in particular, but I suppose nothing good can come of this now. I'm not able to explain myself to anybody's satisfaction.

Some of the challenges on Top Chef were always lame, there was always also lots of product placement and kissing up to the sponsors. It's an equal playing field, no one was tying one hand behind your paticular back. It's about rising above. I'm still not wrapping my head around why you thought the whole nature of the show would change just to suit you. And is seems Egullet gets thrown under your bus as well, we should stop talking abot the show or you'll be off in a huff? I hope you're not packing your tools and going. It all could stilll be looked upon as a valuable experience, instead of yet another dissapointing one.

BTW I've had hundreds of bowls of Breyers Butter almond in my day, and never a single ice crystal. And I made kick ass sundaes with it. You're probably much too young to know this, but back in the day it had better ingredients and flavors than any other commercial product out there.

Edited by butterscotch (log)
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I think the point Seth is making is that, while making a dress out of chocolate or building a nice showpiece definitely takes skill and knowledge of the medium you're working with, it has absolutely nothing to do with food unless it tastes good as well. If you go to a dinner and someone plops a plate full of modeling chocolate down for dessert, will you be happy? Those things are a part of pastry tradition and I don't think anybody is claiming they shouldn't be but many people who do desserts professionally put little or no focus on those types of things.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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How boring would the show be if every challenge was 'make the best food', here is everything you would ever need.... you have 48 hours to test and retest your recipe.

Its a competition and a reality show, its meant to entertain the viewer and challenge the contestants. The people who hold the competition have complete control over the challenges because it is theirs, if they want to make you create a dress out of food then do it if you want to win.

The contestant who has the best fundamental skills, creativity, and ability to adapt to ingredients and environments is the one who wins.

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How boring would the show be if every challenge was 'make the best food'...

Totally agreed. But based on the comments he has made on this board, I don't think Seth is concerned whether the show is entertaining to the audience -- and instead seems to believe it should have been structured to be a vehicle for his superiority.

Edited by Emily_R (log)
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He didn't say the show should have catered to him, he said it wasn't what he thought it was going to be. He was asked here what he would have liked it to be, he answered. He didn't say it should be that, he said he would have liked it to be that. I don't see what's so hard to understand about that.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Exactly. Thank you for expressing that far more eloquently than I could have hoped to. I don't understand why everyone is harshing on Seth so fiercely. Surely our opinions of him are far more well informed having seen his posts here prior to and following the episode. "Reality TV" is anything but. Let's remember that what we see has already been edited and packaged for "mass market" appeal. I defy anyone to sign up for a reality program and be cut off from real life as they know it for weeks or months on end and behave "normally". I know I couldn't handle it.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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In fact, I was not harshing on Seth for anything he did on the show, but instead for the tone of his comments throughout this post. After going back and reviewing them all, it is a series of: Shitty GE equipment, shitty ingredients, shitty challenges that he wasn't trained in and shouldn't have to do because that’s not what he likes to do or values... That plus a line of self-important and superior comments along the lines of "I was more against lowering myself to the challenges" and comments along the lines of "If there were any challenges suited to my wheelhouse, only 2 or 3 other cheftestants would have been able to put up a plate besides mine." And then there’s the “whether or not I acted like a fool and caused a lot of tension, this show was destined to suck from conception.”

To me that adds up to a lack of recognition that a) whether the show sucked for him does not speak to whether it sucked for the *audience* and b) that his superior skills are ultimately not the only currency that matters, or that even should matter. Tritocook and Katie, you argue that he never said he claimed the show should have been structured differently. I just can’t help but read the the long chain of putting down the show and building up himself as exactly that.

I have no doubt being on a reality TV show is extremely stressful, but again, right now I'm not talking about his actions on the show itself. Furthermore, I have no doubt he makes wonderful contributions to the pastry board, and I hope he continues to, as I'm sure his tone contributing to other threads is quite different. But he is choosing to post to this particular thread, and I think I’m entitled to my opinion about the attitude I think those posts convey.

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"Cook the best food" was a snarky answer for me to give, sorry about that.

My wheelhouse is modern and eclectic technique, I guess. All things being equal, I should have the knowledge to do almost everything faster than everyone else. Like with a microwave, a gastrovac and LN I can have cake, sauce and ice cream in 12 minutes. I mean I time tested myself on every technique, and I honestly believe that the only thing slowing me down (in some challenges in particular) was constant equipment failure/disappearance and ingredient withholding (without warning).

Obviously, its still possible I would have found something else to bemoan or still might have gone home early, but in several specific cases I was directly hobbled by the producers mid-cooking time. You think its coincidence that on one challenge the first three to shop were the top three, and the last three to shop were the bottom three?

The show had major problems, the challenges were mostly broken by their own rules and standards, and I truly believe it was not a fair competition. I couldn't have cooked any better under the circumstances, but of course I could have behaved like a sane adult and not soured the soup. It was a mess all around.

Obviously I have some personal problems but cooking ability isn't one of them. I believe I have a superior ability to adapt to unexpected challenges and the necessary knowledge of food science to make almost anything work. I believe if it were a fair competition I would have cruised through in the top three in every challenge right up until the first wedding cake or showpiece elimination, at which time I'd have probably go home. Which would have been fine with me. Its the fact that the challenges that should have been the easiest and most fun for me ended up disastrous for reasons outside my control that is so frustrating. I feel like I was robbed of the chance to put up amazing food on national tv, and that was the ultimate heartbreak. If a million people watched this show and saw me cook like that, then I'll now have to cook for a million and one more before I can exhale.

My hope is that as many of the people who HATE who I was and how I cooked on the show, come out to see me in person. I think they would be surprised by how happy I look in the kitchen, and how that joy is visible in my cooking. My cooking is intended to be a celebration of nature and humanity, I really mean that. Just thinking about what it means to me makes heart pump harder.

I won't insult anyone with false humility, because I don't regret being myself, warts and all. I just wish you could all understand how badly I want to cook for you. Cooking for people is my drug of choice, especially people like you guys who care enough about food to think about it and talk about it and keep it dear to you. Its why I went on the show, and its why the failure was so crushing.

Anyways, I'll be starting a cooking blog soon with tons of pics, in-depth recipes and maybe even technique vids. I hope you guys will check it out and maybe start to see me in a different light. Also I may have a few guest-chef dates popping up in a city near you in the future, and I'd love to see many eGulleters in the house. Of course it matters to me how I am perceived, and I plan on winning you all back with cooking (and love). Don't forget that this is the same guy who convinced Management at not one but TWO restaurants I worked at that eGulleters would receive a 10% discount on the entire check, just for being awesome. I've done personalized tasting menus for eGulleters by request, and enjoyed it immensely. I care deeply about the people who support my cooking, and I believe eGullet still has potential to improve the cooking community and bring cooks and eaters together.

Thank you so much to those giving me the benefit of the doubt, kindness and support. To those with valid criticisms, I hear you loud and clear, and I won't stop trying to achieve my potential, not only as a cook but as a chef. To those with blind rage towards me, I feel sad for us both. Being hated is draining, but hating drains you entirely. Anyways, that was tv and now comes reality. Now its time to cook.

Edited by Sethro (log)
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