Top Chef: Just Desserts recap: Dessert Wars!
The six remaining pastry chefs get down to business for a sweet spin on a classic Top Chef challenge
Last night we got not one, but two, classic Top Chef challenges: the mise en place and dessert wars, a spin-off of the mothership’s popular “restaurant wars” (a.k.a the standard signal that a season is finally getting meaty, and that the finish line is finally coming into focus).
So how fitting then for a bakery shop vs. bakery shop challenge that the two cliques—Team Go Diva and Team Et Cetera—went head to head? There was Yigit, Zac and Heather (Team Go Diva/the red team), on the one side, shanking the competition with their painful exclusivity, inside jokes, and songs about their Korean princess (Heather). In the other corner was Morgan, Eric and Danielle (the black team), who, by default, were forced to band together and try to beat the odds. I know Morgan and Danielle weren’t happy, but with Eric, I just couldn’t tell. Was that a smile? A sad face? A moment of reminiscing about the simpler times of brownies in Brooklyn?
It just so happened the factions split up so plot-pleasingly for the Quickfire, the aforementioned mise en place relay race.
The tasks were: Mold 12 tart shells (Danielle-winner vs. Yigit), pipe eight buttercream roses (Eric vs. Heather-winner), separate and whip six egg whites that would hold for 10 seconds while upside down (Morgan-winner vs. Zac), and stretch strudel dough (black team vs. red team-winner). The black team (Morgan, Eric and Danielle) got off to a quick start when Danielle surprisingly nailed her tart shells, but with some gentle tugging and pulling, the red team (Team Go Diva) stretched their strudel to a Quickfire win—and a cool $3,000 apiece.
The enemy lines remained in place for the Elimination challenge, which was the aforementioned dessert wars! The parameters were a bit different than restaurant wars, but the gist was as follows: Both teams had to create a dessert shop; each contestant had to make three items; two items overall had to be à la minute; and one had to be a bread.
Who’d have thunk it?! The black team served as the epicenter for much of the drama. While the red team forged a solid plan to create an adult candy store called Pastry Playland, the black team was in disarray as soon as they started. Morgan earned the day’s golden pacifier award for responding to Danielle’s sensible leadership direction with “Yes, chef!”, echoing a different cooking show that Just Desserts‘ drama reminds me of. (Morganza had talked at length about not being able to get laid; maybe one quick roll in the self-rising flour would loosen him up a bit?)
Much like their approach to the strudel rolling, the red team started off at a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race pace, but not without a few tablespoons of trash-talk. “I have no idea what their plan of action is, but I’m sure ours is better,” Yigit said. And Heather added that it was “Team Diva vs. Team Losers.” I love Zac and Yigit, but have we ever seen Heather be nice? Korean Disney princess she is not!
But it began to look like Heather would pay for her crimes against good cheer when her team fell victim to its day-one snail pace. They were either stressed (Zac), running around (Yigit), or both (Heather). You just knew it wasn’t going to end well when Heather took on preparation (by hand!) of all the dough.
NEXT: The offending parties stay in the kitchen.
As for the other team, if it weren’t for Morgan and his “we’re f—ed” attitude, I would’ve said all was well. Danielle was off making her ginger ale and Eric was breathing a sigh of relief, knowing that he, once again, could stick to what he knew. But for Morgan, missing lemons, which he blamed on Yigit, was just one of his many problems, the other being the fact that for once, he didn’t finish first.
Of course unlike other challenges, front-of-the-house service was key. Yigit came off as a total charmer, and even the judges remarked how fresh and jovial he was. Danielle, meanwhile, was more casual than even a beer-and-pretzel-stick consuming Gail would’ve liked.
Both teams were smart to keep their most obnoxious teammates in the kitchen (Morgan for the black team; Heather for the red team). As for keeping things moving, I have to give it to Danielle for smooth service, but in her arsenal of cartoon faces, was there not a smile somewhere?
Minus the display-case snafu, Zac did a decent job of running the joint. At first I wondered why he wasn’t running the front of the house, what with his effervescent personality and all, but then I realized sparkle dust à la minute was probably not a good idea.
In the back of the kitchen, Morgan—and I’m gritting my teeth as I say type this—rocked it. He not only had the most sophisticated dish of the bunch with a chocolate mousse cake, but he accommodated someone with allergies and finished in time for the judges’ dishes. Heather, on the other hand, was getting a hostile visit from karma. She struggled to get anything done, and on top of it, had a shut-up war with Zac. “Did you just tell me to shut up?” Zac asked. Um, if anyone was wondering where Team Go Diva got its name…
The way things ran behind the scenes foreshadowed the end result. Of everyone, Morgan was the only combatant to nail all three of his dishes—pretzel stick, chocolate mousse cake and fried lemon pie. Everyone else had less consistent results. Danielle’s homemade ginger ale was perfection, but her coffee cream pie lacked that java zing. Zac’s wild blueberry donut was overshadowed by a sub-par, and frankly unnecessary, lemon-verbena milkshake. And Eric convinced the judges that a chocolate chip cookie was worthy this late in the competition, but his foggy memory for a banana bread recipe resulted in a textural flop.
The judges ended up giving the win to Whisk Me Away, saying the black team created a place that the judges would love to visit again. But didn’t that conflict with what they said about Danielle’s laid-back service style? I suppose it had more to do with the fact that Whisk Me Away’s desserts were, on the whole, better than Pastry Playland’s. And of course, there was the pesky natter of having its showcase filled.
By the end of the hour, and after Heather’s annoying shut-up episode, I was happy to see the black team win. It’s always nice to root for the underdogs, no? Plus, Eric’s tears of joy were the proverbial cherries on top of the sweet taste of an upset.
Zac, for one, didn’t understand how the other team could’ve won. I mean, they had Danielle on their side, he hissed. True, I wondered this as well, but the poorly cooked sable dough seemed to be the most glaring offense of the night. And for that, Heather went home.
Next week, we see how Team Go Diva fares with one less diva, and Yigit copes (or does he?) without his stand-by ingredients.
What did you guys think of last night’s episode? Were you surprised Whisk Me Away won? And what do you think about Heather’s exit?
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Top Chef: Just Desserts