Top Chef: Just Desserts Episodes

2010, TV Show

Top Chef: Just Desserts Episode: "Mr. Chocolate"

Season 1, Episode 1
Episode Synopsis: Twelve pastry chefs compete in creative dessert-preparation challenges in this "Top Chef" spin-off hosted by Gail Simmons. In the premiere, the dessert culinarians arrive in Los Angeles and whip up fare to impress chocolate master Jacques Torres. Johnny Iuzzini, Hubert Keller and Dannielle Kyrillos are the series judges.
Original Air Date: Sep 15, 2010

Full Episode
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Season 1, Episode 1
Paid | iTunes
Length: 44:04
Aired: 9/15/2010
Also available on Amazon Instant Video
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Top Chef: Just Desserts Recap: Pastry-making is crazy-making Season 1, Episode 1

"People view the world of pastries as magical and sweet ..."

"But being a pastry chef is not all fondant and frosting ..."

Cut to swearing — lots and lots of swearing. To hear the contestants on Top Chef's sweets-centered spinoff Just Desserts tell it, pastry chefs are the worst kind of temperamental artiste — Type-A, anal retentive, extra catty. They're responsible for a meal's grand finale, from candied confections to decadent showstoppers, so cross them at your peril.

Whether such a description applies to all chefs specializing in dessert is up for debate, but producers have sure cast a high-strung (reality TV-ready) bunch, a group whose needs extend far outside of the kitchen. (In the contestants' house, thermostats need to be adjusted, someone's insomnia needs to be accounted for, another demands a separate bathroom ... )

In the first five minutes, the contestants begin introducing themselves: There's "a prima donna," a chef who will "cut you ... with my flavor," "the snow queen, because my desserts are frozen, and I'm gay" and someone who believes "it's a miracle I'm even sane."

Gail Simmons on Top Chef: Just Desserts: "There's a lot of strategy and sabotage"

And before the first commercial break, it already feels like it might be a trying season for both contestants and viewers. For those watching, the decision will be immediate. As Heidi Klum might say, "You're either in, or you're out."

This season's chefs take pride in their particular personalities being tailor-made for dealing in desserts. It's a niche best saved for the neurotic — and no one's holding back on the ego.

These chefs say their world is way more demanding than that of the savory chef, and especially within the confines of a competitive reality show. Where savory food chefs can improvise while putting a dish together, high-end desserts call for the utmost precision. Putting together a fancy finish is like conducting a science experiment, requiring planning, exact measurements and detailed formulas.

Maybe it's the other way around. Maybe being a pastry chef makes one anal retentive.

"You can't just wing it," one of the contestants explains. "You can't taste a cake halfway through [and adjust]. You have to get it right before it gets in the oven," says another. Thus, not being allowed to use recipes -- a restriction on the Top Chef shows -- is a much bigger challenge for a pastry chef.

So does the dessert edition measure up to the original?

Check out clips of Just Desserts

As in Top Chef, the premiere episode of Just Desserts overwhelms. Twelve contestants to keep track of, new judges — host Gail Simmons, Johnny Iuzzini, Hubert Keller (absent in the premiere) and Dannielle Kyrillos — and an entirely new kitchen vocabulary to get used to. Here, everything is very, well, French. Gallettes, genoise, gelee ... oh my!

Aside from the distracting pompadour and sideburns, head judge Johnny, so far, is decidedly not obnoxious. His critiques are discerning and descriptive, without being altogether mean. He's also good at breaking down why the desserts do or don't work for people watching at home. Same with Dannielle, who described Tania's timid chocolate dessert as one that says, "Hey? Hey guys?" Gail, as always, is forthright and wonderful.

Seth, with the angular, pissed-off features, and Heather H., the tough-talking industry veteran, have distinguished themselves as the players to beat. Seth's game seems to be mixing elements of savory and sweet cuisine (he made a basil-coconut cupcake, and a madras curry and chocolate palette), while Heather H.'s offerings are ultra refined. I think I'll really enjoy watching them work, so long as they can keep the trash talk in check.

The show's got its big talkers, too, including Morgan, who fancied himself a front-runner, fried up chocolate pies and wound up on the bottom — and Zac, who finishes everything with edible "disco dust."

Here's the rundown of Wednesday's premiere:

In the Quickfire, which forced contestants to morph their desserts into cupcakes, Monica ran out of time and didn't present, Tim didn't make a real cupcake, and Zack's cupcake with funky marshmallow wound up at the bottom. Seth's herbaceous basil coconut cupcake, Tania's chocolate cupcake and Heather C.'s crispy carrot-topped cupcake emerged victorious.

The show's first elimination challenge was generous as far as Top Chef challenges go. The contestants were instructed to make the most luxurious chocolate dessert possible, and present it to Mr. Chocolate Jacques Torres. Chocolate is a very temperamental ingredient, but no one attempted anything too crazy, like truffles. Mr. Chocolate was most impressed with Heather H.'s dark chocolate mousse torte with chocolate grand marnier sauce, and she was named the night's winner.

Tania's white chocolate mousse-turned-"hummus" was the one truly bad screw-up, and her mistake sent her home.

My worry for the series is that her story is probably not the last time we'll hear about a mistake that can't be corrected given the time constraints and nature of pastry cooking. We also saw Morgan use the wrong oven setting (convection instead of standard), which, again, is the kind of mistake that will be tough to save on this show. I'm guessing that in most cases, contestants won't be allotted the time it would take to whip up a new batch of this or that, and re-bake, re-set, or re-freeze it.

During Judges Table, Johnny said he thought Tania had time to correct her mousse, but I suspect that on Just Desserts, viewers will be pretty clued into the outcomes far in advance of the judges' decision.

What did you think of Just Desserts? Will the pastry chefs have a more difficult time than the chefs on Top Chef? Who do you think the front-runner is? Is it tough to pick favorites, or do you (like me) just want to eat everything?

 

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"People view the world of pastries as magical and sweet ..."

"But being a pastry chef is not all fondant and frosting ..."

Cut to swearing — lots and lots of swearing. To hear the contestants on Top Chef's sweets-centered spinoff Just Desserts tell it, pastry chefs are the worst kind of temperamental artiste — Type-A, anal retentive, extra catty. They're responsible for a meal's grand finale, from candied confections to decadent showstoppers, so cross them at your peril.

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Premiered: September 15, 2010, on Bravo
Rating: TV-14
User Rating: (13 ratings)
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Premise: Pastry chefs compete in dessert-preparation challenges in this 'Top Chef' spin-off. Each episode features two challenges---a quick-fire heat that tests basic abilities and an elimination round that assesses versatility and innovative prowess. The winner earns $100,000.

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