I think if a certain Mr G Wallace Esq were ever a guest judge on Top Chef: Just Desserts he might actually explode.
I’ve watched quite a few series’ of Top Chef and Top Chef: Masters over the years – they have the intensity of your MC OZ (screened six days a week) combined with our own MC: The Professionals. Contestants on Just Desserts are all pastry chefs of differing experience and abilities with their main judge and pastry king being 50’s throwback Johnny Iuzzini. Gayle Simmons is our master of ceremonies (a regular TC judge) and the Arsene Wenger of French cuisine, the wonderful Hubert Keller, completes the head panel.
Season openers always begins with the 12 (or so!) chefs meeting for the first time – it’s a common occurrence that there are familiar faces or the people have crossed pastry paths in the past. The judges turn up and give them their first challenge. “I couldn’t believe how beautiful Gayle was in real life and how Johnny’s eyes starred deep into your soul” was how one chef put it.
Let me tell you now, JD is camp. Very camp. You are beset by a visual feast of pink, chocolate, sugar and cream – your teeth will itch.
You will see dishes containing elements never heard of before:
- Acai juice
- Locust bean
- Tapioca maltodextrin
No, me neither.
Having briefly discussed the deconstructed dish and Tom’s nightmare MC tart, there are many on display here – the first challenge was to create a new spin on an American classic in the setting of a soda bar. There were at least three banana splits that were chastised for their lack of innovation. Another dessert contained pickled cherries that went down a storm whilst a lollipop used as a spoon was not so well received: “this is what we call an N.F.G. … non functioning garnish”.
People can be down with desserts. Other competition shows feature amateur cooks who shy away from pastry – it’s seen as technical, scientific, precise which means scary. Dress it up as BAKING and it’s great! People love to bake – baking is sexy, isn’t it Mary Berry?
If baking is essentially, measuring ingredients exactly, having an electric mixer and a reliable oven then being a pastry chef is technical to the MAX. I love a show that combines chocolate, cream and power tools. There is quite a bit of tool action on JD. If anyone has seen the unbelievably great documentary Kings of Pastry you’ll know all about sugar sculptures and the showpieces used to decorate tables of desserts. I recently visited the World Skills London event at Excel where I saw students from all over the world create miniature cakes and sugar animals. My heart sank at the occasional crack in the 5ft sculptures. But JD chefs are professionals and the challenges are intense and very fast.
In the most recent episode our contestants were taken to a screening of Willy Wonka. Some of the original cast were there and the challenge was to recreate the chocolate factory. This was pretty awesome however not as good as the episode of TC: All Stars (people who didn’t win their season of TC) where they had to make some cookies. Not just any cookies. Cookies fit for Elmo … and, yes, the Cookie Monster!