Top Chef Just Desserts: That's the way the cookie crumbles

Categories: Sugar High

Heather Chittum is out.
I'm enjoying Just Desserts more than I enjoyed the regular Top Chef, though in many ways I'm more interested in savory food than dessert. Although the Dessert contestants are pretty high-octane, they're also more emotionally honest, and there's a lighter, more playful feel to the whole thing -- perhaps because Gail Simmons is a warmer host than Padma and main judge Johnny Iuzzini is less self-important than Tom Colicchio.

Gail Simmons's blog might explain the change in tone. She talks about how talented the chefs are and adds, "Whatever happens in the kitchen, whatever happens in the house, in the Stew Room...we will always treat our chefs with dignity, reverence and respect." I like the contestants -- even volcanic, unstable Seth, because he's so transparent, though I probably wouldn't want to share a kitchen with him. Funny how differentiated the group is already; by the third episode of Top Chef D.C., I still couldn't tell Steven from Ed.

The winning dish.

Episode two featured Sylvia Weinstock, a tiny little lady with huge black-rimmed glasses, famed for her wedding cakes, which are impossibly creative, elaborate, beautiful, sometimes crazy. (One that I saw online was in the shape of a chubby, curled-up baby. Seriously -- check Sylvia Weinstock out here.) The chefs were told to make wedding cakes. They had one and a half hours, and basic cakes were already prepared, so it was their job to create shapes, layers, towers, fillings, icings, fondant, decorations and flavors.

Wedding cakes are a specialized form, and some of the contestants had no idea how to go about making one. Seth refused to undertake the project, creating a small, pretty concoction he characterized as an engagement cake. Malika simply couldn't put her cake together; her buttercream was too soft. She placed the top layer off-center and created havoc trying to take it off; the whole thing began falling apart as the judges approached. Anyone who's ever struggled at home with unevenly cut layers and melting buttercream had to sympathize. Though Malika ended up with Seth and Eric in the bottom three, the judges said they liked her flavors: She'd made a coconut custard filling infused with cardamom. "It's not death," Weinstock commented as Malika tried to hold back tears. "It's only a cake."

The winner was Erika's mocha explosion. She was joined in the top tier by Morgan and Heather H, whose beautiful creation featured pale, delicate dogwood flowers.

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