Top Chef Just Desserts: Have your cake and eat it, too

Will these truffles take the cake?
And then there were three ...

Yigit tried too hard, Morgan didn't try hard enough, Zac pretty much gave up and turned his failed 61st anniversary cake into a messy kids' romp at the beach. And Danielle -- the girl with the rubbery face and the "Oh, well" attitude, Danielle who we've all been expecting to go home from day one, Danielle who made the edible dress that looked like something thrown together by a bunch of drunken sorority girls -- Danielle won the cake challenge and is one of the three finalists. She jumped up and down like a happy three-year-old when she heard the news.

Zac was sent home, and you could tell he knew almost from the moment he presented that wild, blue-and-white confection -- with its curlicues of white chocolate (like the sea foam in which the happy anniversary couple first frolicked, he explained) and its Crackerjack-style edging -- to the judges that he knew he would be. We're going to miss him, but fortunately, we also know he's irrepressible.

Morgan is more dour by the episode. You can see he's feeling the stress of being disliked by the other contestants, but he's responding by becoming increasingly arrogant and show-offy, finishing his work early and sneering while the others sweat. Everyone gets stressed and short-tempered during these contests, but Morgan can't seem to resist tossing off comments that sound out-and-out homophobic. Zac, he says at one point, "would turn your oven off, set your mise en place on fire, and stab you in the back" -- even though Zac has never shown any particular sign of deviousness. And when Zac attacks him in front of the judges -- unfairly, to be sure -- for being inexpressive, he responds that he's not going to "to jump up and down and flail and sing show tunes. I would rather remain composed than freak out like a little girl."

To backtrack: The Elimination Challenge involved making an anniversary cake for famed cake designer Sylvia Weinstock and her husband, Ben. This being a sane challenge, and the contestants by now far fewer, you could focus on how each one approached the task. Yigit, a romantic at heart, created an absolutely beautiful cake, but couldn't stop complexifying. He added a layer of something I couldn't quite make out -- it sounded like pate de feuille, and some blogger referred to it as pate de fruits. Whatever it was, it made the cake impossible to cut cleanly and apparently also muddied up the tastes of the other layers.

Zac's contribution was the blue-and-white explosion mentioned above. Morgan made a clean, elegant cake that was very simple except for the humorous topper: a grand piano, its open lid revealing a cluster of pink roses, and with a yellow bikini top draped over the bench, Sylvia having first met Ben while wearing a yellow bikini. The judges found the rest of the cake perhaps too simple: One remarked that the flavors were dull, and Johnny Iuzzini commented that Morgan's piped buttercream shells were uneven. That level of simplicity demands perfection.

Danielle, having picked up on Sylvia's comment that her wedding dress was gray, covered her cake in gray icing. Iuzzini objected -- but the cake was good-looking, and Danielle had added witty touches, such as piano keys making a stairway from bottom to top and small pink roses to represent the couple's children and grandchildren. Guest judge Francois Payard liked her flavors, too.

I suspect we've all under-estimated Danielle. When I think back, I remember that her flavors have consistently won praise, even when she ended up in the middle or the bottom tier. There's apparently far more to her happy-go-lucky way of putting ingredients together than meets the eye.

The Quickfire involved creating four chocolate truffles, each intended to represent an important stage in the chefs' lives. Yigit, still fighting over-ambition and his personal demons, was unable to finish, and came up with only three chocolates; just one of Zac's truffles impressed Payard; Morgan won. But Danielle came a close second.

She made a Rocky Road creation that represented her professional travails and looked primitive, but apparently tasted terrific, and another bonbon in the shape of a baseball that contained caramel corn and peanuts, in honor of her close relationship with her father. Then there was a roasted banana chocolate. This girl seems to have an original way with fruits.

Next week, we find out who wins. I feel a bit sorry for Morgan, but I wouldn't like to see him rewarded for his petty gibes and soulless approach. It would be fun, however, if Danielle's goofy creativity carried the day, and equally satisfying if the soulful Yigit got his chops back and won the title.


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