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Top Chef: Just Desserts 2 – Ep 10 – Stop! Hammer Time!

Steph continues to stand alone. Another Top Chef season, another male winner. Although, Macho did come very close this time – I honestly think that she barely missed out and wound up in second place, based on the judges’ comments. However, it was not enough and the decision seemed to come down to a simple question – is it better to have received too much help or to have done it yourself but with flaws?

Hammer gets the win, and to be honest, he pretty much deserved it. If you think back through the season, Hammer (and his name is Chris Hanmer, but Hammer is much funnier) was almost always near the top and seemed to dominate much of the quality cooking. I think it would have been cool for Macho to pull it off just because it’s getting ridiculous that women can’t seem to win Top Chef. It took The Amazing Race 17 races to have an all-woman team win, but women had been part of co-ed wins. Women win Project Runway. Women have won several Survivors, and a bunch of American Idols. They’ve dominated America’s Next Top Model…but perhaps that’s a bad example.

But they can’t do it in the kitchen. Steph still stands alone, and probably only does because Blais fumbled the ball at the goal line. Thirteen seasons of Top Chef shows and 12 men have won. I didn’t like Macho a whole lot, but she is very talented and could have won. But she didn’t.

I think the difference came from a decision she made that (as Matt actually verbalized) anyone other than Hammer would have made. And perhaps that’s why he deserved to win. When presented with the booted chefs as sous chefs, Macho got the first selection slot. They got two sous chefs, the first was random and the second was schoolyard pick. For her pick, she instantly chose Orlando for his showpiece skills. A very wise selection, except she used him too much. That final challenge entry was three parts Macho, one part Orlando. And it was obvious. The other guys were four parts Hammer and Matt. They used their team’s talents, but they didn’t completely rely upon them. I think this perception that this challenge was too big for her really caused Macho to lose.

The other thing that won it for Hammer was something Elvis said – his plated dish was the only one that the judges completely finished. Taste goes a long way.

The challenge was a good one, if a bit uninspired. Chefs had to make a display table – with a showpiece, an entremet, a bread, and a bon bon. They also had to make a dessert base on their source of inspiration – each of them chose family. It’s a good challenge in that it covers a wide array of baking and cooking skills. The showpiece takes a lot of creativity and technical skills. Cake is a pastry chef staple, and entremet take great skill to make. A bon bon is a way to pack a lot of flavor in a small package. At their core, pastry chefs are bakers too, and all good bakers need to make bread. And the last dish is a free range creative dish. It was a solid challenge, which had about 200 judges and guest tasters.

The challenge also had fun surprises like having three of the top MOF chefs serve as mentors/sous chefs during the first day of preparation. Not Monsters of Fashion, or Mullets on Fish, or Muppets over Finns, or Bad MoF . MOF is a title given to the best of the best – Best Craftsman of France. The chefs geeked out and the MOFs (Jacques Torres, Sebastian Canonne, and Stephane Treand) had some fun. The next part brought in the ousted chefs to help. Randomly, Macho got Vanarin (who?), Matt got Megan and Hammer got Rebecca. Then Macho chose Orlando, Matt chose Carlos, and Hammer chose Amanda. So at least we got to see Amanda and Megan one last time – thanks Show.

And I guarantee that they were all praying to the God of Marshmallow Fluff that Baby Hands would stay on the sidelines. So say we all!

And in the end, Hammer chose well. Amanda was a perfect choice – regardless of skills (and she has them) – she is rigidly organized. She and Rebecca worked well with him and enabled him to have his hand in everything, but with ample time to accomplish all he worked on. Matt needed some editing from Carlos and Megan, but perhaps no matter what they said wouldn’t have mattered. Matt wanted to stretch himself in the Finale, and for right or wrong he did. Mostly wrong. He was correct in saying that he needed to wow them, but he didn’t need to wow them with so many huge stretches.

The showpiece was not his strong point, so he needed to do what he was comfortable with and get by there, while blowing away the other parts to make up for it. It’s like fantasy baseball – if you have no closers, don’t just add bad ones who will hurt you elsewhere, just load up on pitchers who can get strikeouts. Beat them elsewhere. Matt also went too big on his plated dish and the whole thing got lost. I felt badly for him because I’d rather see someone fail from trying rather than going too safe. Plus, as the only one who was not fully-trained in some of the competition aspects of pastry chefdom, Matt was an underdog.

But Hammer earned the win, and to me, was a lot more likable than Yigit was in S1. I am happy for Hammer, who can now pay for his child’s life-saving surgery. I hope we see him again in future shows.

Just Desserts took a few steps forward this year, but they need to figure out a way to break out from being Top Chef Junior Varsity. To be honest, I don’t have any answers for them. Their best bet is to do bang up casting and present some innovative challenges. I fear that second part will run into issues over time due to the limited amount of cooking they can do. Elvis and Gail have grown into their roles this year, especially Elvis who is looser and much more fun to watch. Théoden does not appear comfortable, and is underused anyway. Dann is ok, but her role is a part-time one anyway.

I hope Season 3 takes leaps forward the way that Masters did, but I guess only time will tell. Until then, we get Top Chef: Texas next week as Top Chef turns the page after their first All-Stars and will embark on its second act. I’ll be there for the kick off.

Elimination Challenge

The chef’s inspiration for the plated dish:
Macho made hers for her mom and sister – using their favorite ingredients (coffee and Cashews). Matt made his look like a playground for his kids. Hammer made a dish that he made when he was newly-dating his now wife when she realized how much the kitchen meant to him.

Macho wanted femininity in her showpiece, so she had a man make it, of course. Matt used something called “speculoos” in his bon bon, which is like a peanut butter. Macho mismeasured her entremet and had to re-do it. That loss of time helped contribute to her reliance on Orlando, and her later failure to complete her plated dish properly.

Other tasters – Jordan Kahn of Red Medicine, Hasty Torres or Madame Chocolat, Valerie Gordon of the conveniently named Valerie Confections, Jacquy Pfeiffer of Kings of Pastry, Ludo Lefebvre of Ludobites, the three MOFs, Dann, Théoden, Gail, Elvis, the 2009 World Champion Yankees, the cast of Glee, 14 random contest winners, my fourth grade teacher (Mrs. Kudler!), and all the children of the world joining hands and sing in the spirit of peace and harmony.

Matt – His showpiece is part chocolate/part sugar, and is not as tall as the other two. It has a curved top in sugar, and is very colorful, but it looks weak. His dishes:

Entremet – Hazelnut Dacquois, Passion Fruit Gelee, Milk Jam and Whipped Jivara – Gail liked the interesting texture.

Bread – Focaccia with Olive Oil, Fresh Thyme and Malden Salt – Dann liked the family-style of it. She called it simple and rustic, and especially liked the crunch of the salt and pepper.

Bon Bon – Key Lime Ganache and Speculoos – Gail is happy to learn a new word, and she and Dann love the flavors.

Plated – Dark Chocolate Cake, Raspberry Mousse, Peach Streusel and Milk Ice Cream The plate looks deconstructed, and Matt describes it like a cookie, even if it doesn’t look or taste like it.

Macho – She had nice colors on her showpiece and built it around her entremets. Elvis liked the color integrity but not so much the Orlando involvement.

Entremet – Chocolate Mousse, Mango Vanilla Cream, Caramel Cremeux, Lime and Almond Sponge – Elvis raved about the even layers, and Gail found it very delicate.

Bread – Parker House Roll with Bacon, Onions and Gruyere The smell is amazing, and they all rave about it.

Bon Bon – Salted Caramel Milk Chocolate – Théoden likes the shell, and Elvis notes how it melts in your mouth. Presumably, not in your hands.

Plated – White Chocolate Espresso Mousse, Chocolate Cremeux, Cashew Nougatine and Ice Cream – She wanted to glaze her sphere, but ran out of time. It was noticed. Hasty liked it, and Dann liked how it popped open and all of these things came out. Others felt the presentation was off.

Hammer – The theme of the showpiece is industrialized, and it looks very much so. He lightened it with some flowers, and his bread is integrated. He displayed his bon bon on what appeared to be a piece of the showpiece. Nice. Unfortunately, one of the breads fell off, as the modeling chocolate got too hot during judging.

Entremet – Chocolate Mousse, Vanilla Cremeux and Raspberry Jam – Elvis liked it. Plain and simple.

Bread – Brioche with Bacon Maple Butter – Elvis thinks the butter is more creative than the bread, but Hammer says it is just as important, and I agree. Plus, bacon friggin maple butter!! I want some now.

Bon Bon – Coffee-infused Ganache and Caramel – Elvis loved the finish, and Rebecca was right earlier when she called the caramel a winner for Hammer.

Plated – Almond Cake, Banana Caramel, Banana Ice Cream and Mango Sauce – It is found to be simple, with clean flavors, and as Théoden said, a home run. Maybe as big as this one.

Judges Table – Matt’s bon bon was adventurous, and Dann was happy to find a new flavor. Elvis questioned his use of sugar showpiece since he is not skilled. Dann found it to be a love letter to his wife. Aww. Elvis found the plated dish to be confusing, and Gail said no one knew how to eat it. Welcome to Third Place, Matt.
Macho defends her use of Orlando by saying she used her sous chefs where they are strongest, but everything was her ideas, techniques and design. Théoden said that the entremet cake looked fake, in a good way. That’s how well she integrated it. She knew her plated dessert was off, but Dann said her mom and sis would have loved it.

Gail thinks that Hammer’s design of his showpiece was extraordinary, even though it broke. Théoden was happy to se that the plated dessert was not another chocolate dish, and Elvis loved the colors and the crispiness.

The judges break it down – Macho won the bread portion easily. The bon bon was fairly evenly loved. The entremet was Hammer’s, but Macho’s was well-liked. And it came down to if Hammer’s broken showpiece was better than Macho’s exec producing of hers. Clearly, doing your own work won out and Hammer took home the gold.

Quickfire Hits
• Anyone else want to send a virtual hug to Elvis when he broke up a bit talking about the final cake he made for his mom?
• I kept wanting to wipe that dirt (actually a tiny bit of hair) off of Stephane’s chin. Way too hipster or French. Even if he is French. Not sure if he really is, but he might as well have been. Anyway, dumb facial hair transcends all nationality.
• It was fun watching the MOFs work. Sebastian zested limes, he broke down mango, he even washed dishes! And he guilted the others into joining in – or so it seemed.
• Macho doesn’t cook for the common palate. I know what she means, but boy, does that sound condescending!
• Loved Matt’s quote – “Chris’ showpiece is like, whoa, and so is Orlando’s…I mean, Sally’s.” HA!
• Better line of the Night – Gail after describing Hammer’s entremet as saucy and loose – “That’s how you can describe Dannielle and I.” BOOM! Which one is Saucy, and which one is Loose. That’s my question.
• Matt’s “Holy Shi*balls!” exclamation is a very close contender for quote of the week.
• Hammer never noticed Amanda’s tattoos? I hope that was in inside joke, because these guys went to a water park together.
• Extra – Matt and Hammer’s “Bromego” situation. It ain’t no bromance, kids.

Next week – Top Chef: Texas. Because Bravo is trying to kill me.

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