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Top Chef: Just Desserts 2 – Ep 9 – And Then There Were Three

Before I get into this penultimate episode of the second season of Top Chef: Just Desserts, a moment about the first season.

This happened.

Last season, I reluctantly found myself rooting for Morgan. I couldn’t stand the Go Diva team, and that left Morgan and Danielle as the only options. Danielle was not really worthy of a win – talent-wise – so that left Morgan. However, it was very difficult doing so because he acted like such a dick so often. And now…well…this is disturbing. Innocent until proven guilty, of course, but boy, I think I need a shower.

It makes me think about something inherent about these shows. These are real people that we are watching on these competition reality shows. Real flesh and blood people. Oftentimes, I have to remind myself of this while I throw out little jokes, quips, and insults, whatever. I have to remember that this is someone’s mommy or daddy. Or someone’s son or daughter. Feelings are at play sometimes. All they have done is put themselves on TV for our entertainment while they compete for cash, or for a career. And sign away all rights to everything we see, and whatever character is crafted from their words and behavior. Sometimes that does not mesh with who this person really is.

Usually, I have to think about this when someone comes across as obnoxious, or stupid. While I may joke about it, you have to remember that it may not be really who they are. I remember reading an interview with Amazing Race’s Colin (AR5) who said he used to help teams out a lot and was stunned to see a villain cut coming. Recently, Christine from the current season of Survivor tweeted about how she didn’t flip her tribe the bird, even though that’s what it sure looked like. A reality show villain is often times just a regular person.

The same goes for those you root for – even if reluctantly. I rooted for Morgan and boy, do I wish I could get a do-over for that. Although, honestly, I have no clue who I would have been rooting for instead. But to be on the record rooting for someone allegedly capable of this kind of act, it is really sickening.

This year, however, even those chefs who I may not care for at times are still head and shoulders above last year’s lot. Despite what Orlando’s family may think of him, there are no disturbing deviants here as far as we can tell. Macho’s Marcel connection and inherent arrogance can be off-putting, but she seems to be a fairly decent person. Her commitment to her trade is not in question one bit, as she revealed to us this week. Watch out future mates of Macho, you may get a Dear John letter as she heads to her next big gig.

Orlando started the season shaping up to be the big bad villain. It was something he embraced and even sought. However, something happens to you when you think your you-know-what doesn’t stink…you start to get a whiff. Orlando just kept losing, and barely surviving each week. And as a result, he started to develop humility. He was the Grinch at the end of the story – his heart grew three times.
Did anyone think Week One that Orlando would go out in tears hugging his other chefs talking about how much he grew and learned how to take criticism?

Hammer and Matt may not be the most interesting duo, but they seem, like Hillary Clinton, likable enough. Both have very cute kids at home and both seem very dedicated to their craft. Matt seems to have emerged from a childhood full of mischief – possibly originating from some giant bushy eyebrows – as a man on a mission to cook. Of course, I keep many of my photos from that era to myself and not posted on television, so there’s that. Hammer learned how to cook early on and has appeared to be a kitchen geek ever since.

And if you told me today which one of Hammer, Matt and Macho won the title, I would actually be happy. All three earned it, and none of them would really piss me off. Which bodes well for the finale – it should be satisfying no matter what happens.

I was a big fan of this week’s challenge. No Quickfire to be had, and potentially no more to come this season now, so it was all a big focus on the penultimate Elimination challenge. Chefs were told they were going international, with Orlando speculating and wondering where he left his passport. Oh, Orlando, its as if you never watched this show. There was no chance they were taking a trip. They were instead told to select a country from about 10 options – presumably to cook a dessert based on that cuisine. Hammer took France, as you would expect anyone would. Orlando grabbed Spain, Matt took Italy and Macho selected Cuba based on her experience cooking in a Cuban restaurant. Side note – just had tres leches cake in a local Cuban restaurant this weekend, and that can be on my menu every week if need be.

Except this was not a challenge to make a traditional dessert. Oh no, this was much more fun. Chefs had to select an entrée from those countries and make a dessert which looked that other food. Awesome. It is basically what Carlos was doing last week with the carnival burgers. Would have been interesting if he survived to play this week. Macho panicked as she had no idea what to make – even though everyone watching at home knew it was going to be a Cuban sandwich. Matt was quick in selecting manicotti (his pronunciation would have made my New York Italian parents cringe), and Orlando was also quick to take paella. Manicotti made a lot of sense as stuffed pasta seems ripe for dessert mocking – they’re sort of pastries in the first place. I think Orlando’s big error was in making rice for the paella’s rice. That should have been something desserty. Rice pudding, as Elvis pointed out, would have been logical. Or at least cut up some white chocolate into rice shapes. Something. It was hard to tell at judges table why he went home, but I think it was because his dessert seemed a bit half-assed. It looked like paella, but not so much. It tasted good (we assume), but not too good. It was difficult, but not too difficult. It was probably good enough to make it in early rounds, but not at this point.

I found Hammer’s choice interesting. He chose Beef Wellington to make, a good choice given the pastry shell and meat filling. He had a great idea in making layers to show the rare beef coloring. He had a bad idea in not making his own puff pastry. However, at first, I questioned just as Elvis did – isn’t Beef Wellington English? Nope. Hammer was right, and Theoden later confirmed it. It’s a French dish based on the British hero. When in doubt – meat with pastry is French, except when in a pie. Then it is English. Of course, I am sure there are tons of exceptions, but there you go. Also, if it is good food, it is likely not English. If you recall “A Fish Called Wanda,” England’s contribution to fine dining – the chip. Sadly, I can’t find the clip in English.

So, Macho pulls out the impressive win after not actually having an idea in place by the time Elvis did his walk through. Hammer’s seemed overall very solid, despite the pastry (which I thought could have been his downfall). Matt’s looked amazing – I loved how he carved out the pasta ridges with his Exacto Knife. However, the flavors were not complex, so he fell into the Bottom Two with Orlando.

Now we have our Finale next week, and in two weeks, we’ll be back again with the latest Classic Top Chef season. Because Bravo wants to kill me.

Elimination Challenge – Make fake real food. Basically. Matt freezes tubes of mousse and wraps into his shell. He tells Elvis that he was going to make a berry and tomato sauce, but he bails on that idea. In what may have saved him, he chooses to make a basil gelee to go on top and knocks that out of the park. Orlando uses plums as his fish, and beets as his chorizo. And nothing speaks to dessert goodness more than beets and rice. Hammer said he has done this dish before, and at first I thought that if he has made Beef Wellington desserts before, why did it take him so long to decide? But clearly, he meant he has made Beef Wellington, so I should learn to pay more attention.

Many judges – the main ones are Gail, Elvis, Théoden and Iron Chef Kat Cora. Others include Gloin, see the Quickfire Hits for that nickname (AOC Lucques and Tavern), Michael Cimarusti (Providence), John Sedlar (Playa and Riveria), Sang Yoon (Father’s Office and Lukshon). I will call them Gloin, Rusti, Yoon and Newt (Sedlar looks like Newt Gingrich’s better looking cousin).

Matt – Manicotti – Crème Fraiche Cake with Mascarpone-Ricotta Mousse, Strawberry Compote, and Basil Gelee with Parker House Rolls Kat thinks it looked awesome and had a nice flavor. Yoon thinks he went all out, while Théoden made some salt comment. Damn accent. Gloin thought that after half of the dish she had enough – no surprises.

Hammer – Beef Wellington – Puff Pastry, Chocolate Mousse, Raspberry Jam and Salted Caramel – Théoden is impressed with the layering, and Kat thinks he did a great job with the graduated temperatures and colors. Elvis found it delicious, but not overpowering.

Orlando – Paella – Coconut and Saffron Rice, Tuile, Compressed Plums and Roasted Beets – They did not like the broken up rice texture, although Elvis was happy with Orlando’s light hand on the saffron. Kat thought the presentation was beautiful, but Gloin was not happy with the beet chorizo, even if Rusti disagreed.

Macho – Cuban Sandwich – Brioche, Cream Cheese Mousse, Strawberry Caramel and Potato Salad Macho also made plantain chips and pineapple pickles. The mousse was the fake pork, and the caramel was the ham. The potato salad consisted of pineapple, banana and Asian pear. Newt felt that this was the only dish that transported him to that country. Elvis thought the mousse was messy.

Judges Table – For Hammer, Elvis said it looked like a photo of Beef Wellington. His frozen bread surprised them, since the others all made their own bread. For Matt, Kat complemented the sweet/salty rolls and the look of the dish. Gail said that he needed to do more with the ingredients; it was safe. No tomatoes disappointed Elvis, as he makes tomato/berry sauces from time to time. For Orlando, Elvis thought the fruits worked well together, but the rice did not. Théoden wanted mussels. Orlando said he kept editing himself, based on past critiques. But Gail said that this was the one time editing was not needed. Do’h! For Macho, they were impressed it was so good considering her self-imposed time crunch. It looked and tasted great, but was messy.

Gail’s expectations were low, but she walked out impressed. This was clearly a nitpick elimination, and Macho came out on top, and Hammer in second. Matt survived and Orlando went home.

Quickfire Hits
• The pre-episode puns during the previouslies really, really have to stop. They’re getting worse each week.
• Cute move by Hammer and Matt dedicating their sugary breakfast to Carlos. However, I was curious that they could say Cap’n Crunch, but couldn’t show the Captain on the box. And that other box was totally Honey Nut Cheerios. You ain’t fooling any of us, Show!
• Guest Suzanne Goin (I keep wanting to say Gloin, as in Gimli, son of Gloin) said that people eat wtih their eyes first. I tried that but it just scratched up my glasses.
• Safe to say that Kat Cora is the first hot Iron Chef for us straight guys. Of course, I am sure that is not high on the Food Network casting requirements. And clearly, based on Orlando’s reactions, her appeal crosses barriers.
• If Orlando ever doubted his gayness, his expalanation of being gay should do it. He has been interested in tall dudes, not “supermodels with long eyelashes.” Because that’s what straight guys usually talk about first – the eyelash.
• Juvenile humor portion – Macho wants to use something as a pickle. Hammer has hot nuts in the oven. Matt thinks they smell good. Good times.
• Macho made the home call – often a kiss of death, but this week the exception – more than one home call. Orlando’s was the kiss of death.
• Extra – Everyone lusting after Kat. Understandable.

Next week – The End.

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