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Top Chef: Just Desserts 2 – Ep 8 – Macaroon-i and Fake Cheese

We are down to the Final Five, or the Fantastic Five, as the end nears for the second season of Just Desserts. I will say that despite some missteps, it has been an uptick over last season. I think that has a lot to do with some good challenges and a much better overall cast this time around. As these five barrel down to the Finish, I can see any one of them winning. Clearly, the eliminated chef this week won’t win, so I guess the four that are still in their barrels.

I think I lost my metaphor somewhere – and only after one paragraph!

Anyway, this week produced a surprise as the elimination of Carlos was not what I thought was coming. It goes to show that when you take risks, sometimes it can blow up in your face. I don’t think you can win these competitions without some big risks – you can linger for a while, but you can’t win – but part of that is that when you fail, you fail big. That is what happened to Carlos this week – although I thought his concept would carry him over Orlando’s failed concept.

Carlos was done in by his desire to make macaroons for the Macaroon King Francois Payard. Not sure if that monarchy is hereditary or if it is elected, like the Queen of Naboo in Star Wars. Speaking of, I wonder – can there be a King of Naboo? In three prequels, there were three different women as Queen. And another thing, what kind of society elects a teenage girl to run their planet? Can you imagine – Queen Hannah Montana, ruler of Earth?

But I digress. Carlos had a fairly interesting idea for the challenge – something which has done before – of making desserts that look like regular food. With the challenge consisting of making an elegant version of a carnival dessert, Carlos decided to make his snacks look like sliders and churros. Cool concept. His plan was to make his macaroon into the slider buns. It was a bold idea to serve this to someone known as the master of that food – and if he pulled it off, he probably would have won the challenge. However, he came into the kitchen the day of the challenge to check on his word and discovered that the macaroons did not cook properly. In fact, they were non servable. This meant having to adjust on the fly and make a different cookie as the bun.

I cannot criticize his choice because he was really up against the time. He chose to go with an angel food cake specifically because of the quick cook time. The problem was that eating the tiny sliders resulted in some sticky fingers. Interestingly, the messiness seemed to be the primary fault given by the judges. Not taste, not presentation, just really, convenience. Gail did not want sticky fingers to go with her fancy dress.

Meanwhile, Orlando chose to make a variation on candy apple that had little to do with a candy apple. It seemingly was based on chocolate more so than apple. I am sure it looked and tasted great, but it was really far away from the basis of the challenge. I mean, if I say I am making a pizza but use peanut butter has a main ingredient, does that make it a pizza?

Just like every criticism I make on Top Chef, it is all based on what I see on screen and my understanding of the show. I think it comes down to how the item tastes, how it was presented and how much it fulfilled the challenge. The third part was clearly a fault of Orlando’s. The second part was more of a push. The question I cannot answer is just how much better Orlando’s tasted. Even if it really didn’t resemble a candy apple, it still may have tasted rather good. It appeared to me that Orlando should have gotten the boot, but if I were in the room, perhaps it would be different.

Hammer was also in the bottom, but based on the judges input, it seemed as if he was a solid third place. It was the use of too many techniques in his take on the funnel cake that put him there, and no real talk about how it tasted. It just confused people. Macho and Matt really rocked that final challenge. Macho avoided disaster after she locked her pudding in the freezer and put out a very nice corn-based dessert. But it was Matt’s fried apple pie that really got things done. Not only was it good, but Matt became quite the showman by purchasing three ceramic pigs and holding a small raffle to give them away. It was a nice touch and perhaps what gave him that final edge – it was all part of the presentation.

So, we go to the Final Four and I have a very hard time predicting who is going to win this thing. Orlando has been one of those overrated chef contestants – which happens most every year – who just manages to not be eliminated each week. He talks a big talk, but his results have not been there. Now, can he make it to the Finals and deliver in the challenge that counts? Sure, but that’s much harder to do in practice than it is in concept. Hammer tends to over-think and winds up making some pointless errors at times, but he is surely a threat. Macho is talented and has performed well, but Top Chef History has not been kind to women at the end. Matt has some real momentum going right now, and may be peaking at the right time. If I had to guess a winner, I’d go with Matt, but really only because he’s based close to where I live, so I can possibly go and eat some of his food. Or buy his pigs.

Quickfire – Bake the best pie you can in 90 minutes. Of course, the chefs have to do that with one arm tied behind their back. Well, not tied, just placed in an oven mitt. If it were tied, then perhaps Matt wouldn’t have been disqualified. Almost unconsciously, he used his mitt hand to rotate the pie while he browned the top with his torch. That’s a paddlin’. This led to some fun moments – Sally trying to cut plums, Hammer using his feet, Carlos zesting a lemon with his stomach, Orlando opening a water bottle with his knife, Matt trying to slice vanilla and bailing to use extract, and Matt/Hammer joining forces to fill a pastry bag. Hammer was wise to use bananas as his fruit, since it’s easy to open and break down. Same goes for Orlando and choosing berries. Carlos actually used liquid nitrogen to get his done – quite the feat with one hand.

Orlando – Raspberry, Blueberry, Blackberry and Strawberry Pie – The King thought it was well-cooked. Gail wants to make sure she has no meringue on her face.

Macho – Red Plum and Strawberry Double-Crusted Pie with White Chocolate Chantilly – Gail thought it was warm.

Hammer – Banana Cream Pie with Banana Caramel – The King thought it was not too sweet.

Carlos – Raspberry Lemon Meringue Pie – The King felt it was well-cooked.

Matt – Disqualified – Aw, shucks.

Bottom Two – Sally and Hammer. Sally’s was too tart and had too much dough and King didn’t like the chantilly at the end. Hammer’s was disappointing with too much cream and was missing banana flavor.

Top Two – Orlando and Carlos. Orlando’s was “homey” and was a nice combination. Carlos’ was well-executed and liked the lemon and raspberry in it.

Carlos wins the challenge, giving him three in a row. That will be it.

Elimination Challenge – Make a high-end carnival dessert, to be served to Food & Wine Magazine Editor Dana Cowin and some party guests. Dana judges with Gail, Elvis and Theoden. Hammer hogs the pacojets to make his funnel cake ice cream and a vanilla backup. Other than that, and the misadventures of Macho’s pudding and Carlos’ macaroons, not a lot of interesting developments during prep.

Macho – White Corn Brown Butter Cake with Corn Pudding and Peanut Ice Cream – Gail didn’t find it too sweet. Theoden liked the level of sweetness, and Macho is uncertain by how Dana likes it due to her tiny nibbles.

Carlos – Sesame Angel Food Cake Burger, Churro Fries and Strawberry-Lemon Soda – The King thought it was playful, but messy.

Hammer – Funnel Cake Ice Cream, Sable Breton (honestly, this was another can’t read my notes moment), Strawberries, Funnel Cake and Mint Foam – Dana commented on the many techniques used.

Matt – Fried Caramel Apple Pie, Apple Carpaccio, and Vanilla Ice Cream – Elvis likes the acidity levels.

Orlando – Chocolate Apple Entremet with Apple Sorbet – Theoden wanted more texture, and Gail wanted more of a candy crack sensation from the apple. Orlando said it was not a literal translation and took offense to the critique, and clearly Orlando was missing the point.

Matt and Macho get the Top Two. Matt’s idea was praised by the King and Théoden liked the simplicity and the ice cream. Elvis loved Macho’s flavors and use of corn, and the King said something about bananas. I think. No idea, I watched it three times. Matt gets the win.

Hammer started to rationalize losing in the Stew Room, which was pretty amusing to watch. Orlando’s gets hit by Gail for having the apple lost in the chocolate. Elvis said that chocolate didn’t work, and Orlando defends it. Basically, the apple needed to be bumped up. Carlos’ macaroon was too hard and he would up with sticky and sloppy angel food cake. The churros were also too cold. Gail loved the idea as well. Hammer’s gelee was the downfall due to the unique texture. Théoden said it was complicated, but lacked refinement.

Gail felt that Orlando’s lack of caramel was a huge error, as making caramel is Pastry Chef 101. Elvis said he likes using chocolate too, but not every time. Gail agrees and mentions her love of pork belly, and yes, that would be a crappy dessert too. Carlos’ had too many parts, and none worked. Hammer’s too many techniques missed out on flavors.

Quickfire Hits
• I may have picked Matt, but I am rooting for Hammer. The man’s baby is going to cost almost $50,000 to treat. That’s a real nice feel good story right there.
• The chefs suggest that Carlos may be setting the nitro use record this season. Um, two words. Richard. Blais.
• Loved Hammer turning the mitt into a puppet – signs of a good dad.
• Macho was part of the first all-women team to compete for the National Pastry Championship. Sorry, but those of us who went to college, or watched Lost, know about I, Never. I wonder if the hangover affected Carlos or Orlando?
• Loved the Big/Tiny High Five from Orlando and Macho!
• Matt gets hit on at the challenge – and somewhere got smacked by the Mrs. watching the episode.
• How did Matt make that vanilla ice cream if Hammer hogged all of the equipment? Did he give the vanilla ice cream to Matt? That’s curious to me.
• Extra – The chefs call themselves the Fantastic Five. Nitro Man, Paco Boy, Chocolate Man, Master Foamer and Team of One. This would be the worst crime fighting team ever.

Next week – Supposedly, the best challenge of the season. We’ll see.

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