TC: Just Dessert 2.09 — Dessert in Disguise

aka Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… Dyin’ time’s here.

It’s like Thunderdome meets March Madness up in here. We’re down to the  final four. And the delicious, delightful, darling Car Cora is going to be here. I’m having trouble concentrating at the prospect.

At the loft, Matthew is having Captain Crunch in honor of his “fallen brethren.” Chris pours some Captain Crunch down the drain. He’s not sorry Carlos is gone. He’s happy to have one less person keeping him from the prize.

Sally and Orlando, go for a slightly more classy breakfast, making pancakes and some fried up ham dish that makes me pretty hungry as I watch this scene in the morning before leaving for work.

Emotional backstory: Matthew was an outcast in high school. (This actually kind of surprised me.) He was picked on a lot then he started getting himself in trouble, ditching school, breaking into houses and cars. Good grief. He looks so innocent and sweet now, but you see the teen photos and he looks hurt and angry. Oh, baby. He needed a Chris in his life back then. Things got better though when he spent a weekend at a culinary school while looking at college options. During that weekend something clicked for him and he got on the path to his future. Hurray. I wipe a single crystalline tear from my cheek.

All right, moving on. The chefs get their jackets on (there’s something really sexy about Matthew working those hot pink buttons) and head out the door.

At the TC Kitchen, Gail has Suzanne Goin with her. Susan’s a savory chef — owner of Lucques, A.O.C. & Tavern in Los Angeles. Sally’s wondering why she’s there since she’s not a pastry expert.

Well, we’ll tell you why. They’re going straight to the last elimination challenge before the finale. No Quickfire. Hot damn!

Elimination Challenge — Create a dessert inspired by one of the international cuisines on a table. Well that’s easy enough. There must be a catch. Too bad the chefs aren’t thinking about that possibility.

Chris gets to choose first and he picks France. Then Orlando chooses Spain; Matthew goes with Italy; and Sally picks Cuba, having lived in Miami and made Cuban pastries during part of her career (wise or misguided choice?).

Oh wait, there’s more to the challenge. They must make a dessert in disguise — a dessert that looks like a savory food from the international cuisine they’ve chosen. So much for Cuban pastries, Sally.

They show photographs of desserts that look like pork chops and broccoli and then a platter of chicken wings. It’s crazy. The idea is that we eat with our eyes first. Very interesting.

Suzanne reminds them that the food must look good AND taste good. And then we learn that in addition to Suzanne, Iron Chef Cat Cora will also be at the judging table. (OMG, I have a very special fantasy that involves her and while there’s food involved, I wouldn’t really say that the fantasy is about her cooking for me. cough)

They all take off and find themselves struggling to think of an entree in their cuisine of choice much less how to make a dessert to look like that entree. I have to say I think Matthew has the easiest thing because you can easily do fake pasta that’s really pastry. (Remember Katzie’s crepe noodles?) And as I think this Matthew becomes the first to begin cooking — he’s got a plan for manicotti.

Emotional Backstory: Orlando talks a bit about his difficulties in coming out to his family and having to separate himself from them. After his coming out he spent some time in Spain to get away and he’s inspired by that trip. We shall see.

Sally has no clue. Chris jokes about making a sugar showpiece of a can-can dancer. Ah, but after the break he’s been inspired — Beef Wellington which sounds like a great plan.

Johnny’s here! He goes to Chris first and Chris tells him he’s doing a Wellington. Johnny says “Isn’t Wellington English?” Umm…. He’s sticking to his plan. Off scene Johnny says this is a really difficult challenge because it requires a lot of understanding of ingredients, not just a creative mind.

Next up is Matthew. He’s going to have mousse for his filling with cake around as the manicotti. Then a strawberry and basil sauce. He’s also going to work actual tomatoes into the sauce. Sounds yummy, Matthew! Can we see you drizzle that sauce on a certain teammate and then… Sorry, he’s a happily married man.

Orlando is making paella using plums. Johnny asks him who he’s most threatened by, and he says Chris. To make the finale, Orlando says he’s going to utilize Johnny’s comments from the previous weeks. Really? He says he’s grown from the critique, but also admits that he also fights criticism at first. You don’t say? My next choice name for him after Bitchy!O was Defensive!O. I’m just saying.

Sally is tired and confused. She’s got a couple ideas and is working on components of two dishes. She’s thinking probably a Cuban sandwich and she’s only got an hour and a half left. Johnny comments that she doesn’t seem to want it compared to the other chefs. And if she doesn’t want it, she’s not going to win it. She’s got to get focused. With one hour left, she decides to go for the Cuban sandwich.

Orlando is cleaning his compressed plums to be used as fish, roasted beets for chorizo, and apricots for mussels. Very interesting.

Chris is putting raspberry jam inside raspberry mousse that should resemble the pinks and reds of red meat. He then talks about what really got him from regular culinary school into a focus on desserts. It’s a little mini backstory and I don’t really care.

Matthew makes a basil gelèe for garnish — very cool. And at the last minute Orlando reminds Chris to take his nuts out of the oven, which leads Matthew to say, “I can smell your nuts.” Ha ha! I love it when they’re all teenage boys in love.

Time is up for the day and back to the loft they go. Sally calls her mom … She misses her and we get a little emotional backstory about how they didn’t get along when she was a teenager, but after she left home she grew close to her family. Awww. Gag me with a giant mixing spoon.

The next morning Sally is willing herself not to go home while Orlando calls his mom. He says his relationship with his family has gotten much stronger since their initial falling out. I’m legitimately happy for him about that. Wow.

Back to the kitchen. They have two hours to cook and finish their desserts. It’s neat to see them putting things together.

Chris is using frozen puff pastry instead of making it from scratch. He’s short on time, but… we know how the judges feel about this kind of a shortcut. Meanwhile, Orlando is adding saffron to coconut rice for his paella and it looks fabulous. And Matthew has dropped the tomatoes from his sauce because it’s too risky. (I have to agree that if you aren’t sure you can pull it off, it’s probably best not to go there. Especially when you already have something that works.)

Watching Matthew finish his “pasta” is amazing. He carefully carves ridges into his cake to make it look like real manicotti. Chris’s Wellington pastries look fabulous. Sally’s getting nervous that her sandwich isn’t enough, so she starts making side dishes — plantain chips and potato salad.

Matthew has mini Parker House rolls to go with his pasta and his plating looks great. I hope the judges love it.

Time is up and the judges are seated at the dinner table. Guests for the tasting are: Chef Michael Cimarusti, owner of Providence (and a Top Chef Master); Chef John Sedlar, owner of Playa & Rivera; Chef Sang Yoon, owner of Father’s Office & Lukshon; and Chef Suzanne Goin from earlier. Then, of course, we have Johnny Iuzzini and Hubert Keller. And finally, Iron Chef Cat Cora, who is looking gorgeous (not that she doesn’t always; but if I were crème brûlée, I’d be all sweaty on top just from looking at her).

Matthew’s dish is served first.  “Manicotti” – Crème fraîche cake with marscapone-ricotta mousse, strawberry compote, and basil gelée. Cat thinks the look is “awesome” then she comments that the flavor is good and not too sweet. Everyone loves the basil and they like the bit of salt in the rolls. However, halfway through they’re done because it’s a little too “one texture.”

Chris is next. “Beef Wellington” – Puff pastry, chocolate mousse, raspberry jam, and salted caramel. His colors inside are good, but I think they’re a little too defined to fully mimic meat (where the color gradation is more gradual). There’s a convo about Wellington being named for a Brit, but being derivative of filet mignon. So I guess they decide it’s French enough. They like the flavor mix of tart and mellow and the cream is deemed good.

In the kitchen Orlando is running out of time trying to plate. But out it goes. “Paella” – Coconut & saffron rice, tuile, compressed plums, and roasted beets. It looks too much like a fruit salad to me. But we’ll see what the judges think. Orlando loves Cat (which cracks me up because earlier when he talked about coming out to his family he commented on being attracted to men with hot bodies not hot blonde women; now he’s professing his love for a very hot blonde woman). Does she love his dish in return? They comment that the rice is broken, but the use of saffron is very light. Mixed feelings on the chorizo. There’s some love and some hate going on in the conversation and I can’t keep up with the new people. But overall, they seem to appreciate the creativity.

We finish up with Sally – “Cuban Sandwich” – Brioche, cream cheese mousse, and strawberry caramel with “potato salad.” There are also some plantain chips that I’d really love to be eating right now. Pineapple, banana, and Asian pear make up the potato salad. This is the dish that the chefs most like visually. There’s a problem with the cream cheese mousse representing pork though, because it’s messy and hard to eat and doesn’t hold the character of pork once you get into it.

After the presentation the chefs dish about how hot and sexy Cat Cora is. No doubt. For those who are curious and don’t already know this about me, my Cat fantasy involves me, Cat, and Michael Symon plus bacon and ladles of ouzo. I’ll let your imaginations run from there. Ahem.

It’s time for Judge’s Table. In the stew room, they’re all nervous. It’s not any better when they step out before the judges. Johnny acknowledges that this was a very tough challenge; that they needed creativity and technique to pull it off.

The judges all thought the Wellington looked great. Johnny does ask if Chris made his own pastry and he admits that he did not. Then Gail points out that the other three chefs all made their own bread for their dishes. When asked why he should be in the finale Chris says he “knocked it out of the park” — that his presentation and flavors were great.

Matthew – Cat loved the presentation and really liked the little rolls and the salt they brought in next to the sweet. Johnny asks about the tomatoes he’d been promised and says that would have given the dish more edge. They didn’t think he was creative enough. But the basil gelèe was a hit with everyone.

Orlando — Johnny hates saffron but found Orlando’s gentle touch made him really like it. Hubert asks about him using a rice cooker instead of cooking the rice in milk (good grief!) – Orlando went with fluffy steamer rice because that’s what he was familiar with and Hubert says that’s not a real paella. This may be the only time ever I feel bad for a comment Orlando has received from a judge. Gail liked the “chorizo” (thought it was definitely controversial at the table). Hubert wanted more “mussels” and Orlando said he wanted to do clams as well but had to edit himself to be assured he could finish his vision. Gail said this was the one week they didn’t want them to edit themselves. Hubert asks if he’s scared about making the finale and he says yes because he’ll be pushed more than ever but he looks forward to it.

Sally — Johnny is impressed with what she pulled out when he left her so undecided the night before. The presentation was great — the visual fooled everyone. Then they comment on the mousse pressing out the sides. Sally says this was her toughest challenge mentally. Hubert wants to know if it brought something out of her and she says, “Hell yeah.”

I can’t even begin to guess who is going home. There’s a little something for each of them that is a negative. What do the judges say to each other?

Gail had gone in with low expectations, but left very much impressed (and that’s about where I was when the challenge was explained). Hubert is disappointed in Chris’s use of frozen puff pastry, but they all love the visual presentation. Gail’s favorite aspect of Matthew’s dish is the Parker Roll in the strawberry sauce. (I am dying for some yeasty dinner rolls now. *sigh*) However, the flavors of Matthew’s dish were too similar.

On to Orlando’s combination of flavors and use of imagination. Johnny just didn’t think it came out right. There’s another comment about the rice, which would have better been cooked like a rice pudding. Johnny loved Sally’s potato salad and they liked her flavors and creativity. Her only problem was the smooshy mousse.

The chefs are brought back out. They all did a “phenomenal job.” The winner, however, is Sally for embracing the cuisine of the country and going a step beyond. She’s going to the finale!

Who will be joining her? Chris is through to the finale. That leaves us down to Matthew and Orlando. You know the law: Two men enter, one man leaves.

Commercial break! Dang it.

And we’re back. From outerspace. I just walked in to find you here with a milk mustache upon your face.

Orlando’s presentation was slopping and his texture was mushy and it didn’t measure up. He’s out. Off scene he cries and I feel for him. It’s kind of sad though that he didn’t appeal at all to me until minutes before being asked to leave in nine episodes in. But he’s leaving able to take critique and acknowledge when others do better than him, and that is great progress for him. The bitchy little boy became a man. How sweet.

In the stew room, the remaining chefs chat about being ready for the finale. They’re going to get some of the best pastry chefs in the world to assist them next week. But will they use them well? And who will be the winner of season two of Top Chef: Just Desserts?

See Orlando’s exit interview and watch Cat Cora show how tempering is done right. As always there are more photos and videos at