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Category: Top Chef

'Just Desserts' recap: Cake wrecks, breakdowns and bake sales

NUP_138924_0694 Sylvia Weinstock, the queen of all things cake, rocked up to guest-judge Wednesday night's episode of "Top Chef: Just Desserts," delivering the message that the contestants would have to compose creative wedding cakes in an hour and a half.

The majority of the cakes were nothing I'd want at my imaginary ceremony (take note, Curtis Stone), looking more like they belonged on Cake Wrecks than on "Top Chef."

To be fair, the time constraints were borderline torture, and the chefs were showing it. Curse words went flying as defiant KitchenAids refused to mix and frosting neglected to set. Malika, who's struggled to complete other challenges, buckled under the pressure and sobbed Seth-style as her cake literally fell apart in front of Weinstock and Gail Simmons. Just as Elizabeth Falkner did in the previous episode, Weinstock stepped in to play mentor, encouraging Malika to learn from the experience rather than quit.

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'Top Chef: Just Desserts': Seth crumbles like a French apple pie crust


Things started off hunky-dory in the "Top Chef" kitchen, the peppy pastry chefs and bakers prepping desserts fashioned from old school penny candy for the quickfire. Then the nitrogen ran out and Seth dropped the bomb. His passion fruit vanilla sorbet wouldn't freeze, and he completely lost it like a kid denied in a candy store. Granted, the guy's mom is going through some serious health issues, but it's a bit early in the competition to be totally worn down.

The contestants awkwardly mused at his breakdown until Citizen Cake's Elizabeth Falkner, who was on set as a guest judge, stepped in to calm him down with a pep talk. Seth had started out really strong with his Southeast Asian-inspired desserts in the first episode, but is buckling under the pressure.

Our local pastry chef Danielle Keene ended up winning the penny candy quickfire with one of my favorite childhood desserts, a dirt cup with gummy worms, closely trailed by Heather C's vanilla panna cotta with passion fruit candy gelée and Zach, who featured aniseed in both desserts of the night: the first a chocolate and sour cream Ho Ho with red hot cream cheese filling and a black licorice coulis made with Pernod, and for the elimination, a play on a Jägerbomb made with dark chocolate malt cake with Benedictine cremeux.

The contestants headed to Mark Peel's Tar Pit  for the elimination, where they were given the challenge of creating confections inspired by cocktails. This is where I almost had my own breakdown; between the dirt cups, margarita bombes, tuiles and tarts, my sweet tooth was going into overdrive! I couldn't decide what I wanted more -- a cocktail or a coulis. (Guess that's where Alie & Georgia come in handy, huh?)

Peel had the contestants pick coasters with numbers, assigning them an order to go behind the bar and pillage ingredients for their desserts. Seth's bum luck left him last, and what ensued was not pretty. The bar's well was absent of the grapefruit juice he needed for his dessert, and he freaked out, going off like a loose cannon. 

The rest of the contestants were flustered, and the situation became even worse when Seth knocked  Zach's chocolate squares off the tiered tray and onto the floor. He seemed to be turning himself into a bit of a basket case. Maybe he just needs to sit back and take a taste of Erika's winning tequila-filled margarita bombe, which embraced the challenge, using all the elements of the original cocktail, including the salt, in a beautiful half sphere. Or maybe a slice of Eric's drunken Bourbon pineapple upside-down cake would do the trick?

Regardless of Seth's poor performance, it was Tim who was kicked off for the melty, chunky soup he called a basil granita. But I'm curious what you think about Seth's future on the show. Is his talent enough to pull him through, or will he crumble like a French apple pie crust?

-- Krista Simmons

Follow me on Twitter @kristasimmons

Photo courtesy of NBC UMV

'Top Chef' finale: Goodbye to the dessert curse

NUP_141094_0698 It was the finale everyone had been waiting for -- mostly because viewers were ready for the curtain to fall on the snore-fest that was Season 7. But for all the qualms that people have had about the show, the last episode brought some interesting twists: Angelo came down with a punishing illness that he was thankfully able to nip in the bud in time to fire a few dishes; Hung Huynh proved once again that he's agile enough to do the work of two chefs; Michael Voltaggio won his second finale in a row; and the dessert curse was finally lifted from the contestants. 

Most important, though, Jersey boy Kevin Sbraga took the title of Top Chef, bringing home the win to a state that's had quite a successful run on television so far this year. He's also the first African American to win the competition. 

In order to level the playing field, Tom Colicchio and Eric Ripert gave the chefs a set of guidelines to work with: The first course had to showcase veggies; a red mullet was to be used as the main ingredient of the second course; a third course had to utlize a whole duck; and the fourth was a mandatory dessert course.

Former champions Michael Voltaggio, Hung Huynh and Ilan Hall showed up to work as the sous chefs for Kevin, Angelo and Ed, respectively. Hung got stuck with a lot more than he bargained for when Angelo fell extremely ill and wasn't able to participate in the shopping or prep work. Turns out the stars weren't as aligned as he thought them to be, as he was fated to spend the majority of the episode bedridden, barking instructions for Hung into a BlackBerry. Ed and Kevin took it as an opportunity to beat Angelo at his own game, and it worked.

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Get your 'Just Desserts' free in honor of tonight's premiere

Macarons If there were ever an excuse to indulge your sweet tooth, this is it. After tonight's Top Chef finale, the first episode of "Top Chef: Just Desserts" will air.

In case you might not want to invest the time (and patience) to execute Dorie Greenspan's macarons or can't make it to the Just Desserts truck's last stop at Hollywood and Highland at 6:30 p.m., several restaurants around town are offering a free dessert when you reserve on Open Table

One dessert comes to every two diners, and each person must order a minimum of one entree.

Let us know what confections you end up consuming tonight. Personally, I'll take the easy route and drool over judge Johnny Iuzzini hovered over a bowl of Half Baked. 

"Top Chef" season seven finale, 10 p.m.; "Top Chef: Just Desserts" premiere, 11 p.m.

--Krista Simmons

Photo: Dorie Greenspan's macarons, prepared by Noelle Carter. Credit (for both eating and taking the photo): Krista Simmons

'Top Chef': Gastro-nauts gear up for Singapore

Pads This week, Angelo recovered with a one-two punch, Padma test-drove cross-dressing and the chefs get revved up for street food-savvy Singapore.

But before they hopped on a jet for Southeast Asia, the remaining cheftestants were chucked the wine pairing quickfire challenge, where each picked a wine and crafted a complementary dish. In my opinion, this test is getting kind of old (and not in the fine, aged wine way); next season, it'd be nice to see a beer pairing challenge with Beer Chicks Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune as judges. For this episode, though, Dana Cowin, editor of Food & Wine magazine, stepped in beside Padma, dressed in a gray smoking jacket and tie, to sample the pairings.

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'Top Chef': Taken out at the ballgame

Top-chef This week's episode brought viewers into the ballpark and offered a literary/culinary challenge based on food idioms. Throughout the night, Ed brought home the bacon with a double-whammy win, Amanda sucked on sour grapes after her imminent elimination, and the big cheese Angelo realized he's not the hot potato he once thought himself to be. In fact, the rest of the contestants might have a bigger fish to fry. I hate to spill the beans, but that bigger fish just might be Tiffany. She's been looking good lately. (Certainly more so than Ed in that canary yellow maxi dress. What was that about?)

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'Top Chef': Covert cuisine

Covert cuisineLast night's Quickfire was like a progressive episode of "Chopped," where the contestants were presented with a mystery box of ingredients to start the meal, then, as they cooked, more unmarked ingredients were thrown into the mix, forcing them to evolve their dishes as time passed.

My guess is that as the agents with the aviator shades shuffled in boxes, viewers were wishing that Kenny would pop out and jump back into the competition. Alas, it was only a hodgepodge of hominy, black garlic, squid, fish, jicama, passion fruit and fava beans.

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Rick Moonen dishes on the X Train menu and his hopes for an L.A. restaurant

Rick Moonen, a finalist on “Top Chef Masters” and owner of RM Seafood in Vegas, will be conducting the X Train's food and beverage program. Moonen anticipates the train will have its maiden voyage from L.A. to Vegas on New Years Eve 2011, but he's already brainstorming ideas for the menu.

“We're going to have a sit-down sushi bar car. We want the food to be so good that people get on early. We might do something like a dim sum cart of some sort because it's immediate,” Moonen says. “It won't necessarily be fine dining. I don't think we'll open up with something that fancy.” In Moonen's classic childlike fashion, he wants to name the dining car Chew Chew.

But that's not the only project in the works. Moonen has been scoping space for a future restaurant in Los Angeles, including downtown's Union Station. It's still very much in the ideas stage, but he seems  enthused about bringing his sustainable-seafood-focused concept to L.A.

To read more about Moonen's upcoming endeavors, head to ThisIsBrandX.com.

-- Krista Simmons

Follow me on Twitter @kristasimmons

Photo: MGM Resorts International

'Top Chef': Way to go, turbot!

KennyNote: If you haven't had a date with your TiVo yet, please refrain from reading further.

Fans and followers seemed perturbed at the outcome of last night's Restaurant Wars, almost as vocally heated as Kevin was that Alex managed to remain in the competition. The Twitterverse screamed bloody murder, lamenting the judges' decision:  "Oh my god! They killed Kenny!" (I too belted out an Aziz Ansari style "Nooooooooooo!" at the self-proclaimed beast's dismissal.)

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'Top Chef': Foreign affairs

On this week's episode, Alex shamed Spain in front of Jose Andres, Stephen manInjeraaged to mess up rice and the cheftestants got tangled up in foreign (culinary) affairs.

For the quickfire challenge, the remaining gang were tasked with making Ethiopian-inspired food for none other than native "Top Chef Masters" champion Marcus Samuelsson. Maybe Alex has been too busy handling the kitchen at Cafe Was to hit up Fairfax Avenue, because his dry lamb and beef tongues with cabbage and potatoes seemed much more Russian than Ethiopian. He ended up in a place he now calls home -- the bottom 3 -- with Stephen and Kevin. (They milked the pea puree issue again at the beginning of the episode, and I can't help but wonder if the producers purposefully stole Ed's to create some drama in this snore of a season.)



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