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Top Chef: Just Desserts – “Celebritea Party”

I’ll admit I was initially skeptical of Top Chef: Just Desserts. Beyond the initial, “Hey, regular Top Chef chefs can’t make desserts, so… Here you go!” it seemed like a pretty limited concept. I’ve grown tired of the various cupcake and cake programs on TV, and watching cake challenge after cake challenge on Food Network has inured me to the whole process. Plus, I’m just okay with desserts in general: too much sugar gives me a headache.

And for the first few episodes, I wasn’t crazy about it. Gail Simmons was an awkward host. The focus was almost entirely on the insane meltdown of contestant Seth*. And it was still, you know, desserts. But something changed as soon as Seth hyperventilated and got kicked off the show… It got really interesting.

In particular, as we went along, the challenges changed from generic things like making a cupcake, or using chocolate, to things I never would have in a million years expected would be a problem for pastry chefs, like making things that have no color, only black and white. Watching their little brains break as they tried to push back through decades of training to use color was kind of stunning to watch, and reminded me why I enjoy tuning in for career-based reality TV (as opposed to personality based, like The Real Housewives, of Rock of Love). Seeing people do really well at things they excel at is exciting. And to be challenged by limitations specific to your craft, well, all the better. These types of twists are a far more illuminating look into a specific world than, say, suddenly announcing twenty minutes remain in a competition rather than an hour.

I’d say, though I’m still not particularly vested in any of these remaining contestants (they can’t all be the bearded Kevin from two seasons ago on Top Chef), I am vested in learning more about the world of the pastry chef, and how it differs from the adjective less “chef.”

Sadly, this week’s episode, we didn’t get a whole lot of insight into that. The Quickfire (and I wish they would have changed them name for this, as the first challenges aren’t quick, and usually don’t involve fire) was to make an edible arrangement. Other than the guest judge being a bit of a jerk, there wasn’t much there. Yigit, as we know, has a great eye for detail, so he excelled – though Morgan ultimately won for creating the only entirely edible display, where the rest included non-edible elements.

The elimination challenge, similarly, was a variation on a theme, with the contestants making tea party treats based on a paired celebrity couple of their choice. I wonder why the producers didn’t have them select a celeb couple from a list of five, like they usually do, especially as Morgan didn’t know any celebrity couples anyway, and picked one at random out of an In Touch magazine. Regardless, it boiled down to, “make two desserts, and try to loosely connect them.”

And again, the only contestant who could actually win, did. Most of the complaints boiled down to typical Top Chef judge complaints, like a one-bite dish was two bites, or things “tasted bad,” whatever that means. Once you eliminated everyone who made stupid mistakes, you were left with Zac.

Granted, Zac’s little tea sandwiches looked delicious and adorable, his pairing of Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards classic, and the neat trick that they fit together very much in the spirit of the assignment. But there was really no one else that came close, due mainly to ignoring the assignment (Morgan), or simple dumb mistakes.

In the end, Eric the Baker was eliminated in one of the more heartfelt moments I’ve seen the show produce. He seemed honestly touched that he made it this far in the competition. But more than that, he was finally considering himself an actual chef, and not “just” a baker. It’s rare you see reality TV stars ending up in a better place emotionally after being on a TV show – or they say they are, and you know they’re faking it. With Eric, it rang true. Looks like he got his just desserts after all, and they were sweet***.

*I will never forget him crying the phrase, “The red hots were for my mommy,” as long as I live**.

**Actually, I’m sure I’ll forget it as some point.

***You’re welcome for that amazing turn of phrase, readers. You’re welcome.

Notes:

  • Yigit is a ridiculous name for a person
  • No time for the cheftestants to walk in and react to the guest chef, huh? Gotta keep it moving, so we can have the always exciting “shopping sequence.”
  • Pulling sugar is amazing.
  • Morgan is right… It’s difficult to practice a technique when someone keeps smashing your food.
  • My wife points out – correctly, I think – that Top Chef has become the catering company for Food & Wine Magazine.
  • They’re gonna have to cook with Dawn Hand Cream at some point, aren’t they? God I hope so.
  • I hope next week’s Elimination Challenge is to bake one of those giant cakes ladies jump out of.
  • Good on Eric and Yigit for taking responsibility for their bad desserts. Boo to Johnny for then yelling at them for it.
  • There should be a vote for the Top Chef: Just Desserts Flan Favorite OH MY GOD I’M SORRY.
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