Top Chef has developed a serious sweet tooth. The Bravo program, which recently won an Emmy for top reality competition show, has spun off a series called Top Chef Just Desserts, which airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays.
Top Chef Just Desserts focuses on pastry chefs and their exploits with meringues, custards and coulis.
But if you think because they work with sugar and spice that pastry chefs are everything nice, think again. Host Gail Simmons, previously a judge on Top Chef, said the 12 pastry chef contestants can be just as competitive and emotional, if not more so, than executive chefs.
Because baking and dessert-making is a science, failures are often more spectacular than traditional Top Chef challenges. Desserts, apparently, cannot be fudged.
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Joining Simmons are head judge Johnny Iuzzini, executive pastry chef at Restaurant Jean Georges; Top Chef guest judge and Top Chef Masters finalist Hubert Keller; and Dannielle Kyrillos, entertaining expert and DailyCandy editor at large.
We talked to Simmons about the show.
Question: What is it that has American foodies so interested in desserts? All these cake battles, cupcake shows — do we have a passion for cake and frosting?
Answer: I think it's a bit of everything. Everyone loves sweets. Visually, they are perhaps the easiest to appreciate for a viewer in terms of beauty and art. ... It's also a much different set of skills than Top Chef contestants. It's chemistry. It's precision. It's also magical.
Q: How will this elevate the role of pastry chef? Are pastry chefs the unsung stars of the restaurant business?
A: I absolutely think so. The pastry chef is usually not the one with the name on the menu or on the door. They're usually tucked away in a corner. But what they do is so unusual and so special. So many (Top Chef) chefs failed on the show or have been kicked off or seriously berated because they didn't do desserts well.
Q: What is it about desserts that seem so uplifting?
A: They're integral to the meal. Desserts make people happy. It was hard to come to work and not be happy. Everything glittered and shone, it had height and color. There's a reason why people are elated by desserts.
Q: What will viewers see? Is it more about how desserts are conceived and executed?
A: Yes, although I will say that we thought that about Top Chef, but Top Chef educated people in America about the language of the kitchen. This show will educate people about the language of pastry, the language of desserts.
Q: If dessert chefs work with sugar, will we see they aren't all sweet creatures? Will there be blood?
A: It's over the top. They are super meticulous, Type-A personalities. You get them all in the same room and there's fireworks.
Q: What surprised you about working on this show?
A: The people on Top Chef are certainly artists. But there is a precision in desserts. It has to be to the milligram. There's no room for mistakes. The pressure is incredible. When it's done, you can't tweak it and fix it if it's not perfect. It's a whole different type of stress.
Q: Is dessert in America today more than a good cookie?
A: It certainly is. ... It's not just about apple pie. Today's desserts are complex and complicated. There are so many layers. Dessert is also how we as a culture celebrate accomplishment. What's a birthday or a wedding without cake? It has a lot of sentimental value and brings up a lot of emotion. It certainly was emotional for me.