The very wealthy have played around with their food for centuries. Think of those crazy medieval dishes: real birds baked into pies, swans stuffed with edibles and brought to the table dressed in their original plumage and looking alive, a cock dressed as a knight -- tiny spurs and all -- and mounted on a roast pig "horse."
While, of course, the peasants sated their hunger with slops and coarse bread.
That's what last night's Elimination Challenge on Top Chef Just Desserts reminded me of. The mission was to create an edible dress, along with a couple of petit fours, all inspired by a pair of killer shoes -- the kind with heels as high as a church steeple.
I've never understood the fetishization of shoes; perhaps the current willingness to risk broken ankles and twisted skeletons is a reaction to the strident, anti-beauty-routine feminism of the early 1970s. At any rate, I could hardly contain my derision.
But then, watching the chefs create their dresses, I found myself wonder-struck at their creativity and skill. Like ice sculpture and tabletop pieces, this challenge required a very specialized kind of skill, and not the kind you take into consideration when making a restaurant reservation: Gee, I wonder if Olivea's magnificent pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom knows how to make teensy dessert earrings, chocolate purses and a skirt hem of raspberry-powdered popcorn?
Obviously, you wouldn't want to eat those dresses, either. Molding chocolate glistens nicely, but tastes of oil and corn syrup. But you could, if you wanted, take Zac's slutty, S&M burlesque outfit off the stand and put it right on your body; Heather H had actually molded the chocolate for her bodice into graceful folds, showing incredible artistry; and I can imagine any number of Hollywood stars wanting to don Morgan's simple little black-and-red number, which was covered with zillions of shiny, perfectly-tempered chocolate sequins.
Eric, who identifies himself as a baker rather than a pastry chef -- which means his stuff tastes great but may not look very pretty -- panicked and bombed out. Heather C and Danielle used vegetables: turnips and leeks for Heather, beets and I'm not sure what for Danielle. All three of them came out on the bottom and, for the second time, Heather was sent home. It was nice to see that she seemed to have recovered some of her equilibrium, though. Also nice to watch Erika comforting Danielle in the Stew Room. The winner -- and a very boastful and ungracious one -- was Morgan.
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The Quickfire was a bit more to the point for the actual kitchen-haunters among us, with the chefs challenged to make souffles. (I was happy to see technique queen Heather H using egg shells to separate her eggs, as I tend to do and all the food classes tell you not to.) Yigit won this one with a perfect chocolate souffle and a couple of sides.
Last week, I was sad to see gentle Malika take herself out of the competition -- and interested that the blogosphere had so much trouble accepting her explanation that having to compete was destroying her love of cooking. For Malika, food is about nurturance and community, and the heated, artificial atmosphere of Top Chef would obviously be damaging to that.
As for Seth's panic attack, it looked more like a psychotic break -- the man was delusional, for heaven's sake -- and quite worrying. I hope the Top Chef team finds a way to look out for him. With his absence as universal scapegoat, the dynamic among the contestants is starting to shift. Heather H, Zac and Yigit are bonding while Morgan glowers and insistently asserts his masculinity and the others just feel left out.
Read Juliet Wittman's first Just Desserts review here.