Top Chef: Just Desserts: The icing on the cake

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

It's nice when contests end the way they should. Of the three finalists, Morgan is the master technician, cool and generally unflappable, and Danielle is strong on taste, not quite as strong on finesse. But Yigit, who has both heart and an impressive range of skills, wound up winning the first-ever Top Chef: Just Desserts title last night.

The last test was to make a four-course dessert tasting menu. For the prep, the finalists were given sous chefs, all highly respected professionals. Morgan got Claudia Fleming, a traditionalist baffled by his molecular gastronomic approach (I know no one actually says molecular gastronomy any more, but I don't know what else to call it). She disliked his macho posturing, and they didn't work together well. Danielle was paired with Elizabeth Faulkner, who willingly and good-naturedly shelled hundreds of pistachios for pistachio ice cream. Yigit's sous was Sherry Yard, and you knew they were off to a good start when you saw them actually dancing together while they prepped.

As for concept: Danielle went for flavors she loved and knew would work well, beginning with a cheese offering -- hazelnut cake with Spanish goat cheese and fig jam. Yigit's fanciful notion was that he was taking the judges out on a date, starting with flirtation -- cucumber-lime sorbet -- and ending with a satisfying, let's-go-home together hazelnut dacquoise with milk jam and caramel ice cream. Morgan wanted to take it to the max: Rather charmingly, he envisioned light broken into layers of color. His first offering, a passion fruit cannoli with mango carpaccio, fluid gel (I've always wanted to taste fluid gel, haven't you?) and tarragon jelly, and his last plate, which featured a perfectly layered baumkuchen and an impeccable square of transparent caramel laid over creme brulee, were visual poetry. Ironically, given his mastery of chemistry, he was brought down by a very traditional sweet: His chocolate souffles fell, and some were undercooked.

Final prep was accomplished with the help of previously eliminated contestants. Tim and Yigit worked peacefully together; Tania -- the first pastry chef to be eliminated, which bummed me because she seemed interesting -- was paired with Danielle; and -- uh-oh -- Heather H got assigned to Morgan, whom she loathed and didn't want to see win. One of the first things she did was sugar Morgan's souffle molds, which he hadn't intended -- though I don't think that's why the souffles fell. But she was very helpful during the plating, calming him down and helping select unscathed souffles for the judges, and he ended up thanking her effusively.

The tasters included all the past contestants; the guest celebrity sous chefs; and Saveur's James Oseland, among other recognizable faces. As always, Johnny, Gail, Dannielle Kyrillos and Hubert Keller had the final word. Everyone agreed that all three finalists had outdone themselves, and there was lots of hugging when Yigit's win was announced.

These shows attract two kinds of viewers (with overlap, of course). There are those who like to watch other people cook but don't spend much time in their own kitchens. And then there are those of us anxious to focus on food prep and learn culinary skills. You can pick up a few usable tips from Just Desserts. After years of souffle-making, for example, I started turning down the heat and using a bain marie because of a comment by Johnny Iuzzini -- and the souffles were definitely more tender. And though I've loved meringues and pavlovas all my life, I hadn't realized that they were supposed to be crisp outside and soft within, so I think my technique will improve. I'll be thinking harder about contrasts in temperature and texture in the future when I fix a sweet.

But copy the things these chefs did? Deconstruct a vacheron? Make yogurt caviar? Wouldn't have a clue how to start. So, overall, Just Desserts has less heft for me than the regular Top Chef. The judges are kinder, and the show is more playful, sillier, and more ephemeral. But it's also kind of fun. And seeing Yigit and Morgan topless hasn't hurt, either.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.