August 25th, 2011
10:20 AM ET
With Bravo serving up a second season of “Top Chef: Just Desserts," let's have a quick review of what we learned in the first go-round, shall we?
To recap: Pastry chefs can be major divas; plastic cups are definitely worth freaking out over; and we learned how to pronounce Yigit (your season 1 winner).
Unfortunately, we also learned that baking and pastry chef preparation don’t necessarily lend themselves well to this kind of competition with timed challenges. Let’s face it: season 1 was kind of a dud, and the drama definitely overshadowed the cooking.
Did the producers make some adjustments to overcome those initial missteps?
At first glance, the answer seems to be yes. Among the 14 contestants, we have our resident arrogant guy (Orlando), our wide-eyed youngster who looks prone to spazzing out (Craig), and our early front-runners (Chris and Amanda). But we don’t seem to have anyone as – how do I put this? – unique as season 1’s Seth.
The first Quickfire challenge gives some hope, too. Last year, Quickfires could take up to 90 minutes. For this one, the chefs are paired up and have 30 minutes to make a modern soda fountain treat.
The ensuing chaos is to be expected, as no one’s quite yet comfortable with the “Top Chef” timing constraints, and some of the desserts end up displaying that uncertainty. (Bless you, editors, for panning to the “soda jerk” sign after one especially lackluster offering.) The winning pair gets immunity and the chance to pick which team they want to be on in the Elimination Challenge.
For that leg, the chefs are divided into groups, assigned a fairy tale (Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel), and told to make two plated desserts and a showpiece inspired by the story.
Apparently, there’s a push this season for sight to matter as much as taste, so you can expect a lot of these showpieces. Anyone who has ever watched a Food Network Challenge knows how tricky they can be.
Showpieces take time, and that takes us back to what I think is one of the fundamental flaws of the “Desserts” series. The chefs have 10 hours of cooking for the challenge. I understand that you need that time for the showpieces and for all of the baking. But that’s just too much time to try and condense into a weekly show (much less two segments of a weekly show), and it robs the competition of some of its urgency.
It also doesn’t help that two teams (Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood) are leaps and bounds ahead of the other two. The Hansel and Gretel team is lost in the woods, given to squabbling and choosing not to incorporate gingerbread into any of their offerings.
Meanwhile, the Jack and the Beanstalk group is undone by Craig, who has his head in the clouds when it comes to creating the showpiece, forcing his teammates to take on the brunt of the work. (Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods? Jack and the Beanstalk with his head in the clouds? That’s GOLD right there! Come on, give me something. This was a painfully foregone conclusion.)
Red Riding Hood takes the win (as a team; no individual winner), while Lina from the Hansel and Gretel group gets sent packing.
Overall, it seems like “Just Desserts” may be on better footing with this second season, but if you’re hoping for a true “Top Chef” competition, you might want to wait for the next season of the main franchise, which starts later this fall.
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