Top Chef Just Desserts
Lucent Dossier

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Top Chef Is Burning
port, but I kind of wish he'd gotten the rocky road scoop so he could have named his dessert "Sunday Muddy Son Day."

This week's elimination challenge will break up the cheftestants into three teams of three. Since Seth left and fucked up the numbers, the producers decided to bring back Heather C., she of the maligned peanut butter cookie. Despite her misgivings about team challenges, Heather is pumped to rejoin the competition. The rest of the chefs are pretty much all like, "Well, you're not Seth, so come on down!" Because they were the top three in the quickfire, Gail names Zac, Yigit, and Morgan team captains. Morgan jokes that he wants Gale Gand before choosing Heather H. and Eric because he thinks the three of them balance each other out. Yigit taps Erika and Danielle. Zac picks Malika and Heather C., dubbing their group "Team Breakdown" in light of their tendency to cry.

Gail explains that the teams will be creating desserts inspired by performance art group The Lucent Dossier Experience, then serving those desserts at a party for LDE devotees. Morgan says that, like most of us (I'm guessing), he's never heard of LDE, but their act involves swinging, fire-wielding, and aerial acrobatics. Flambe anyone? And I called it! Gail further adds that the desserts must incorporate both fire and a "magnificent showpiece" for their station. With a look of stress on his face, Yigit explains that a showpiece is a time-consuming, labor-intensive architectural structure that represents a certain theme of the room in which it stands. Zac nervously admits he hasn't created a showpiece since culinary school. Finally, says Gail, each member of the team must put his or her own unique stamp on a specific dessert that echoes the concept and theme of the showpiece. Eric thinks this task is crazily intricate.

The gang arrives at LDE to glean inspiration. Heather H. describes what follows as "Mad Max meets Cirque du Soleil," which pretty much sums it up. No amount of verbiage -- and trust me, I've got plenty up my sleeve -- could fully depict the particular vintage of nonsense that is this now-well-worn trope of circus theater, so I won't even try. Hey look! There's Jay Manuel. Paychecks that consist of rib buffet and self-tanner coupons only go so far in covering one's monthly expenses, you know.

After the show, the teams head back to strategize. Team Turkish Delight decides on a chocolate dessert, a fruit dessert, and one that is "crunchy and yummy." Over on Team Divorced Dad, Morgan offers to make a mango panna cotta, and Heather H. volunteers to make the showpiece. Morgan lets her, despite his experience with showpieces, because he has immunity and is perfectly happy to coast by this week. Great strategy, big man. Sheesh. Team Breakdown lives up to its name when Heather C. proves as emotional and frazzled as she was during the last challenge, forcing Zac to marginalize her and Malika to doubt her.

With four hours left in the prep period, Team Divorced Dad dubs itself Team Exotic because of its aggressive flavors and colors. Heather H. is preparing a triple chocolate torte; Eric is making a lemon roulade with caramel, Morgan's got the mango panna cotta covered, and their flaming dessert will be an almond cream with spiced cherry flambé. Team Breakdown (a.k.a. Team Naughty & Nice) is offering up a banana bread with red curry courtesy of Zac, a saffron panna cotta with candied ginger from Malika, a chocolate sorbet with meringue and peppered pineapple from Heather C., and a black forest cake with flambéed cherries. Heather C. flits around asking everyone in earshot questions about her methods and techniques, supporting Zac's opinion that her disorganization and lack of independence is why she was eliminated already. Team Turkish Delight goes all alliterative up in here, choosing the theme of Sassy, Sexy & Sultry. They will serve Yigit's sexy raspberry lime Bavarian, Erika's sassy pineapple with almond ice cream, Danielle's sultry chocolate cake with basil ice cream, and an almond mirliton flambéed with bourbon peaches.

Just under three hours to go, Yigit has fully taken the reins of his team. Zac, meanwhile, is pressing his face into a pan. Lest you think it's all dramatics, he's actually creating a mold for the chocolate mask he'll use in his showpiece. Elsewhere, Eric worries that his team is going too traditional and that Morgan's immunity and Heather H.'s proven talent will render him the scapegoat. Speaking of scapegoats, Heather H. has disappeared and whipped herself into a tizzy because her meringue isn't working. She picks up right where Seth left off by threatening to leave, so Malika gives her some busy work. She empathizes with Heather's doubts, but she still wants her to get it together. Meanwhile, Danielle nearly botches a dessert, and Yigit worries he'll go home because he spent more time attending to her than on his own desserts. I know we're on episode four already, y'all, but it continues to surprise me how frantic pastry chef-ery is. Then again, spending your entire day breathing in sugar like you're mainlining eight balls must have a dangerously narcotic-like effect.

After prep ends, Malika calls home to assure her sons she's coming home soon. She tearfully vows to win because otherwise her entering the competition was for nothing. Heather C. is similarly upset, but she's gone the other way, losing all resolve and wearing sunglasses inside to cover her puffy, sob-stained eyes. Morgan encourages her to see the task through, and Heather H. takes a tough love approach in saying Heather is letting her teammates down and should suck it up before she squanders a great opportunity. As you might expect, Heather C. is not cut out for tough love. She spitefully hopes Heather H. is eliminated so she can feel the pain of self-doubt and rejection. Yeah... don't hold your breath, sweets.

Two hours before the event, the teams head to LDE's studio to set up. There's trouble all around as Eric can't see his desserts clearly in the ambient light, and Morgan worries that Heather H.'s showpiece is not as grandiose or exotic as it needs to be. While Zac thinks his team's showpiece is most thematically on-point, Yigit thinks his team's is simultaneously the most architecturally innovative and structurally risky. Five minutes before the party begins, the freaks are already pouring in, and Team Turkish Delight is struggling to plate all its desserts.

The party kicks into gear, and Zac best sums up the explosion of contortion, sword-eating, and fire that follows when he quips, "Talk about the 'Black Forest Is Burning!'" He thinks his team's bold flavors of saffron, curry, and pepper caters to the crowd better than the other teams' boring mango panna cottas and chocolate-basil cakes. Gail approaches Morgan's team first with fellow judges Johnny Iuzzini, Gale Gand, and Hubert Keller. Heather H. explains the showpiece, which is basically a square chocolate column with a chocolate sphere on top and some cutouts, all of which she claims is designed to play into the shapes in both the room and the LDE's costumes. Morgan presents his mango panna cotta with açaí fluid gel (ew?), passion fruit sorbet, and milk chocolate crescents that evoke the apparatus the LDE acrobats use in their aerial routines. Heather puts forth a triple chocolate chai tea mousse torte with round shapes like the sphere of their showpiece, and Eric placed his lemon caramel roulade with pomegranate sauce and candied kumquats on a crescent-shaped plate. Finally, they flambé the almond cream with cherries cooked in star anise. It kind of looks like disproportionate fruit on the bottom yogurt. On fire. In a shot glass. Meh.

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Top Chef Just Desserts




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