Before the contestants can even wipe off the bus grime (or even coat themselves in Purell) Gail is announcing the first Quickfire competition. It's pretty standard first round stuff: Make a signature dessert. As the contestants run around the grocery store we meet another competitor, Yigit Pura, who was the executive chef under Daniel Boulud, which in my understanding of the chef solar system (Daniel Bouloud > Jean-Georges Vong.) puts him pretty much on par with Johnny Iuzzini, but I'm probably missing something. If he just had more hair gel or a wallet chain he could be judging this competition himself. Time to hit the Macy's accessories wall, little dude! He is proud to be OCD because it is the number one job requirement for a good pastry chef. But don't tell Eric Wolitzky that. He's a baker (and Baked in Brooklyn) with a laissez-faire attitude towards measuring butter and is anti-foofiness. He just gives you a whoopie pie and tells you to shut up and like it.
Then we get a sad story of contestant Malika who is going through a divorce and wants to show her three boys that she is perfectly capable of succeeding in life without their good-for-nothing father. They chefs head to the Top Chef (Just Desserts) kitchen and gasp approvingly at the shiny shiny sheet pans and Kitchenaid Mixers and whatever googaws sponsors have supplied. They all run around beating, whipping, and banging like it's an S & M dungeon instead of a pastry kitchen. Gail and Johnny interrupt the proceedings because there has to be a twist! There has to! It's in the reality show bylaws. So what's the big twist? Their signature dish must be made into a ...cupcake. Apparently cupcakes are pastry chef Ex Lax because according to one contestant everyone crapped their pants. Everyone runs around sweating, cursing, and throwing pans into the ovens at breakneck pace. Someone turns an oven up, another makes an unsightly buttercream, one has to turn a cake into a cupcake. And then time is up and our poor single mother isn't able to plate her meringue cupcake and is near tears knowing that her soon-to-be ex husband is probably sitting somewhere smirking while setting up his online dating profile.
Johnny and Gail hit the sugar trail that is the quickfire tasting line. Up first is Tania with a chocolate cake with chicory mousse and mesquite powder. Next is Heather, who has made carrot cake with crème fraiche and fried carrots just to make it sound all high art. Also, gross. Heather appears to have incurred our first Just Desserts injury, because she seems to have bandages on her head, but her bangs are skillfully covering them. She should take advice from Denise Huxtable and wear a bandanna instead. Zac made a blood orange marshmallow death trap that glues Johnny to the lemon cupcake and not in a good way. Gail doesn't look like she'd mind taking it home for a night or two, though. Danielle's mint chip mousse filled cupcake elicits a "MMMmmm!" from Gail so she either loved it or was begging for M&Ms.
Uninhibited baker Eric made the devil's food, clearly invoking Beezlebub to help him win this infernal competition. Tim's attempt to masquerade a frozen semi-freddo as a cupcake failed and Johnny made a sad little face as he moved on to Seth's coconut basil pine nut cupcake. Morgan made a soufflé with caramel buttercream and Malika made ...nothing. In her misery she flung herself off the tallest piece of the GE Monogram Kitchen that she could find. Johnny calls her out as a loser even as she flogs herself. Joining her in the bottom is Tim and his fraudulent cupcake. Rounding out the bottom three is Zac and the marshmallow deathtrap. Zac quickly realizes that since the other two chefs didn't actually make cupcakes, he is the Real Loser. Loser shall be branded on his forehead with spun sugar and sprinkles. The winners are obvious: Seth and his basil buttercream that Johnny calls herbaceous (a word that MUST be said with the accent of Keanu Reeves from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure). He also liked Tania's cupcake which he *shudder* calls moist as if that's a good thing and not a dirty dirty word at all. He also liked Heather's fried carrots, because that is the cutting edge of pastry. As in cutting the edge into the vegetable world. The winner? Seth and his basilicious caramelized pine nut cupcake. Seth considers this a sign from the gods that he is intended to win the entire competition. JUST LIKE HAROLD DIETERLE.
Next up? The elimination challenge. The task? Create a chocolate dessert so luxurious that it will impress even Jacques Torres, or as they insist on calling him: Mr. Chocolate. Everyone gasps in horror. I wonder if as a pastry chef having to make chocolate for Jacques Torres is similar to the horror we civilians would feel if Martha Stewart stopped by for afternoon tea. But that's tomorrow. Gail sends the chefs home to get settled in and start annoying each other. They live up to expectations with all the special needs kids demanding private baths and featherbeds and non-snoring roommates.
The next day the chefs head back to the kitchen to make the most of their four hours of cooking. They are starting to feel out their competition (not feel up, or at least not on camera, not yet) and eyeing the cooking skills of their neighbors. Chef Morgan is working on a deep-fried chocolate pie, chocolate flan combo when tragedy strikes: Someone put the oven on convection! Fuck you GE Monogram! Zac, who lost the cupcake challenge so resoundingly, is seeking redemption via brownie sundae. Strangely enough that is usually how I seek redemption too. Also comfort, joy, and bliss. Judge Johnny comes in to do his best impersonation of Tom Colicchio's sniff n' sneer. So far Johnny's hair has far more personality than the rest of him. Hopefully he'll come out of his chocolate shell soon. He notes that Seth is not skating on his immunity, Tania is bringing lots of texture, Danielle is hellbent on deconstruction, and that's all we get from Judge Johnny. Tania has miffed her mousse and is now referring to it as "pastry hummus", which sounds like it would go really well with the fried carrots. There's no time to fix the mousse, though, because they are heading out the door.
The contestants are all at their stations feverishly icing, frothing, frying, and sprinkling when the doors to the dining room are opened and the guests start pouring in like hot fudge on a sundae. Morgan meets the judges first. Today they include the not-a-typo Dannielle from Daily Candy, Judge Johnny, and Jacques Torres, but you can call him Mr. Chocolate, you know, because you have to. Morgan serves them his fried pies and I want it now! Now! Heather C. and her mysteriously bandaged forehead offers bittersweet chocolate torte with a mini whoopie pie and now I want that. Jacques Torres has never had a whoopie pie before but still has the firmly held belief that Heather is doing it wrong. Baker Eric has an ancho cinnamon brownie and the other Heather has a dark chocolate mousse with grand marnier, and Zac is dusting his brownie sundae with disco glitter, which manages to make the brownie look completely gay, which I did not know was possible. The judges are impressed with Zac's wild and crazy glittery brownie sundae, but not so much with Eric's not at all decadent brownie. NOTE: NEEDS MORE GLITTER!
Tania is in tears over the texture of her mousse, which she denounces to the judges before they even take a bite. The judges don't like Danielle's freeform chocolate tart because it involves actual work to eat, which I think is clever because you can burn the calories while you eat them. It's like attaching a box of Krispy Kremes to the treadmill. The judges finally taste Tania's pastry mousse and instead of yearning for dessert carrots they just taste disappointment. Seth has a madras curry and chocolate palette and shattered raspberries. Yigit made a flourless chocolate genoise and a custardless ice cream, which apparently lacks custard, much to the consternation of the judges. Seth's palette (which is pronounced puh-LET, puh-lease) wows the tastebuds of