‘Top Chef Just Desserts’ Judges Share Sweet Cravings

by | September 15, 2010 at 8:30 AM | Interviews, Top Chef

Johnny Iuzzini, Gail Simmons, Hubert Keller, and Dannielle Kyrillos on Top Chef Just Desserts (Bravo)

Johnny Iuzzini, Gail Simmons, Hubert Keller, and Dannielle Kyrillos on Top Chef Just Desserts (Bravo)

When ‘Top Chef‘s spin-off, ‘Top Chef Just Desserts‘ debuts Wednesday night (11/10c), chef’testants will be forced to think outside the (pastry) box. “Just don’t think that every challenge will involve a dessert on a plate,” says judge and chef Johnny Iuzzini. “It’s challenging them to use things they work with every day, but with a different focus.  They work with chocolate, but then it’s like, ‘Make something you can wear with it.’”

Hosted by ‘Top Chef’ vet Gail Simmons and judged by James Beard Award-winning chefs Hubert Keller and Johnny Iuzzini, and Daily Candy editor Dannielle Kyrillos, ‘Just Desserts’ gives 12 competing pastry chefs a shot at a feature in Food & Wine Magazine; a showcase at the Pebble Beach Festival; a Buick Regal; and $100,000 furnished by – who else? – Godiva. 

Upping the intensity, recipes are forbidden in the ‘Just Desserts’ kitchen. Cooking from memory is easy enough for savory chefs – when it’s never too late for one last dash of salt – but for pastry chefs, it’s an obstacle which can prove deadly if measurements are off.  “You can’t just jam your finger in the side of the cake and say, ‘Oh, that needs more eggs. I’ll just put them back through the hole,’” says Kyrillos.

Keller, Iuzzini, and Kyrillos revealed how they came to be involved with ‘Just Desserts,’ and what sweets they can’t live without.

Hubert Keller
How He Became Involved With ‘Just Desserts’: I was a judge on ‘Top Chef’ and [competed] in ‘Top Chef Masters,’ and won a few challenges by doing desserts. I grew up in a pastry shop. My parents owned a pastry shop, and my mother was a pastry chef. So that lead to me being asked to be a judge.
His Sweet Craving: The one that I eat the most is probably vanilla ice cream late at night when everyone’s gone. That and soufflé.

Johnny Iuzzini
How He Became Involved With ‘Just Desserts’: When I heard it was coming out I called them [the producers] and expressed interest. I was like, ‘I don’t know if you want me in the front or the back, but I’d like to be a part of this show.’ It’s really gonna show the world what a pastry chef is. Nothing does that now. I’m so proud of the people who are in the industry with me. I was so happy to have a window. We don’t just make cookies and doughnuts. It’s a craft.
His Sweet Craving: I tend to come home late at night after being out with friends and I have these over-sized cups that can hold almost a quart of milk. I’ll fill that up and throw cookies in it, mash them with my spoon, and eat them like cereal.

Dannielle Kyrillos
How She Became Involved With ‘Just Desserts’: I’ve been friends with Gail [Simmons] for a while and then they [producers] came and planted the seed. Then I auditioned and I thought it went terrible. They were like, ‘Tell us a funny story about food!’ And I was like, ‘Uh…one time…my husband…made ribs…and they were too salty. Ha ha ha, isn’t that hilarious?’ And then I was like, ‘I’ll never tell anyone that happened.’ My role at Daily Candy for the past several years has been that of spokesperson, so I do a lot of TV and I think they were like, ‘Okay, we need the fun talker.’ So it all came together.
Her Sweet Craving: Strawberry rhubarb pie. The combination of fresh strawberries and rhubarb, when it’s only there for a few weeks at the market in the early summer. If you bring those together I don’t really care what you do with it. Also, black licorice. I love it. I was the one at Easter with the jellybeans, and all the kids would be like, ‘Ew, the black ones,’ and I’d be like, ‘Don’t throw those out!’