So the other day,
a coworker tells me he’s going downtown to be a gay republican alcoholic, and probably he will be a famous TV person. This is not unusual in Portland! But it turns out my friend did not have a sudden change in sexual/political orientation, and is actually intending to audition for Top Chef: Just Desserts, a show that is really happening and really casting in Portland.
Let’s face it, for years pastry-inclined viewers of Top Chef have squirmed in their seats and shouted at their TVs while macho chefs attempt and fail at making dessert. If I never see another “Cheftestant” whine while inelegantly frosting a cake that they DON’T DO PASTRY, it will be too soon. It’s like there’s a mental block that prevents even the most basic execution of baked goods. And I mean, it’s not like I could go on that show and perfectly sear a pork loin or whatever, but one wonders: if they’re so shit at it, why do they even try?
So I’m both excited and nervous for this new show, though I think Portland’s a bit of an odd choice for an audition locale. LA, Vegas, New York, these places all make sense. But for a second West Coast city I’d go with San Francisco or Seattle any day. Portland’s dessert scene, while thriving, is pretty limited.
I also wonder whether the contestants will be mostly bakers or pastry chefs. I’d expect the easiest thing to do would be to have pastry chefs compete, mainly in plated desserts, because it follows a similar structure to the OG Top Chef. You’ve got a dish with a theme, an inspiration, and it’s visually appealing as well as flavorful. But will they try to incorporate baking? Or special occasion cakes? Or showpieces a la Food Network Challenges? All these things require a LOT more time than savory dishes. And a well composed dessert menu is a product of dozens of smaller sub-recipes, all requiring time not just in preparation but in baking, setting up, drying out, etc.
And I’d love to say that the pastry version of the show will have less posturing and ego, but OH FUCK IT LET’S BE HONEST. First of all, it’s reality TV. Second, Pastry Chefs are insane. INSANE. ABSOLUTELY NUTBALLS. And the higher up/more experienced a person is, the more shit crazy they are. We’re talking bitchy, anal retentive control freaks the likes of which you would not expect from a group that serves up apple crisp. So basically, the same as the OG Top Chef only with more women, gay men and stoic Frenchmen.
Which, by the way, is kind of exciting. Top Chef, despite starting each season with equal numbers of women and men, has always seemed rather slanted toward the dude side. And sadly, that’s just a reflection of the actual industry. Women chefs, despite being on the rise, are expected to Man Up and Bring It in the kitchen, needing to show that they’re just as capable as the boys despite the fact that everyone who ever learned to cook learned it from their mom first. And pastry’s a lot different in that, in my experience, most of the people entering the workforce right now are women. The day-to-day life of a baker or cake decorator is filled with women, with women-run businesses and women-dominated workplaces. There’s less of a feeling among female pastry chefs that they have something to prove. So I’m pretty happy that the ladies will, undoubtedly, represent.
So basically, I’m looking forward to watching it but harbor no illusions that I or anyone I know would ever/could ever excel on it. Which is okay! I’m excited to see a non-retarded approach to dessert on TV, as well as a portrayal of pastry chefs as something other than the Collette Peters cutesy lady or the Duff Goldman/Elizabeth Faulkner cake rebel. Though I will refer all Cheftestants to my own personal mantra, when the day gets too long or too tough:
It’s just cake. Just. Cake.