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Dessert Wars

Tears & funnel cake: Top Chef: Just Desserts sends home one talented Texan, another takes a bump

I think the Top Chef: Just Desserts producers have gotten the message that no one cares about their fancy schmancy competition-style cakes. Lately the challenges have all been about nostalgia with Willy Wonka, soda shops and on Wednesday night, a challenge that will remind everyone of childhood — a refreshing dessert for a hot day. I can practically feel the pool and the Fudgesicles from here.

But first, the quickfire challenge is all about making candy bars for epic pastry chef Pichet Ong. Just as the chefs all run for their ingredients and equipment, Carlos Enriquez bangs some trays against Houston's own Rebecca Masson's injured arm, bringing her to tears, and Orlando Santos is predictably callous about it.

So later when Rebecca drops part of her dessert, it's astonishing to us — as well as Rebecca — when Orlando drops everything to help her finish and plate her candy bar. Is it possible that Orlando is a nice guy who's playing the villain for camera time? He does seem to enjoy it a bit too much. Rebecca says the final product isn't what she wanted, but at least it's something to show.

Pichet dings Katzie Guy-Hamilton for making a melty mess on a stick and Matthew Petersen's bar for having a soft bottom. Pichet's favorite candy bars are by Sally Camacho, who deliberately uses the Asian ingredients Pichet's known for to make a "Who's It" of peanut butter, chocolate, black forbidden rice, cocoa nibs and milk chocolate ganache.

 Just as the chefs all run for their ingredients and equipment, Carlos Enriquez bangs some trays against Houston's own Rebecca Masson's injured arm, bringing her to tears, and Orlando Santos is predictably callous about it. 

Also on top is . . . Rebecca! Her "Fruit on the Bottom "is granola and Greek panna cotta with orange marmalade and vanilla inside a white chocolate shell. Pichet is interested by the ingredients and the novelty of a candy bar with panna cotta inside. But in the end Pichet picks Sally for the win and immunity. It would be nice to see Rebecca nab an individual win, but as long as she's ending up on top I won't complain.

The contestants are divided into teams of three and are tasked with each making a refreshing treat to serve at a water park. Yay! Fun! Rebecca is with Katzie and Megan Ketover, Amanda From Katy is with Carlos and Sally and Chris Hanmer, Matthew and Orlando are together. There's drama over the ice cream machines and the liquid mitrogen, but everyone seems to get their stuff together before heading out to the water park. (Sorry, sponsors, I didn't catch the name of the place and I'm not looking it up. It has water slides. What else do you need to know.)

During his walk-through, judge Johnny Iuzzini declares Chris, Matthew and Orlando a strong team, but it's quickly clear that they are out of their element at the park. These guys are so serious about their craft they seem to have entirely forgotten how to tailor their ideas to the situation at hand. Chris's ice block passion fruit drink comes off syrupy, Orlando's dry take on a root beer float has neither soda nor ice cream, nor anything else refreshing, and Matthew keeps the judges waiting for hot strawberry shortcake that doesn't really fit the weather.

On the other hand, team sassy ladies (Rebecca, Katzie and Megan) decides to go simple and classic. Opening with a spritz of lavender mist, Rebecca serves a lemon snickerdoodle ice cream sandwich, Megan creates a strawberry soda float with white peach and basil sorbet. Unlike Orlando, her float has both soda and something sweet and frozen, and the judges love it. How novel!

Katzie makes a baked Alaska on a stick with spumoni inside toasted meringue with a cherry. Rebecca served virtually the same dish at a Revival Market dinner earlier this summer, so I can say from personal experience that the mixture of sweet and tart is delicious.

Carlos breaks out the breakfast cereal for the third time with a Cap'n Crunch popsicle but the judges aren't into the overwhelming layers of sugar. Sally makes a berry smoothie with white chocolate Rice Krispies. Amanda From Katy goes third, and her funnel cake goes from fresh to hard and crispy as her teammates present, and the judges take note.

So what we've learned today is that the judges will yell at you if you make them wait while you plate a fresh dish, and they will yell at you if you pre-plate and it gets stale.

The unsurprising winning team is Rebecca, Katzie and Megan, who seemed to make all the most popular desserts, and for the second episode in a row Katzie gets the individual win. Maybe we shouldn't underestimate people because they're silly and sometimes they spill their ice cream all over the kitchen, eh?

Among the other two teams, the bottom three are Carlos, Amanda From Katy and Orlando. Did you realize as early as I did that Amanda From Katy was getting the proverbial cowboy boot? It was partly judge Gail Simmons terming her funnel cake "unacceptable" and partly the foreshadowing of hearing about Amanda's braided, tan, child-of-Russian-immigrants, water park-free childhood in Texas. I think if you want to win Top Chef, tell them all the photos of your childhood were lost in a fire and they'll never be able to send you home.

Amanda Rockman (who is the pastry chef at two Chicago restaurants now) is the first chef I'm really sad to see go, and it's not just because I'm counting her as a Texan (for her Katy roots). She had a lot of great ideas and some serious talent, and it sucks to see her go home because of an issue of execution. Also it has to be awful to have to explain to your Texan family that you got eliminated with a funnel cake. I'm guessing the Houston Rodeo will never be quite as fun again for our dear, departed Amanda From Katy.

We started with three Houston chefs, and now we're down to one. Do you think Rebecca can go the distance? And what nostalgic challenge will they think of next?

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