Photo: Kelsey McNeal / Bravo
Continuing Slashfood's reality-tv cooking competition exit interviews, we present you a conversation with the winner of Top Chef Just Desserts. To avoid spoilers, click through to read the winner's final thoughts. On Monday, our interviews with the runners-up.
Ladies and gentlemen, after several grueling weeks of watching fairly skilled pastry chefs boil over with sugar-filled rage, we have a winner. Twenty-nine-year-old Yigit Pura, of San Francisco's Taste Catering, was crowned the first ever 'Top Chef' of the Just Desserts portion of the show, beating out the possibly bitter Morgan and triumphing over Danielle's bittersweet snark. Throughout Top Chef Just Desserts, Yigit's style was that of a fine artist; his presentations were much about the finished polished product as they were about the chemistry of good flavors. For the most part, Yigit kept his composure intact, which, if we learned anything, is quite an important part of being a professional pastry chef.
Slashfood spoke with Yigit the day after his big win about the volume of recipes he'd brought memorized to the show and how his day job helped prepare him for the realities of the Top Chef Just Desserts competition.
In the final challenge, what put you over the edge?
YP: Going into the detailed explanations of the judges when we were getting criticized by them, the most minute details. I'd have to say that all my desserts, none of them suffered. They all looked the same and tasted the same and I think that had a lot to do with it. I really poured everything I had into those desserts.
I noticed over the season that your knowledge of the science behind the pastry arts seemed to be a factor. Do you think it was greater than the rest of the competitors?
YP: Yes and no. There were some competitors in there who are just as brilliant. Morgan's a great chef and he has just as much of that. I'm a very European pastry chef; you have to learn the scientific method of things and once you have that, then you can start creating recipes and flavor profiles. It's like building a house before you put the roof on it.
Your competitor Morgan was critical of your choice to work with so many sorbets on the last challenge.
Well, I think Morgan can say all he wants, but the fat lady sang and she sang for me.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with Eric regarding memory and this competition. He mentioned that you came with the most recipes memorized. How many would you say you had?
YP: I have several thousand recipes that I've perfected over the years, but I would say I only memorized at most thirty or forty. We had so little time to memorize things, but that brings me back to the foundation: if you have the knowledge of the foundation or the science of food, I can take that one taste and manipulate it, so one recipe gives birth to other recipes.
You have thousands that you've developed over the years?
That's ridiculous. Where do you find the time to do this?
YP: [laughs]. I don't. But the brilliant thing about chefs, we live at work. Pastry chefs are sort of nocturnal creatures. This is what I love doing; I'm kind of a mad scientist. I go to the farmers markets three times a week and I eat this food that has so many complex flavors and start to think "that can go with this" or "that can go with that." I literally start creating these flavor profiles in my head and then I'll come back and start talking with my sous chef and we'll create great recipes around this. It's really a fun process.
The season had some high points, some low points. What's your feeling about how the show presented your field?
YP: I have positive and negative feelings about that. I think the show represented the people in the show just as they were. If anything, I thought they softened the blow a little bit [laughs]. I think I remained pretty calm throughout the competition. Yes, there are people who are homophobic in the world, yes there are people who are flamboyant in the world and that's what makes us human, that's what makes us all great. Pastry chefs are a little bit crazy. That's the truth of the matter. In a professional setting, we're much more composed.
Throughout the season, you made some lavish desserts. Do you work with such extravagance on a daily basis?
YP: Going into this, my training at the Four Seasons helped me, but I think my current job helped me the most. What happened was, working at a four-star restaurant, you kind of become pretty arrogant. You develop these recipes to present to the public, and you're like, "This is it, love it." In the catering environment, it's more like, "We love this, but can you try and make it work with this?" So I think I really learned how to mold my vision into other people's tastes and think on my feet constantly. We'll have dozens of events each week that have different themes, so my job helped me really to prepare for this.
What are you going to do with your winnings?
YP: A pastry shop is going to cost several million dollars. But I would love to actually put a down payment on my own apartment in San Francisco. I feel confident that moving forward, I'm going to open my own place.